‘Half a million victims of long Covid’ to be cared for in mini-hospitals

The NHS is to set up more than 40 mini-hospitals to treat “long Covid” patients, amid concerns that up to 500,000 may be suffering lasting effects.

Would these be like the “community hospitals” that our CCG has spent so much energy getting rid of? – Owl

Andrew Gregory, Health Editor www.thetimes.co.uk 

The centres will offer care to those displaying persistent symptoms such as breathlessness, chronic fatigue, brain fog, anxiety and stress. Experts believe a significant proportion of patients cannot shake off some of the serious negative effects of the disease many months after falling ill.

Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said the health service needed to mobilise to help long Covid patients in the same way that it rapidly reorganised to deal with acute Covid-19 infections earlier this year.

“Long Covid is already having a very serious impact on many people’s lives and could well go on to affect hundreds of thousands,” Stevens said.

The development follows the recent official recognition of long Covid by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the body that determines which treatments and drugs NHS patients are entitled to.

About one in 20 people experience symptoms including fatigue, breathlessness, muscle pain and loss of taste and smell for 12 weeks or more after contracting the virus, a recent study found. This rises to one in 10 people under the age of 50, the research by King’s College London revealed. Different features of long Covid may emerge and overlap as the illness progresses.

There are no precise figures for how many people in total are affected. However, MPs have been told that up to 500,000 people in Britain are living with the long-term effects.

More than 230,000 patients have used an NHS online service launched in July called Your Covid Recovery, which gives patients general information and advice on living with long Covid.

NHS England has provided £10m to fund the specialist centres, which will see patients who have been in hospital, officially diagnosed after a test or who reasonably believe they had Covid earlier in the year before testing was widely available. Some will be mini-hospitals set up inside large hospitals, while others will be based at standalone NHS sites or launched as clinics at GP surgeries.

Ten sites will open in the Midlands, seven in the northeast of England, six in the east, six in the southwest, six in the southeast, five in London and three in the northwest. Of the 43 sites, 13 are already open. The rest are due to start work by the end of this month.

Each of the specialist centres will bring together new teams of doctors, nurses, therapists and other NHS staff to conduct physical and psychological assessments of those patients experiencing enduring symptoms.

Nice is examining which drugs and other therapies improve long Covid patients’ physical and mental health and how best to provide long-term recovery and rehabilitation services.

There is mounting concern that some of the worst affected by long Covid are younger adults and particularly those who in normal times were fit and active.

Dan Scoble, 23, a personal trainer from Oxford, used to breeze through 10-mile runs, but said in June that he was stunned to find himself bed-bound months after contracting Covid-19. Five months later, he said he was still suffering from the effects of the virus. He presumed it would eventually blow over, but he is not back to normal. “I still can’t go for a walk,” he said this weekend.

“I can’t cook for myself — I can shower and dress myself but that’s about it.”

Scoble still suffers from crippling fatigue, migraines and a persistent sore throat, as well as abdominal and musculoskeletal pain. Months of ill-health have taken their toll. “My body was strong going through the hard times, but now it’s weak,” he said.

“Psychologically, it’s bloody tough. The only thing I can control is the controllable — which is my mindset. I’ve been doing two hours of meditation a day to keep me going.”

Scoble said he welcomed the launch of long Covid clinics in the NHS, but the help had come too late for him: “I ended up going private. I do think the NHS is starting to recognise the scale and seriousness of the problem, but I couldn’t wait.”

More than two-thirds of patients hospitalised because of the coronavirus continue to suffer from debilitating symptoms more than seven weeks after being discharged, according to a study in the medical journal Thorax last week.

Researchers found that 54 days after discharge, 69% of patients were still experiencing fatigue and 53% were suffering from persistent breathlessness. They also found that 34% still had a cough and 15% reported depression.

In addition, 38% of lung x-rays remained abnormal and 9% were getting worse, according to the study done in collaboration with the Royal Free London and University College London (UCL) Hospitals NHS Trust.

Dr Swapna Mandal, an honorary clinical associate professor at UCL division of medicine, said the data proved that long Covid was a real phenomenon. Colleague Professor John Hurst said: “Understanding long Covid is critical in helping people who have been through this life-changing experience return to health.”


