Housebuilders hold the key to homes crisis

“The galling truth is that the big, powerful developers which hoover up most new planning permissions have long staged a deliberate go-slow, making higher profits overall by producing fewer homes so prices keep rising. Unless ministers acknowledge and tackle this massive market failure, our chronic housing shortage will remain – with all the social and political fallout that entails.”

[And this is from the “Torygraph”! – Owl]

Liam Halligan 29 August 2020 

‘We need more new housing,” as Boris Johnson has argued, “to correct this generational injustice that young people often can’t buy a home, as their parents did”. Yet the Government’s “radical planning system shake-up”, unveiled earlier this month, is inadequate and misses the point.

Britain has built around three million too few homes over the last three decades. That’s why property prices have spiralled, with today’s young adults spending a higher share of their income on rent, and less likely to be owner-occupiers, than at any time since the Thirties.

Across much of the country, even professional youngsters are often “priced-out” – with the average home costing eight times average annual earnings, compared to four times during the Nineties.

The share of 25-34-year-old owner-occupiers has since plunged from 67pc to 38pc, with well over half a generation denied property ownership at this crucial family-forming age. And lower down the income scale, an endemic shortage of social housing has driven a rise in overcrowding and homelessness.

Britain’s often tortuous “case-by-case” planning system certainly needs reform. That means more “zoning”, with clear and predictable residential building rules – which, to some extent, is what this new white paper proposes.

The fundamental problem isn’t, though, as the Government suggests, “a lack of land with planning permissions” – for around 80pc of residential planning applications made are already being approved. The real issue is the ever-lengthening delays between permissions being granted and houses actually being built.

The galling truth is that the big, powerful developers which hoover up most new planning permissions have long staged a deliberate go-slow, making higher profits overall by producing fewer homes so prices keep rising. Unless ministers acknowledge and tackle this massive market failure, our chronic housing shortage will remain – with all the social and political fallout that entails.

Between 2010 and 2015, an earlier planning shake-up saw the number of permissions granted each year increase by 75pc. But the number of homes completed annually was just 33pc up. Similarly, between 2015 and 2017, as permissions granted per annum increased 36pc, homes built rose just 15pc. The growing delay in build-out rates is significant and undeniable.

Evidence I submitted to a recent Parliamentary inquiry demonstrated that between 2010 and 2017, of 1,943,125 new permissions granted in England, some 932,335 – almost half – remained unbuilt. Over a seven-year period, then, during which the UK’s housing shortage became chronic and unaffordability spiralled, our housebuilders applied for and were granted clearance to construct almost one million new homes they chose not to build.

Back in 2008, countless small and medium-sized firms which convert permissions into marketable homes relatively quickly, to aid cash flow – built over two-thirds of all new homes. Many were then wiped out by the financial crisis and lots more have since been stymied by an inability to raise finance to access building land.

That’s why the housebuilding industry is now far more concentrated, with the top ten developers accounting for around 70pc of new supply. These over-dominant players use their well-resourced legal departments to obtain planning permissions, some of which provide a legitimate “building pipeline”, but many of which they won’t use. Such permissions still bolster their balance sheet, boosting share prices and related executive bonuses. And once “captured”, they aren’t available for smaller firms.

So the big boys control the rate at which homes come to market in certain localities, boosting profit margins way higher than they should be, while keeping smaller rivals at bay. And that’s why our housing market is “broken” – because the industry is largely controlled by a few large players deliberately restricting supply.

A 2016 House of Lords investigation concluded the UK housebuilding industry “has all the characteristics of an oligopoly”. A full Competition and Markets Authority inquiry into an industry imposing “contrived scarcity” on homebuyers, limiting the number of new homes to artificially boost profits, is long overdue.

But even bolder measures are needed. In my book Home Truths, I propose that if a home isn’t completed, ready for sale, within two years of permission granted, developers should pay full council tax on unfinished properties, rising to double then triple council tax in subsequent years.

Planning permission should be a contract to build, between developers and the community, not an option to build if developers feel like it. Altering financial incentives would address the worst excesses of deliberately slow build-out.

We need to free-up parts of the greenbelt – much of which is urban scrub. Far from being “concreted over”, it has doubled in size since the Seventies – and now covers 13pc of England’s land mass while housing, including gardens, accounts for little more than 1pc. This white paper flunks that challenge too, preserving all greenbelt land.

