As the death toll now reaches a shocking 41, 662, this last week has seen yet more unsettling and damaging developments, including: the government’s U-turn on schools reopening; complaints about the illogical quarantine policy (one backbencher telling a journalist Priti Patel had ‘gone mad’); more chaos surrounding the inadequate test and trace system and silence on the Isle of Wight app trial (Independent SAGE member Sir David King saying “The system, as it stands, is not fit for purpose”); and what must worry the government most of all – its own ministers and scientific advisers departing from the party line to speak openly about mistakes and missed opportunities. Professor Neil Ferguson, former SAGE member, plainly said that the number of coronavirus deaths in the UK could have been halved if the government had introduced the lockdown a week earlier and in the first two weeks of March, modellers assumed about two-thirds of infected people coming into the UK were not being identified, but Ferguson said a more accurate figure was about 90%.
There have also been further damaging revelations, such as a National Audit Office report showing that less than half of the expected pieces of certain PPE equipment were distributed to frontline workers as the crisis developed because, despite China’s struggles with COVID and the government having been alerted to the need to stockpile, it had not done so during January and February. (The report resulted from an examination of the government’s response to the pandemic since Chris Whitty, the chief medical adviser, confirmed the first cases of COVID19 on 31 January – probably the closest we’ll get to an inquiry during the pandemic). It seems that a key problem was the NHS sticking rigidly to ‘business as usual’ procurement procedures (just in time model) rather than demonstrating agility by adapting to the emergency.
The only items stockpiled were aprons and clinical waste bags, very short of what was actually needed. The report also confirmed that 25,000 hospital patients were discharged to care homes at the height of the pandemic before testing became routine: so much for having, from the start, ‘thrown a protective ring around our care homes’. Some sources suggested that although hospitals knew which patients were infected, this information was not passed on to discharge teams Figures show that many care homes received little PPE from the government. While health settings received a third of the number of eye protectors required from central government, care homes received 5%; hospitals received three quarters of gloves required from central stocks, care homes received 8%; and care homes received no gowns from central stocks. Jeremy Hunt, chairman of the Health and Social Care Select Committee and a former Health Secretary, said: “It seems extraordinary that no one appeared to consider the clinical risk to care homes despite widespread knowledge that the virus could be carried asymptomatically”.
Meanwhile, in a development which must ring alarm bells for Matt Hancock (despite his apparent ability to brush off multiple accusations of error and misjudgement), a doctor is taking legal action against the Health Secretary because of the death of her father in a care home which was taking in infected patients. Dr Cathy Gardner has requested a judicial review, claiming that there had been a ‘litany of failures’, that Hancock had breached his legal duty and that “policies and measures adopted by the Health Secretary, NHS England and Public Health England have manifestly failed to protect the health, well-being and right to life of those residing and working in care homes”. It seems very likely that others who have lost loved ones in this way could follow suit, perhaps even leading to a class action.
Although ministers maintain that testing is available and is happening in care homes, those who actually know, eg those with relatives resident in these homes, say this isn’t generally the case. The extreme deprioritisation of care homes during the crisis, in favour of the NHS, makes a nonsense of the fairly recent change in nomenclature, the Department of Health and Social Care. It also demonstrates yet again that social care needs to be a nationally run service in the public sector, not the haphazard hybrid we have at present, with care home chains often being owned by private equity firms. The care of so many elderly and often vulnerable people is just too important to leave to the vagaries of such an unthinking and fragile business model.
As the Dominic Cummings debate rumbles on despite continuing efforts of the government to distract us from it, there’s been further evidence of censorship, for example scientists at the Downing Street briefings not allowed to speak or attend and journalists not being allowed follow-up questions. Now we hear that on 1 June, England’s Chief Nurse, Ruth May, was dropped after she refused to back the Cummings account justifying his trip to Durham.
Perhaps the most shocking revelation this week has been that, within days of taking office, the PM abolished the Threats, Hazards, Resilience and Contingency Committee, the purpose of which was to prepare the UK for a pandemic, in order to free up resources to deal with a potential Brexit No Deal situation. This forum, which included senior ministers Michael Gove, Matt Hancock and Gavin Williamson, was disbanded without discussing virus control plans. The Daily Mail said Labour’s ex-foreign secretary Dame Margaret Beckett, who chairs the National Security Council Committee that oversees the NSC, ‘has pledged to investigate the axing of the THRCC as part of a cross-party inquiry into the Government’s readiness for a pandemic’.
Ahead of ‘non-essential’ shops reopening from tomorrow (often without loos, another disincentive to visit them besides safety concerns), the possibility of the government deciding to reduce the 2 metre distancing ‘rule’ to 1 metre in England could mean councils and retailers will have wasted millions of pounds on signs and other preparations based on the original guidance. The government gave councils £50m for signage so it will be interesting to see if another £50m will be forthcoming if the decision is taken to reduce the distancing requirement.
As usual, not holding back, Piers Morgan tweeted: ‘The irony of Boris Johnson
winning an election on a pledge to ‘take back control’ when he’s now completely lost control of this country through his mind-blowing dithering & incompetence… is amazing’.
Men’s Health Week is next week and it’s a timely that ‘the nation’s PE teacher’ Joe Wicks has been on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs this morning, being so engaging, stressing the mental health benefits of exercise and discussing the struggles in his family. He spoke about his mother’s OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and, on the verge of tears, admitted that he once said he hated his father, Gary, a recovering drug addict. “I was just so angry at the time because he had relapsed again. I only said it once, and I have never really admitted that [I said that]. It was just a reaction and I felt so bad afterwards. I didn’t hate my dad. What a horrible thing to say.” Joe explained how he has since managed to come to terms with this experience, finding sympathy for his father and recognising the difficult childhood he has survived. Former speaker John Bercow said recently on Any Questions that he followed the daily workouts – I wonder how many other politicians do or what they do (if anything) for exercise.
The focus of Men’s Health Week, run by the Men’s Health Forum, is ‘Take Action on Covid-19’, very important as it’s been shown that more men than women are dying of this virus. On the MHF website you can sign up for their newsletter, to access resources and see links eg to the webinar to be held on Thursday afternoon.
As part of Black Lives Matter but also a pertinent issue in its own right, there’s been much debate recently about statues and what messages these convey. Some seem to think they’re only of white men, whose activities and livelihoods are now regarded as morally dubious, if not downright unacceptable. But there are others and this article describes some interesting and important ones, including Churchill’s, currently boarded up because of the Central London protests. One of the arguments advanced by those taking the ‘statues must stay’ line is that there should be a democratic debate about them and they shouldn’t be taken down by protesters. But what evidence (except in Bristol, where it was ignored for years) is there that local authorities have ever asked people what they think about these monuments to our history? Surely time for these conversations to start.
Finally, it was pleasing to be on Radio London’s Tea at 3 slot in the Jo Good programme on Friday (1.36 minutes in). Radio London journalist Anna O’Neill, who I’d been in touch with via social media for some years but not actually met, invited me to talk about psychotherapy during lockdown, this blog and our local U3A, of which several of those gathered in Anna’s front garden are members. A listener emailed in with the suggestion that the name should change from Tea at 3 to Anna in her Manor and Jo Good said afterwards that when the pandemic was over she would broadcast one of her programmes from there.
A lovely interlude and good example of community engagement, as neighbours meet every day there at 3 pm and some days have a group singing session afterwards.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p08f5qrs 1.36 minutes in.