I’m an NHS doctor – and I’ve had enough of people clapping for me

“I work for the NHS as a doctor. I don’t work “on the frontline” because there isn’t one; I’m not in the army and we aren’t engaged in military combat. But I do work as a consultant on a ward where we have had Covid-19, and colleagues of mine have been very unwell. The requirement to be constantly vigilant and to manage the infection risk makes work more difficult, more stressful, and at times more tragic.”

Obviously I carry on going to work – it is my job, one that I enjoy and am being well paid for. I am pleased to have a reason to leave the house. I have a very decent and secure income so count myself extremely lucky.

It would, however, be nice to have clarity about many things, from testing to isolation to proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE). It would also be nice to have worked for the past 10 years in an adequately funded NHS, staffed by people listened to by the government. It would be nice to see appropriate remuneration for the low-paid staff holding the service together, to see that the value of immigrants to the NHS is appreciated, and to have a health service integrated with a functioning social care service.

What I don’t find nice, and I really don’t need, is people clapping. I don’t need rainbows. I don’t care if people clap until their hands bleed with rainbows tattooed on their faces. I don’t even (whisper it) need Colonel Tom, lovely man as he clearly is.

I know many of my colleagues appreciate the clapping, saying that they feel moved and grateful, that the coming together of the community to support the NHS warms the heart. There are others, like me, whose response is that it is a sentimental distraction from the issues facing us.

Even those who liked it at the beginning are becoming wary of the creeping clapping fascism, the competition to make the most obvious and noisiest display, the shaming of non-clappers. Some argue that it unites us, that we’re all in this together. But when, for whatever complex reasons, we hear that poorer areas have double the death rate, with people from ethnic minorities disproportionately affected, I think: are we really in this together? Maybe people should clap a bit louder in inner-city Birmingham than in Surrey.

Are we still allowed to complain about poor resources and potentially unsafe working conditions now we’ve had clapping, rainbows, free doughnuts and a centenarian walking round his garden for us? How dare we?

The NHS is not a charity and it isn’t staffed by heroes. It has been run into the ground by successive governments and now we are reaping the rewards of that neglect, on the background of the public health impact of years of rampant inequality in the UK.

The coronavirus crisis has shone a light on lots of good and bad things in this country. It is of course to be welcomed that key workers, including those for the NHS and social care, are being increasingly valued. I hope the reality is dawning that immigrants and BAME staff are vital to the NHS and we couldn’t manage without them.

But don’t feel you need to clap. Enough with the rainbows. When this ends, people need to show their value of key-working staff in practical ways; pay them enough to be able to live in our cities, and recognise, support and welcome immigrant staff who prop this country up. Listen to the views of NHS workers when they raise concerns, address the culture of blame and bureaucracy. Even my colleagues who still appreciate the clapping will bang a saucepan to that.

If you would like to contribute to our Blood, sweat and tears series about experiences in healthcare during the coronavirus outbreak, get in touch by emailing sarah.johnson@theguardian.com

Flybe Training Academy at Airport to become new high-tech skills site

The decision by DCC to go ahead with the investment to buy the Flybe Training Academy and turn it into a high-tech skills site was made at last Wednesday’s cabinet meeting in a private session following the exclusion of the press and public.

(Owl thought all strategic decisions of this sort were planned, made and funded by Heart of the South West (HotSW) our Local Enterprise Partnership and proto-devolution body. Owl has heard very little about HotSW recently. Surely this should be part of HotSW productivity strategy. )

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com 

The vacant former Flybe Training Academy at Exeter Airport has been bought by Devon County Council.

The deal, confirmed on Thursday morning, will see Exeter College on behalf of the council run a new academy to offer training for high-tech jobs in engineering, digital, construction and clean growth

Devon County Council is investing almost £4 million into the project and the decision to go ahead with the investment was made at last Wednesday’s cabinet meeting in a private session following the exclusion of the press and public.

The Academy has been vacant since Flybe went into administration at the start of March.