We must recognise, also, that “zonal” planning in some areas won’t much help smaller builders, or tackle unaffordability, when land prices, driven by speculation, remain sky high. When agricultural land is granted planning permission, its value can jump an astonishing 200-fold or more.

But the right to land ownership should not include the right to capture almost the entire value uplift when planning permission is granted – given that the uplift reflects state spending on local infrastructure and the efforts of local businesses to create amenities.

Uplift should be split 50-50 between landowners and local authorities. That would rein-in speculative pressure by making it less attractive to sit on land as prices rise, bringing more acreage to market. Plus, it would raise serious cash to provide schools, hospitals and other local public services, revolutionising the fraught local politics of planning.

“Solving our housing problem … requires confrontation with vested interests,” observed the late Roger Scruton last year, in one of his final interviews. “And an awful lot of those vested interests are, it has to be said, connected to the Conservative Party”.

Has Johnson got the intellectual grit and political determination to inject some genuine competition into our moribund housebuilding industry? Will he fight for capitalism or protect “crony capitalism” instead?

Read more: Dominic Cummings’ planning overhaul will provoke Tory shires into outright rebellion


‘My dad died from coronavirus in a care home. Now I’m taking legal action against the government that made it a death trap’

 The Independent Lifestyle Features

‘My dad died from coronavirus in a care home. Now I’m taking legal action against the government that made it a death trap’

Cathy Gardner’s 88-year-old father was supposed to be safe. But he died from “probable Covid-19” after a fellow care home resident was discharged from hospital. Now she tells Sophie Gallagher she wants answers 

Between March and June, coronavirus became the leading cause of death in male care home residents in England and Wales, and the second leading cause of death in female residents. Since March, there have been at least 30,000 excess deaths in care homes due to the coronavirus, impacting thousands of families up and down the country.

“Our care homes were effectively thrown to the wolves,” concluded Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, which published a damning report on 29 July. It ruled that government policy to clear NHS hospital beds, which meant patients were discharged to care homes until mid-April without ever having a Covid-test, had been an “appalling error”.

Not only were visitors allowed to visit care homes till 2 April (after lockdown), but it wasn’t until 15 April that the Department of Health began Covid-testing all residents before re-admitting them from hospital to care homes. Prior to that, there had been no requirement to do so. This led to care homes feeling pressured to take residents back with no knowledge of whether they were now carrying the virus. Approximately 25,000 people were discharged with no test.

Cathy Gardner’s father was in one of those homes.

On Thursday 2 April, a week after lockdown began, Dr Cathy Gardner drove the 161 miles from her home in Sidmouth, Devon, to see her father in an Oxfordshire care home just before he died. Because of Covid-19, Gardner was not allowed inside and instead was taken to the back of the building to watch her sleeping dad, Michael Gibson, through a ground-floor window. He didn’t know she was there in the dark. He died the next day.

The GP who treated the 88-year-old told Gardner that her father was killed by coronavirus, which was likely brought into the home by another resident discharged from hospital. So despite Gibson never leaving the home himself, he became a sitting duck. But without a test to prove he had the virus (there were no widely available tests in care homes till 16 April, 13 days after his death), the death certificate could only record “probable Covid”.

Gardner, who has a PhD in virology, was angry; she hadn’t seen her father – who had advanced dementia – since February and she had believed he would be kept safe in a care home setting (on 16 May, health secretary Matt Hancock said a “protective ring” had been thrown around care homes since the start). To make matters worse she also felt guilty for travelling to see him during lockdown in his last hours of life when (it would later emerge) Dominic Cummings had been in Durham.

Michael Gibson was born in 1931. A child during the Second World War he went on to a career as a superintendent registrar of birth marriages and deaths. “He was a very meticulous person, because doing that kind of job is all about accurate records,” Gardner tells The Independent. “During his working life he registered thousands of events”. His own marriage lasted 65 years. He raised his family in Northamptonshire and took an interest in aviation history, even writing a book on planes. Later he developed dementia and was moved to Cherwood House in late 2019.

Although his dementia was advanced, Gardner says “he still recognised me, I could see the love in his eyes, that love between a father and daughter”. “[His death] was heartbreaking, it’s not how I imagined his last days. I could not hold his hand and give him a smile near the end. I knew that losing my father would be tough, losing him in these circumstances is truly devastating.