George Pascoe-Watson among lobbyists given secret access to Covid meetings

One of Britain’s most influential lobbyists secretly served as an adviser to a health minister for six months — before sending sensitive information on lockdown policy to paying clients.

[More on “Chumoracy” – Owl]

Gabriel Pogrund, Whitehall Correspondent www.thetimes.co.uk 

George Pascoe-Watson is chairman of Portland Communications, a lobbying firm that represents pharmaceutical companies, weapons manufacturers and banks.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) appointed Pascoe-Watson, 55, a former journalist, as an adviser during the pandemic’s first wave on April 9 without announcing the move.

He participated in daily strategic discussions chaired by Lord Bethell, a hereditary peer and former lobbyist who serves as test and trace minister, for six months. Bethell, 53, was a surprise appointment in March having chaired Matt Hancock’s leadership campaign in 2019 and giving a £5,000 donation. Hancock, the health secretary, and Baroness Harding, the head of test and trace, are understood to have joined calls including Pascoe-Watson and senior officials about how to communicate announcements and policy.

The disclosures will reignite the row over “chumocracy”. Pascoe-Watson is the latest person to have been given a role and access to Whitehall without any public process or announcement.

Civil servants expressed concerns about Pascoe-Watson’s role — which was unpaid — but he remained until October 7. On October 15, he emailed clients revealing he had been “privately advised” that restrictions in London launched that day would run to spring 2021, adding: “Decision-makers have told me personally.”

A fortnight later, Portland partners wrote to clients informing them that Boris Johnson was considering a national lockdown — and that he was likely to “announce next week that he is prepared to ‘sacrifice November to save December’”. The note came three days before details appeared in newspapers, prompting the PM to order a leak inquiry.

Whitehall sources insist Pascoe-Watson had no warning of the second lockdown, which was not discussed formally until after the October 29 email was sent.

Lord Feldman, a lobbyist and former chairman of the Conservative Party, also advised Bethell between March and May, a role that was not declared either.

Sir Alistair Graham, former chairman of the committee on standards in public life, said Pascoe-Watson’s appointment was “incomprehensible”. He said: “I think the public interest requires that appointments to public office should go through a public process.” Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, described it as an “insult to the British people” and called for an inquiry.

The DHSC and Pascoe-Watson declined to say whether he signed a confidentiality agreement. A friend said his role involved giving his thoughts on the “media landscape”.

Another Portland consultant and Tory peer, Lord O’Shaughnessy, was paid by the government for his work as an “external adviser” until August. O’Shaughnessy, 44, took part in a phone call with Bethell and Boston Consulting Group, a Portland client that has gone onto receive more than £20m in government contracts.

Portland has a number of former Tory advisers on its staff. It is owned by Omnicom, a New York media company with annual revenue of $15bn. Recent clients include Pfizer, Barclays and HSBC.

The DHSC said: “We have drawn on the expertise of a number of private sector partners who provided advice and expertise to assist in vital work.”

Pascoe-Watson said: “I fully declared my role and responsibilities at Portland Communications to the DHSC … the information shared with clients on October 15 and 29 was in no way connected to the test and trace calls, in which I was no longer a participant.”

O’Shaughnessy said his role had been approved by the DHSC and declared in his register of interests.

‘My Little Crony’ map shows deals between Government, MPs and Tory donors

Jacob Rees-Mogg is asked about My Little Crony interactive map in the Commons. [Watch video on metro web site and investigate the “my Little Crony”  interactive map, link below – Owl]

Sian Elvin metro.co.uk

An MP has called for a public inquiry after a web of connections between Tory politicians and companies being awarded Government contracts was uncovered.

The ‘My Little Crony’ map shows how large numbers of contracts have been handed out to Conservative Party political donors, family members and employers during the coronavirus pandemic.

It uses reporting from the Byline Times, openDemocracy and other outlets to visually reveal what it calls the ‘scale of cronyism’ in Number 10.

For example, it was reported in September that Globus (Shetland) Limited, which has donated more than £400,000 to the Conservatives since 2016, won a £93.8 million Government contract for the supply of respirator face masks.