Cllr John Hart, leader of Devon County Council said: “We must all continue to be extremely vigilant and maintain the restrictions which have seen our region emerge as the area which has been least affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

“But as lockdown is gradually eased, we must plan for the future and do all we can to protect and improve our economy.

“Creating and retaining a highly skilled workforce underpins the economic prosperity of Devon and will be a key part of our economic recovery plan after COVD-19.”

The new academy for future skills will be created to offer training for high-tech jobs in engineering, digital, construction and clean growth. It will offer inspirational opportunities for the region’s young people, while also offering adults the chance to upskill or retrain into a chosen career.

Devon’s Cabinet member for economy and skills, Cllr Rufus Gilbert, added: “High-tech skills for engineering and digital are vital to our economy.

“Engineering and its aligned professions account for around seven or eight per cent of Devon’s workforce but provide around 20 per cent of our output.

“Some two per cent of Devon’s engineers retire each year and there are key gaps in the engineering sector. So ensuring a steady supply of experienced engineering professionals is a key element of our long-term growth plans.

“They will be an important part of our plans to reset our economy for a future skills agenda taking in high-tech engineering, digital and data, advanced manufacturing, sustainable construction and clean growth and energy.

“And depending on how the aviation industry recovers from the pandemic, we are also well placed to provide training for careers in aerospace as well.

“Our young people are our future. This is an excellent plan and we are doing it for them.

“It will support the creation and retention of local talent, provide rewarding careers for our young people and support innovation across the business sector.”

John Laramy, Principal and Chief Executive of Exeter College said: “We are delighted to be able to support this ground-breaking partnership with Devon County Council.

“This new academy will not just provide future skills for a more sustainable Devon, it will also support us to develop skills in digital and data technologies, including building on our excellent track record of working with artificial intelligence and supporting new sectors such as robotic agriculture.

“This will ensure our community have the very best in education and training, and our position as a provider of education and training using cutting-edge technologies continues.

“We have had a long standing relationship with the training academy and see this collaboration to have significant benefit for the region in ensuring Devon retains a highly skilled, local workforce that continues to thrive in challenging economic times.”

Local county councillor Sara Randall-Johnson said: “It is vitally important that we maintain this training facility especially for the growing town of Cranbrook which has a young population.”

The news has been welcomed by the leader of opposition groups on Devon County Council, will Cllr Rob Hannaford, leader of the Labour group, saying: “I am 100 per cent behind this. The loss of this skills and training hub now would have been devastating.

“We want our young people to have high-skilled, well-paid jobs and be the bedrock of our economy.”

Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Alan Connett added: “This is a unique opportunity to acquire the former Flybe Academy and I support the county council’s plan to purchase it and enable Exeter College to expand its range of courses at the facility.

“It is important that we invest in the educational development of our young people, especially so given the current situation but also for the long-term prosperity of our county and wider region.”

Councils face ban on property investments

Local authorities are likely to be banned from investing in commercial property for the purpose of boosting revenues.

Louisa Clarence-Smith www.thetimes.co.uk 
An inquiry by MPs into the £6.6 billion spent by councils on commercial property in the past three years asked how officials were controlling risks to their financial sustainability. Minutes of last week’s public accounts committee hearing were released yesterday.

Jeremy Pocklington, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, said: “A consultation has been launched by the Treasury. In future, assuming that we implement the proposals set out in the consultation, councils will be prevented from investing in commercial property and from accessing the Public Works Loan Board. That, we think, will stop councils not only borrowing, in particular, but investing in these sorts of commercial property arrangements that are primarily for yield.”

Councils are still expected to be permitted to invest in their local areas for regeneration purposes.

The £6.6 billion invested between 2016 and 2019 was 14 times more than in the previous three years as councils sought alternative sources of income to fund public services, the inquiry heard. Families could face higher tax bills and reduced public services as the coronavirus leads to a collapse in rental income from the properties.

The Treasury is expected to make a final decision in July.