“It hadn’t even occurred to me that my father would be at risk of Covid-19, he was meant to be safe there.” Of course Gibson was not the only one to die in a home. But, unlike the thousands of other families, Gardner has taken action against the government in a bid to get answers.

In was in late January when the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) held its first meeting about the Covid-19 threat to the UK, the day before the Wuhan lockdown. It was decided by members, including Patrick Vallance and Chris Witty, that NHS facilities need only “consider” how they “might respond to potential cases” if the virus were to arrive on UK shores.

At a meeting just 18 days later, the group concluded there was now a “realistic probability” that there was “already sustained transmission in the UK” or that there would be soon (analysis by the University of Nottingham released on 25 August now suggests the first positive Covid test was on 21 February). Despite this by the end of February, Public Health England still said it was “very unlikely” that anyone receiving care in a care home, would become infected. The first death of a care home resident in England from Covid-19 came days later on 6 March.

Even after residents started contracting, and dying from, Covid-19, visitors were still permitted in care homes. For anyone feeling unwell or recently returned from abroad, it was up to individual discretion.

On 13 March the government said no one who believed they had the virus should be visiting a home, but continued to let friends and family visit, actively encouraging homes to consider the “positive impact” of seeing these people. Boris Johnson did allude to not making “unnecessary visits” on 16 March, but when Reuters questioned number 10, it was told he was referring to the 13 March advice, not stricter rules.

By this point Gardner’s father, Michael Gibson, was already unwell. The GP told her the suspected Covid-19 diagnosis over the phone. “I was shocked and hadn’t even occurred to me he would be at risk, he was in a home and should have been safe,” Gardner explains. Over the next three weeks he deteriorated and died on 3 April.

Ironically on the final day before Gibson’s death, 2 April, the Department of Health finally revised its visitor policy, saying: “Family and friends should be advised not to visit care homes, except next of kin in exceptional situations such as end of life.” But as the nationwide lockdown was already in place, many were not travelling anyway.

Gardner has now begun legal action against the government. Her case hinges on the accusation that the government treatment of care homes was unlawful because it exposed residents to serious harm. Legally the state is required to protect citizens and Gardner’s lawyers say government policy breached this legal duty to residents and workers in the advice and guidance it gave, particularly that it allowed patients back into homes without testing.

She is incensed by the hospital discharge policy which she says made care homes a “death trap”. “Because of my virology background I have an understanding of spread, and I know you cannot bring someone with an infection like that into a care home,” says Gardner. “If hospitals cannot control spread, a care home is never going to be able to. It seemed there was not one iota of thought about that.” (On 13 March PHE still said “no PPE is required above and beyond normal good hygiene practices” if neither the care worker or resident was showing symptoms).

“At the same time they were telling the rest of us to lockdown, they were discharging these people into care homes. That struck me as insane, negligent, irresponsible. How on earth can that be right?” says Gardner. “It was so essential to protect the NHS and clear beds that they didn’t care about what happened”.

On 2 June Gardner’s team served a pre-action letter to Matt Hancock, NHS England and Public Health England, demanding they admit the policies were unlawful and requesting Hancock’s “protective ring” claim be retracted. But after an “inadequate response”, and no acceptance of wrongdoing, Gardner filed for a judicial review at the High Court. A judicial review is when a judge reviews the lawfulness of a decision made by a public body. It is not about whether the decision was right or wrong but whether the right procedures were followed.

The DHSC told The Independent that it was unable to comment on potential or ongoing legal action (but it is worth noting the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report, said: “The department says that it took rational decisions based on the information it had at the time, but acknowledges that it would not necessarily do the same thing again.”)

I remain outraged that [its] dithering, incompetence and outright failure to lead has caused the premature death of my father and thousands of other vulnerable care home residents…

On 14 August Gardner published a statement detailing the government response to her case, which again denied wrongdoing. It’s defence relies on four main points: that it is wrong in principle to consider the full scope of its failings in respect of care homes, that Gardner is not allowed to challenge policies because they were introduced after her father’s death, that she has not brought the claim soon enough (just over three months since his death), and that much of her claim is “academic” because the policies being critiqued have now been withdrawn.