Shadow Commons leader and Walsall South Labour MP, Valerie Vaz, called on the Government to publicly investigate the contracts awarded and their connections to the Tories.

Ms Vaz said: ‘I don’t know if [Mr Rees-Mogg] is aware of the interactive map “My Little Crony”, which has been created by Sophie Hill.

‘I raised all of the contracts that have been handed out to those connected to the Tory party last week and I didn’t get an answer – but it is well worth a look.

‘Because [Mr Rees-Mogg] will know that I think it might be time for a public inquiry, particularly on the £670,000 that has been allocated by the vaccine tsar for public relations.

The ‘My Little Crony’ map shows a web of contracts between the UK Government, the Conservative Party, MPs and family members.


Illustrative detail

Shadow Commons leader Valerie Vaz has called for a public inquiry into the contracts awarded by the Conservative Party.

‘Now if you look at the “My Little Crony” interactive map, it will link directly to the special, special adviser’s relation.’

She is referring to the news this week that head of the Vaccine Taskforce, Kate Bingham, spent £670,000 of taxpayers’ money hiring PR consultants through a firm called Admiral Associates.

And the secretary of the firm is a long-time business associate of chief advisor Dominic Cummings’ father-in-law.

‘It is interesting to know what they do because they are actually based in BEIS (the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) of which there are 100 communications staff,’ Ms Vaz added.

‘But if it is something about a vaccine, I’d rather [deputy chief medical officer] Dr [Jonathan] Van-Tam tell me about it than a public relations so-called expert.’

Boris Johnson’s chief advisor, Dominic Cummings, reportedly has personal links to those who have won Government-awarded contracts.

Sophie Hill, a British PhD student in Government at Harvard University, created the map.

She wrote on Twitter: ‘The cronyism in this Tory government is so out-of-control that I honestly couldn’t keep track… so I combined my two main skills (puns and Rstats) to create this interactive visualisation.

‘We all understand that the Government had to act quickly during the pandemic. But that is no excuse for cronyism and incompetence.’

She told Metro.co.uk: ‘I created “My Little Crony” because I couldn’t keep up with all the news stories about Government outsourcing during the pandemic.

‘I hope people will explore the map and decide for themselves about whether this government is acting in the best interests of the country.’

A Government spokesperson said in response to the map: ‘Our sole focus has been to deliver vitally needed medical supplies and keep the public informed throughout the pandemic.

‘As part of an unprecedented response, the Government has drawn on the expertise and resources of a number of public and private sector partners.’

They did not respond to Metro.co.uk’s query about whether a public inquiry would be held into the matter.

Globus Limited reached out to Metro.co.uk to add it has also been awarded contracts by Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP-led Government to produce PPE for Scotland, and the Department of Health and Social Care.

A spokesperson said: ‘Globus Group has over 25 years’ experience producing PPE for healthcare workers and across industry and is among Britain’s biggest manufacturers in the sector.

Boris Johnson’s Government has been accused of offering a number of pandemic-related contracts to political donors and others connected to the Conservative Party.

‘We’re proud to be doing our bit to help NHS frontline staff fighting Covid-19 across Scotland and England do their jobs safely.

‘In both cases we followed the bidding process we were asked to follow. We are comfortable with any tendering process that Scottish or English Government choose to put in place because we are confident in our 25 years’ PPE experience and long track record for delivering quality and value for all of our customers.’

They added the firm has created ‘hundreds of new jobs’ as a result of the contracts, and all its political donations are ‘fully, transparently and properly’ declared.

‘Corruption and cronyism’

It comes after last month, Labour MP for Liverpool Walton Dan Carden accused the Government of ‘corruption’ and ‘cronyism’ in a powerful speech.

He said: ‘The anger and frustration isn’t just that the response is failing, but that it’s failing because the Government refused to enable and invest in local authorities and public health teams and instead chose to pump billions into scandal-ridden Government contractors that have a record of failure.

‘Under the cover of this pandemic, billions of public money handed to faceless corporations, including Tory-linked firms, without competition or transparency, without democratic accountability, or any accountability for that matter, to the public.

‘This is money that should’ve been invested into our National Health Service, that should’ve left a legacy for the British people by building up properly-funded public services that we can all rely on in the future.

‘But instead it was siphoned off.’