MPs demand answers over key testing decision in Damning letter to Boris

On Monday, Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee wrote a 19 page letter to the Prime Minister outlining the committee’s investigation into the early handling of the pandemic. In the damning letter the MPs say that the failure to explain why the government dropped community testing is unacceptable. Owl has now found the link to the letter.

Starting on page 9 it says:

“The decision to pursue an approach of initially concentrating testing in a limited number of laboratories and to expand them gradually, rather than an approach of surging capacity through a large number of available public sector, research institute, university and private sector labs is one of the most consequential made during this crisis. From it followed the decision on 12 March to cease testing in the community and retreat to testing principally within hospitals.

“Amongst other consequences, it meant that residents in care homes—even those displaying COVID-19 symptoms—and care home workers could not be tested at a time when the spread of the virus was at its most rampant.

“The failure of PHE [Public Health England] to publish the evidence on which its testing policy was based is unacceptable for a decision that may have had such significant consequences. The absence of disclosure may indicate that—notwithstanding the oral evidence given to the Committee—no rigorous assessment was in fact made by PHE of other countries’ approach to testing. That would be of profound concern since the necessity to consider the approaches taken by others with experience of pandemics is obvious.

There is plenty more to read in the remaining 19 pages.

What the letter has done is to kick off a blame game between Ministers, “the” Science and PHE. To some extent both the Government Chief Scientist, Sir Patrick Vallance, and the Chief Medical Office, Prof. Chris Whitty have left themselves open to become scapegoats by failing to draw a distinction between advisor and political decision maker, flanking the Prime Minister at the first “follow the science” broadcast.

The attempts by Ministers to distance themselves from their decisions by drawing a distinction between “operational” decisions (eg made by PHE) and “policy” decisions they make, can be traced back to Margaret Thatcher’s privatisation campaign when many government functions were privatised or turned into quasi-autonomous agencies or quangos. Ultimately, it can’t succeed because of the bottom line: it’s Ministers who allocate the resources and set up the organisational structures.

The President of the Royal Society has also weighed in on the science:”….. there is often no such thing as following “the” science. Reasonable scientists can disagree on important points, but the government still has to make decisions.”

Yesterday’s Times editorial points to structural problems as well. These are obviously a government responsibility but the Times, however, does allocate blame.

The Times view on the response to coronavirus of Public Health England: Official Failure

Boris Johnson told backbench Tory MPs last week that he was planning to review a “number of institutions” once the pandemic was over. Top of the list should be Public Health England (PHE), the quango responsible for preparing for and responding to health emergencies. There was nothing preordained about Britain’s grim Covid death toll, now the highest in Europe. Clearly mistakes were made. A damning new report by the Commons science and technology committee identifies the source of some of them. It highlights serious failures at PHE, which it blames for crucial delays in introducing testing.

One of the quango’s biggest mistakes, according to the committee, was to limit testing to its own laboratories and expand gradually, rather than making immediate use of available lab space in universities and the private sector. This despite early evidence from countries such as South Korea that mass testing would be crucial in stemming the pandemic. The report calls that decision “one of the most consequential made during this crisis”. This meant that those in care homes could not be tested at a time when the spread of the virus was at its most rampant. PHE has since compounded these errors by omitting to publish the evidence on which its testing policy was based, despite requests to do so over several weeks by the science and technology committee.

That will raise suspicions of a third error of judgment, that PHE’s decision was not made using the best evidence available at the time. Nor does it suggest that the agency is willing to learn from or even examine its mistakes. On March 25 its director, Sharon Peacock, appeared in front of the committee and promised that finger-prick tests would be available on the high street within days. Weeks later, the country is still waiting.

Of course the agency is not solely to blame for the testing fiasco. As the report points out, the government has not been transparent about the scientific advice that underpinned its own decision-making. Of the 120 papers used to inform meetings of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), 92 have remained secret. Meanwhile, the agency in its response to the report insisted that it was “not responsible” for the testing strategy, which it said fell under the Department of Health and Social Care. It denied that it had tried to “constrain” testing in private laboratories.