“Amazingly, the government’s focus has been to try to knock out my claim on procedural grounds rather than to provide a full and transparent explanation for its handling of the crisis,” says Gardner. “I remain outraged that [its] dithering, incompetence and outright failure to lead has caused the premature death of my father and thousands of other vulnerable care home residents. I will continue to fight for justice for him, and for them, for as a long as I can.”

It is not known, and likely never will be, how many discharged hospital patients were carrying Covid and were responsible for care home outbreaks (between 9 March and 17 May, around 5,900 homes in England reported an outbreak). Gardner still wants answers: “I am doing this on the behalf of other people who cannot. Somebody has to hold the government to account.”

On 6 May Mr Johnson conceded there is an “epidemic going on in care homes, which I bitterly regret” but he tried to push the blame onto care homes, saying: “We discovered too many didn’t really follow the procedures.” A statement he later clarified but did not apologise for. Instead he doubled down, claiming asymptomatic transmission was not known about early on. This has also been refuted by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, which found: “It was already becoming clear in late March, and certainly from the beginning of April, that the Covid-19 infection had an asymptomatic phase, when people could be infectious.”

Despite the acceptance of much fault by the committee, senior government leaders remain steadfast. On 22 July, for the first time in months, Matt Hancock, permitted care homes in England to reopen their doors, telling visitors to exercise caution and not “undo all the hard work” done during the pandemic. It might be the end of lockdown, but for Gardner and thousands of families supporting her case, the real battle is only just beginning.

[Dr Cathy Gardner is crowd funding her case]

Voice of the People: Care homes on brink of collapse – Government must step in

Voice of the People

The care home system on which thousands of our ­elderly loved ones depend is on the brink of collapse.

A decade of cuts, the Covid crisis and now a massive £80million rise in insurance premiums because of the pandemic have brought the sector to its knees.

The network of homes across the country is the cornerstone of how we look after our elderly, frail and vulnerable – of how we give them the dignity that they deserve in their later, sometimes difficult, years.

It is broken. A first priority for the Government must be to indemnify care homes against being sued and restore insurers’ confidence to bring down premiums.

Boris Johnson and his ministers know only too well the plight of this vital part of the national fabric.

But in spite of explicit promises to “fix” the system, they have produced nothing – no plans, no alternative.

The Prime Minister is once again failing the nation.

Three years ago the ­­Government – of which he was part – pledged to bring forward a Green Paper with plans for funding an already creaking system. We are still waiting.

In his very first words as Prime Minister, Johnson promised on the steps of Downing Street to “fix the crisis in social care once and for all”.

He said he would “take personal responsibility for the change I want to see”. We are still waiting.

The virus exposed a service unfit for purpose. The only way forward is a national care service integrated into the NHS.

It will cost. But you cannot put a price on the dignity of life.


Memo to Simon Jupp on what his predecessor thought about “build, build,build” in East Devon

Memo to Simon Jupp MP.

Here’s what your usually silent predecessor said when he attended the CPRE Symposium in 2018 where they unveiled their report into Devon’s Housing needs. This showed that  the Government figures imposed unrealistic and unjustifiable targets. [Owl has to find the time to summarise CPRE’s latest report]

(Sir Hugo gave his apologies for leaving at noon as he had a lunch appointment with John Varley, Estates Director, Clinton Devon Estates)


CPRE symposium 12 October 2018

‘Really, the Government should follow the evidence, not try and create the evidence to suit whatever pre thoughts they may have about volume house building to meet manifesto commitments.’

 Cranbrook is due to expand ‘I would not support Cranbrook. Indeed I would help try and resist the spread of Cranbrook across the A30 to absorb independent communities in Broadclyst , Rockbeare, Marsh Green and so forth.’

 ‘We do have huge pressure in East Devon, not least because we have as I say our most congenial neighbours, which are the Exe estuary on one side and the sea on the other. We are surrounded by AONB, and the pressure on withstanding existing conurbations such as Sidmouth and Budleigh are very difficult to do.’

Great dilemma.  ‘If you are going for economic growth, which is what Exeter and East Devon want to do, you therefore need to, in order to fuel that growth, you need to provide houses, if you provide that housing you get more people and in turn it becomes a self-fulfilling circle of more and more demand and more and more economic expansion.’


