The main thrust of today’s news is the government’s ‘roadmap’ for this ‘second phase’ of the pandemic. There are almost no words to describe the PM’s speech last night, which caused confusion all round, one measure effectively being contradicted just hours later by Dominic Raab on the Today programme and later withdrawn. This can only increase public anxiety further. Comms experts commented on what a poor example of communication it was and it’s clear that the essentials which would need to underpin this roadmap, including safe staffing, PPE and transport, just aren’t consistently there and haven’t been thought through. Even more confusion and annoyance have been caused by the PM going ahead in the face of other UK nations taking different paths, not sharing it with them in advance, failing to issue the 50 page document which allegedly details the revised approach and not alerting venues such as golf courses that they could re-open on Wednesday. One commentator said: ‘That was the most confusing Prime Ministerial broadcast I have ever seen. The point of such unusual interventions is to offer leadership and a clear sense of direction. That didn’t do either’.
Keir Starmer said: ‘What the nation was looking for this evening was clarity and consensus. The truth is, the Prime Minister’s statement raises more questions than it answers. Those questions need answering if the public is going to have confidence in what happens next’.
Some scientists have questioned the evidence informing the policy: “It’s very difficult to see how underlying science has informed the measures announced,” said Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at Nottingham University. “I think the reality is, this is a statement driven almost entirely by an economic agenda and in truth lacks clarity in terms of future control of the virus epidemic.”
Some clinicians and the British Medical Association have expressed similar concerns and Antonello Guerrera, UK correspondent for Italian newspaper La Repubblica, said his paper had acknowledged the “grave errors” made in Italy, but observed that the “confusion and contradictions displayed by the British government in the past few months have few equals…The way the world is looking at the UK is not the way the UK is looking at itself’. Perhaps that should read ‘…how the UK government is looking at the UK’.
Given the marked success of Germany in dealing with the crisis, it’s timely that The Week carries a useful briefing explaining how this has come about. The German health service is funded by statutory health insurance rather than taxation and besides spending more per head than the UK, has far more doctors and hospital beds per 1,000 people than the UK. A Berlin hospital developed a test very quickly and made this available throughout the country and this was accompanied by a contact tracing procedure. The health service operates in a decentralised way (which public health experts like Professor Allyson Pollock pointed out the lack of in the UK crisis response), involving the country’s 16 states, enabling a more rapid response. Such agility, involving action at local level unhindered by national bureaucracy, seems to be a crucial factor in making progress quickly. The service involves the private sector, eg laboratories, enabling access to a breadth of expertise, and the article also stresses the role of a cultural factor, the German flair for Ordnung, organisational discipline. When the public inquiry into the management of the pandemic finally takes place, it should surely look at how responsive our NHS can be within its current structure and modus operandi.
It’s not the first time this has been suggested but the crisis has highlighted what many are finding unsatisfactory about the way we measure growth in this country. A YouGov poll has found eight out of 10 people would prefer the government to prioritise health and wellbeing over economic growth during the coronavirus crisis. Six in 10 would still want the government to pursue health and wellbeing ahead of growth post-pandemic, though nearly a third would prioritise the economy instead at that point. A new report launched today by Positive Money called The Tragedy of Growth, backed by politicians from several parties, calls for a shift away from GDP as the government’s core measure of success. (Positive Money describes itself as campaigning for ‘a money and banking system which supports a fair, democratic and sustainable economy. Set up in the aftermath of the financial crisis, Positive Money is a not-for-profit company funded by charitable trusts and foundations, as well as small donations from its network of over 65,000 supporters’.)
You might be interested in this new 12 part radio series about the history of writing exploring mental ill-health and its treatment. The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) is thought to be the first exploration in the Western world of depression. A shame the talking treatments bit today is about the biomedical, non-relational CBT, allowed to disproportionately influence the mental health discourse, so let’s hope forthcoming episodes include coverage of relational therapies.
Finally, Zoom users will have heard about the problems of ‘zoombombing’, whereby meetings have been interrupted by invading hackers or abusers (Zoom has now taken steps to prevent this eg via compulsory password use). But just say you wanted it to happen for fun. The Week tells us that a US farm in North Carolina is now offering housebound workers the chance to hire animals to crash their meetings for ten minutes. The donkey costs $50 but if you don’t fancy that there’s a choice of horses, ducks and chickens. I wonder how well that goes down with colleagues and bosses and to what extent the selected animal cooperates and gives good value for money. It’s a serious point, though, showing how some businesses are increasingly diversifying to compensate for lack of demand for their main products and services.