This suggests that the real problem may be baked into the structure of the institution. The quango was created in 2013 in an attempt to devolve responsibility for operational decision-making on a wide range of health issues from ministers to officials. It is supposed to function as an intermediary between central government, local government and medics. Yet the exact scope of its power and duties seems ill-defined, leading to confusion as to where real responsibility lies and doubts regarding its organisational capabilities. The result appears to have been the opposite of what was intended. Ministers continue to be held responsible for decisions over which they may now have even less control.

When the crisis is over the government will have to consider how this structure might be reformed. In the meantime it faces an urgent question. PHE is in charge of running the contact tracing scheme, on which plans to lift the lockdown rely. The question is whether it is up to the job.

Biggest daily rise of confirmed coronavirus in Plymouth since the first week of May

Owl hopes this reflects an increase in testing, rather than any underlying increase. However, the Covid-19 symptom tracker app is showing that the national estimated symptom rate, which had been falling, has now levelled off.

Owl, ever vigilant, is watching the estimated symptom rates for: East Devon; Torbay: South Hams and North Devon. There have been small upticks in some of these districts, which may not be statistically significant, since locked down was eased.

Five new cases of coronavirus confirmed in Plymouth

There has been a rise in confirmed cases of Coronavirus across Devon and Cornwall, it has been confirmed.

The latest figures from Public Health England take the number of confirmed cases of the virus in the Devon County Council area to over 800, and the number of positive cases in Plymouth to over 350.

Today’s figures confirm five new cases for Plymouth, the biggest daily rise since the first week of May. There have now been 353 confirmed cases in the city.

Most recent data shows there have now been 564 confirmed cases in Cornwall, and 802 for the Devon County Council area.

In Devon the number is up by 11, with just three new outbreaks in Cornwall.

In Torbay, the number has stayed at 221, with no new cases reported since last Friday.

The latest figures show 14 new cases across Devon and Cornwall combined.

The counties have now had 1,940 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The new figures come as the number of deaths across all of Devon and Cornwall’s hospitals has stayed the same.

While across England a further 166 people have died after testing positive, the latest figures show there have been no new confirmed COVID019 associated deaths for hospitals in Devon and Cornwall.

However, there have been four new confirmed deaths in the South West region, which includes Bath, Wiltshire, Bristol, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, Devon and Dorset.

Go-ahead for 33 new homes on East Devon and Exeter border

The dying regime rolls over on their policy of “pepper potting” affordable clusters across a development to Eagle One – Owl.

Daniel Clark  eastdevonnews.co.uk 

Plans for 33 new homes on the East Devon and Exeter border have been approved – despite a developer declining calls to amend the scheme. Eagle One landed the go-ahead for the dwellings from the district council’s Development Management Committee yesterday (Monday).

The bid is part of an eight-phase development at Redhayes and Tithebarn Green, close to Exeter Science Park.

Members had previously deferred making a decision on the proposals as they were unhappy that eight ‘affordable’ homes would be ‘stuck in the corner’

Council policy says that such properties should be ‘pepper-potted’ across a development.

EDDC’s development manager told yesterday’s meeting that the applicant was not prepared to amend the layout as it considered it reflected the size of other affordable housing clusters approved on other Redhayes and Mosshayne developments.

He added that Eagle One felt the dwellings in question were not ‘hidden away’ in the corner, but ‘when seen in relation to the location of other groups of affordable housing, well-integrated and located at the front of the development’.

The applicant was willing to provide integral bat and bird facilities and hedgehog ‘highways’.

Councillor Paul Arnott said that, while he was delighted for the bats, birds and hedgehogs, these were ‘tiny wins’.

He added: “This is a game of semantics and a legacy of the terrible deal that was done for the area. This isn’t pepper-potting at all but clustering, so I cannot vote for this.”

Cllr Paul Hayward added: “We shouldn’t be putting out the bunting for the developers as they have given us practically nothing.”

Proposing the scheme be approved, Cllr Helen Parr said that, as other neighbouring developments have similar levels of pepper-potting, it would be unreasonable to make the applicant do it any differently.

Councillors voted 13 to two to grant full planning permission.

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