Planning algorithm may destroy suburbia, Tory MPs warn Boris Johnson

No mention of the damage to our countryside. No mention of Simon Jupp MP or Neil Parish MP lobbying the Prime Minister. Owl is very interested in their views especially those of Simon Jupp who we now know sits on the secretive Liveable Exeter Place Board

Steven Swinford, Deputy Political Editor | George Greenwood 

Boris Johnson has been warned by Tory MPs that an algorithm at the heart of his planning reforms risks “destroying suburbia” and “creating the slums of the future”.

The prime minister held a video conference call on Wednesday with 17 Tory MPs from the greater London area about the government’s white paper on planning. He was joined by Mark Spencer, the chief whip, and Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary.

The MPs, who included four serving ministers, were “unanimous” in raising concerns about the reforms, which will treble the number of homes built in London to 93,532 a year. They warned that the reforms would “do real harm to the suburbs” and “real harm to the Conservative vote”.

Some of the MPs raised concerns that Labour local authorities would build tower blocks in suburban areas to fulfil the target and “fundamentally change the nature of the constituency”.

One MP said: “Labour wants to build us out of London. We’ll end up with low-quality homes, rabbit hutch houses, not the family homes we need.”

Another said: “There’s already huge pressure in the planning system to urbanise the suburbs. The housing targets produced by this new algorithm are completely undeliverable and would make an already difficult situation far worse. They would force high rise, high-density development on local communities. There is a real danger that this would lead to the creation of the slums of the future.”

All the London Tory MPs and councillors are planning to make a joint response to the consultation raising their concerns.

Mr Johnson told MPs that he understood their concerns and was in “listening mode”. He stressed the need to build more homes in areas where people wanted to live.

Pushed on the algorithm at the heart of the reforms, the prime minister joked: “Algorithms are banned,” a reference to the exams chaos caused by an algorithm developed by the regulator.

Tory MPs flagged to Mr Johnson the strain that the planning reforms would place on his own constituency in Uxbridge. “He understood where we were coming from,” one said.

However, Mr Jenrick was said to be far more “defensive” about the algorithm.

“Jenrick was talking about how he understood the concerns but we need to build more housing,” one of the MPs said. “He said that everyone had to take their fair share.”

Under the changes to planning laws, local discretion over the rate of housebuilding will be removed and central government will “distribute” an annual target, at present 337,000 a year, among local councils. They will then be required to designate enough land to meet the target.

Analysis by Lichfields, a planning consultancy, has suggested that much of the new housing will be concentrated in Conservative local authority areas in the suburbs and the shires, rather than in town centres.

Tory constituencies will have housing targets raised by 52 per cent, from 81,200 to 123,400. On average, each Conservative-held local authority will have a rise of about 370 homes, compared with 250 for Labour-held areas.

A total of 25 Labour-held council areas would have their housing requirements slashed, with Manchester falling by nearly 1,000, Leicester by 600, Birmingham and Bradford by 500 each, and Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield by 400 each.

Neil O’Brien, the Tory MP for Harborough, Leicestershire, said: “Lots of our large cities have brownfield land and capacity to take more housing and it seems strange when planning to ‘level up’ to be levelling down their housing targets to rates even lower than they have been delivering. It would be quite difficult to explain to Conservative voters why they should take more housing in their areas to allow large Labour-run cities nearby to continue to stagnate rather than regenerate.”

A government source said: “This is not something we’re going to step away from. We’ve got a duty to do this for the next generation.”


20/1504/MOUT Application on Thorne Farm, Ottery St. Mary, Claire Wright Objects

Councillor Claire Wright (Objects)

Comment submitted date: Mon 17 Aug 2020

Tipton St John Primary School is in flood zone 3 and needs to be replaced, I am in no doubt of that.

I have seen the damage caused at clear up events that I helped with, alongside the community and fire and rescue service when the school grounds were filled with mud, sewage and silt.

While I am opposed to this planning application I would like to outline some of the history that has led up to this point, as I believe it is fair to put it into context.

The Environment Agency retains its position, held since 2015, that there is a risk to life related to a potential flood.

Last year rope fastenings at either side of the road between the two school buildings were fixed so that children crossing the road to safety during sudden flood events, were able to hold onto something secure.

I am fully aware of the ongoing stress and worry that this situation has caused headteacher, Colin Butler and his staff for many years as flood prevention measures must be every day be a top priority in order to keep the children safe.

In 2015, the Diocese of Exeter, supported by Devon County Council, applied for government funding under the Priority Schools Programme, to rebuild the school on a piece of land in the village, outside the flood zone.

