Sections of the media came under fire this morning for failing to cover or covering very superficially the scandal revealed by Panorama last night. This centred on the discovery that the government was counting each single glove as an item of PPE in order to misrepresent the figures and imply they were meeting demand when this has manifestly not been the case. Surely one of the most surprising things about this, given these days of investigative journalism and social media, is the apparent assumption that it wouldn’t come to light. Minister Victoria Atkins, who responded not by answering the question but with ‘we’re following the science’, got a much easier ride on Today than on Piers Morgan’s GMB. A Today programme listener tweeted: ‘Victoria Atkins safeguarding minister? What does that mean? Safeguarding this government’s rapidly deteriorating reputation because they’re certainly not safeguarding anyone else at the moment?’
Social media and personal stories enable us to know what’s going on ‘at the coalface’ rather than solely at the level of official narrative. A GP tweeted: ‘The PPE scandal: far too little too late. Staff don’t need sympathy. Last night’s Panorama should be watched by everyone. In my visit to my breathless elderly patient yesterday, I wore a visor made by a local school, gloves, a surgical mask & a flimsy apron from Amazon’.
A third of COVID deaths are now said to be in care homes, where there is no or insufficient PPE. Again, we need regular and accurate statistics on the total numbers of deaths (ie including care homes and community), not just daily hospital figures in order to get the complete picture. Given the importance of testing, it’s worrying that efforts to increase it are being led by a hereditary peer and former corporate lobbyist, Lord Bethell, who gave money to Matt Hancock’s failed Conservative party leadership campaign. This smacks of cronyism and conflict of interest.
At 11 am there was the minute’s silence to mark the deaths of NHS and frontline workers, an event organised by unions and, we were told, ‘observed by the PM and senior politicians’. This observation was found hypocritical in some quarters, one tweeting: ‘Boris Johnson tweeting his minute’s silence makes my blood boil. It was his dither and delay, his libertarianism, he resisted lockdown. It cost 40,000 unnecessary lives and killed the economy! Johnson’ dither compounded govt failure to prepare!’
Meanwhile, the lockdown exit debate rumbles on and there was a rather good analogy earlier from a garden centre business representative, lamenting the lack of level playing field regarding business closures: ‘we’re locked in the changing room with no referee’.
Increasingly, the over-generalised advice for over-70s to ‘stay at home’ is being criticised by Lord Blunkett and many others for its arbitrariness, not treating them like grown ups, discriminating against them and so on. As has been widely acknowledged, some over 70s are far fitter than some in their 50s, so it doesn’t make sense to lump them all together. This tendency to conflate age with incapacity does also convey quite a powerful message about policymakers’ attitudes towards the older generation. Older people, especially those living alone, are more likely to experience damage to their mental health through loneliness and enforced isolation.
Tonight’s Downing Street Briefing was striking for a number of reasons: it was headed by Matt Hancock rather than the PM; there were two (!) questions from ‘the public’ (one yesterday); and Hancock refused to apologise for the care home deaths on his watch. During a session which saw a number of obfuscatory and delaying tactics, eg ‘that’s a very good question’ and ploys to artificially identify with and disarm the questioner (‘as a father of three young children myself’), he said ‘That’s unreasonable as a question’ when invited to apologise to the relatives of those having died in care homes. That journalist was not given a chance to challenge that response.
We are now hearing much more in the media, not before time, about mental health difficulties due to or worsening during lockdown. Over 800 people responded to charity Rethink’s survey, the results highlighting the importance of sustained investment in mental health services when this area has experienced long-term funding deficits. ‘We’re calling for mental health to be a government priority during COVID19.’ Sceptics could be forgiven for wondering how close to a reality this could be, since ten years and more of similar pleas have fallen on deaf ears. If mental health difficulties were more visible it might be a different story!