This application was accompanied by the Environment Agency’s assessment that there was a risk to the lives of the children, if it was not relocated.

During that time, an in-principle agreement with a landowner at Tipton St John had been arranged, to purchase a piece of land on the edge of the village – and various planning suitability investigations were carried out.

After a number of positive meetings with ministers and many hopes raised, the application was finally and disappointingly rejected.

Plugging a financial hole of around £5m is the background that led to a planning application for 150 houses in Ottery St Mary, on a piece of land outside the built up area boundary.

This land, adjacent to Cadhay Lane, is allocated for community and education in EDDC’s Local Plan and also in Ottery St Mary and West Hill’s Neighbourhood Plan, so this application is contrary to the current EDDC Local Plan, as well as Ottery St Mary and West Hill’s Neighbourhood Plan.

Such a significant development would also place additional pressure on the town’s roads and health services.

Any large development on this land could cause problems with water run-off and potentially increase the risk of flooding to lower lying properties on Cadhay Lane and the Thorne Farm estate.

Ottery St Mary has been one of the fastest growing towns (in terms of housing) in East Devon over the past 10 years and should not be expected to cope with more housing at this time.

The government has recently announced a new £1bn school building programme and I have asked the Devon County Council portfolio holder for education, James McInnes, that the council applies for this funding in order to fully fund the rebuild of the school, preferably on land at Tipton St John.

While I fully support the need for a new Tipton St John school, it should be built in Tipton St John, with government funding, not in Ottery St Mary, funded by 150 houses.

[The three District Councillors have yet to comment – Owl]

More on: Ottery housing plan ‘flies in the face of’ public vote to safeguard land 

The layout plan for a new school and houses at Thorne Farm, presented in October's public consultation. Picture: Devon County Council

The layout plan for a new school and houses at Thorne Farm, presented in October’s public consultation. Picture: Devon County Council

A planning application that ‘flies in the face of’ local democracy is to be debated by Ottery Town Council next week.

Devon County Council wants to build up to 150 homes on land that local people had voted to safeguard from development.

The site opposite Barrack Farm is allocated for educational and community use only in the Ottery and West Hill Neighbourhood Plan, and the application is also contrary to the Local Plan adopted by East Devon District Council.

Ottery Town Council is due to discuss its response on Thursday, September 3, with the final decision to be made by East Devon District Council.

The county council says the housing development is needed to pay for a new school to replace Tipton St John Primary, which would be built on another part of the site.

A spokesman for the council said: “We are well aware of the very complex issues surrounding this application and the difficult decision that planners will have to make.”

But he said there is a ‘clear and demonstrable need’ for Tipton St John primary school to be relocated, and for a new primary school in Ottery St Mary to tackle a shortage of places.

He added that nearly a third of the new houses would be affordable and a large part of the site would be set aside for public green space.

He said: “The agreed plan for the area allocates land for education and community use and it is our contention that all of these benefits should be taken into account in deciding the application.”

The application for the school and homes has attracted 131 objections and 17 expressions of support.

People in both camps agree that the existing school needs to be replaced, as it is housed in out-of-date buildings and has frequently flooded in the past.

But while there is some disagreement over whether a relocation to Ottery is right, the vast majority of the objectors are united against the housing development.

One person commented: “This plan flies in the face of the democratic District and Neighbourhood planning process.”

Another said: “The people of Ottery St Mary voted overwhelmingly to support and adopt a Local Plan which excluded the area in question from development. Therefore residential development cannot happen.”

Half of patients struggling to book an appointment with GP

As Paul F pointed out on a previous post concerning hidden waiting lists for follow-up appointments in hospital:

“To put this in context 15m people is 25% – YES a quarter – of the UK population.

That is the state of the NHS – with a quarter of the population on a waiting list – and the government is keeping it secret.”

Now we have: half of patients struggling to book an appointment with GP

Kat Lay, Health Correspondent | Arthi Nachiappan 

More than half of people who have tried to book a GP appointment since coronavirus hit Britain have struggled, according to a poll.

The results from a YouGov survey for The Times showed that 53 per cent reported it had been harder to book a GP appointment, whether in person or over the phone.

Latest NHS figures on GP appointments show there were about 22.8 million in July, 85 per cent of the number during the same month last year.

Appointments have increased substantially from a slump at the height of the pandemic and many patients report satisfaction with GP services. Some 16 per cent of people in the poll said they had found it easier to book a GP appointment during the pandemic.

Patient advocates said, however, that they were concerned by persistent reports of people struggling to access care.

Paula Hooper, 66, said she had been forced to call paramedics after she was unable to arrange a home visit from her mother’s GP. Her mother, who has dementia, was moving in and out of consciousness and complaining of a pain in the back of her head. She said: “We don’t phone the GP willy-nilly. I think we just need a little bit more care locally.”

Linda Millband, head of clinical negligence at Thompsons Solicitors, said many claims dealt with by her practice in the past three months related to health conditions that worsened through patients not being able to get an appointment to see their GP, including cancer cases. “There will be serious issues as a result of this,” she said.

The pandemic has driven a rapid uptake of technology to enable remote consultation in primary care. In July last year 80 per cent of appointments were face-to-face, while this year the figure was 50 per cent.

Imelda Redmond, national director of Healthwatch England, said: “The feedback we have indicates remote consultations are working relatively well for patients who are able to access them but it’s concerning if significant numbers of people are still finding it difficult to make an appointment .”

John Kell, head of policy at the Patients Association, said that for patients where remote appointments were not suitable, GPs should be “making efforts to see them in a way that works for the patient, including face to face if necessary”.

In a letter sent out at the end of July, Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said: “All GP practices must offer face-to-face appointments at surgeries as well as continuing to use remote triage and video, online and telephone consultation where appropriate, while considering those who are unable to access or engage with digital services.” Health teams should also work to expand the range of services to which patients could refer themselves, freeing up GP time, he said.

Although appointments appear to be below usual levels, GPs said their workload was higher. Senior figures at the British Medical Association have said that hospitals are pushing work back to community practices inappropriately, including requests to write prescriptions or arrange blood tests.

“General practice is open and has been throughout the pandemic,” said Dr Jonathan Leach, honorary secretary for the Royal College of GPs. The college’s data showed that routine GP appointments were back to normal levels, and personal appointments were being facilitated “where necessary”.

“The pandemic isn’t over and we need to remain cautious,” he said. “We’re taking steps to ensure patients who need to come to the surgery are as safe as possible, but it is sensible to limit footfall where possible, in line with official guidance.” He said issues around shortages of GPs and lack of resources that had “understandably taken a back seat in the crisis” remained important.

An NHS spokesman said: “Although this poll is only a snapshot, it shows that of people who tried to book an appointment about the same number found it easier or saw no difference in how they accessed a GP appointment during Covid-19 — a remarkable achievement in the middle of a pandemic.”


New town councillors sought for Budleigh Salterton

Another Council seeking more members. – Owl 

Daniel Wilkins 

Budleigh Salterton Town Council is looking to co-opt two new councillors and is inviting residents to come forward.

The town council currently has 10 councillors and is led by town mayor Michael Hilliar and deputy mayor Roger Sheriff.

Town councillors make decisions on a variety of issues in the town including grant aid funding requests and is consultee on planning applications made in the town.

Meetings are currently conducted via Zoom due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Anyone interested in becoming a town councillor should fill out an application form and return it to town clerk Jo Vanstone by Monday, September 7.

Applications should be posted to Mrs J E Vanstone, town clerk, Budleigh Salterton Town Council, Council Offices, Station Road, Budleigh Salterton, EX9 6RJ.

Alternatively email or ring 01395 442245


The coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis and healthcare services in Devon

Executive Summary

Health and hospital services in Devon were already run-down and over capacity when the COVID-19 crisis struck.

Devon has had a relatively low rate of infections. Despite this, more people have undoubtedly contracted COVID than would have been the case if the Government had acted more promptly and according to the advice of public health experts.

Local health, care and community workers responded heroically to the crisis. But they were hampered by centralised decision-making, especially over testing, tracing, and PPE procurement, that undermined local planning and side-lined the expertise of local bodies.

Outsourcing of key functions to private sector contractors has led to inefficiencies, duplication, confusion, poor communication, and worse outcomes than if existing NHS and local authority capacity had been extended.

We offer urgent recommendations to ensure that Devon healthcare and hospital services are fit for purpose in the case of a second wave of COVID-19 infections, or a similar public health crisis in the future.

Full report can be found here.