At the time, health secretary Matt Hancock defended the use of private firms like Serco, saying ‘private companies have been absolutely critical’ in operating the contract tracing system.

‘The test and trace system at a national level makes the immediate and very rapid first attempt at contact and if no contact is made then the local teams can go in. It’s the combination of the two that works best,’ he said in the Commons.

‘But I really think the opposition is making a mistake trying to divide people between public and private whereas actually people are working very hard to deliver, and to deliver the control of this virus.’

Mr Hancock added: ‘The private companies have been absolutely critical in the working and making sure the whole testing system can be built at the scale that it has.’

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer further slammed Boris Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, claiming £130 million has been spent on Government PR while charities have been struggling during the pandemic.

Planning algorithm to be overhauled by Government amid rebellion threat by Tory MPs

Plans to unleash a new generation of homes across England using an “ill conceived” algorithm are being overhauled amid the threat of a seismic rebellion by Conservative MPs.

By Edward Malnick, Sunday Political Editor  www.telegraph.co.uk

The Sunday Telegraph understands that a formula used to produce targets for each area is being “rebalanced” to focus on building homes in urban areas, following a major backlash by senior Tories, including Theresa May.

The move represents a significant climbdown by Boris Johnson and Robert Jenrick, the Housing Secretary.

Mrs May had warned that the proposed building formula “flies in the face” of the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda and would lead to more investment in London and the South East.

Analysis suggested that many of the homes needed to meet the annual target of 330,000 would be built in Conservative heartlands such as Surrey and Kent.

Separately, this newspaper understands that Mr Jenrick is planning to move a proportion of the Ministry of Housing to the West Midlands, as part of an attempt to shift government focus away from the South.

The change to the planned formula is expected to be announced within weeks. Sources said the shift was designed to help the Government to “re-imagine” town and city centres hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Covid has been driving the biggest change in city centres since the end of the Second World War and there are massive opportunities for the repurposing of office and retail buildings for mixed use,” said one source.

It comes after Mr Jenrick said there was “scope for compromise” on where the target of 330,000 homes are built each year.

A Ministry of Housing source said: “The Prime Minister and the Housing Secretary have been listening to Conservative colleagues.

“We are working on a fairer formula, which still meets our housing targets but is rebalanced so that more homes are built in urban areas, particularly in the Midlands and the North.

“We are going to revitalise these town and city centres and make them great places to live and work, driving investment and new jobs.”

Mr Jenrick is understood to have pinpointed Wolverhampton as a possible base for a Midlands branch of the Ministry of Housing, which would include offices in which the department’s ministers and senior officials would be expected to spend a proportion of each week.

Those seeking an appointment with the Housing Secretary would then be “just as likely” to see the minister in Wolverhampton as Whitehall.

Uproar at council chief’s beauty-spot home

If you want to build your dream home in an idyllic spot overlooking a pristine beach, first try joining the local council. Even better, be the chairman.

[All sounds very familiar but is this really “normal” for Cornwall? – Owl]

Ben Webster, Environment Editor, The Times, Saturday

That is the suggestion of conservationists in Cornwall, who are bringing a High Court challenge against Chris Wilton, a parish council chairman and farmer, and the permission he has been granted to build a house at Rame Head overlooking Whitsand Bay.

Rame Head, to the west of Plymouth, is an area of outstanding natural beauty, which normally makes planning permission out of the question.

Mr Wilton has won approval for his plans by arguing that he needed to build an “agricultural worker’s dwelling”. Campaigners say that a home of potentially six bedrooms, three bathrooms and double garage is “certainly not a normal agricultural dwelling”.

More than 250 people, including a visitor from Canada, have given £11,000 for a legal challenge over the decision.

A High Court judge ruled this week that there were grounds for a judicial review into claims by the Rame Protection Group that the county council had breached its duty to give adequate reasons for its decision, and failed to demonstrate that the home accorded with its development plan.

County councillors, who have the final say on the proposal, voted seven to six to approve the home, despite the officer for Rame Head area of outstanding natural beauty and the principal planning officer recommending it was refused because of the negative impact on the protected landscape. New homes in open countryside in Cornwall are permitted only in “special circumstances”, including when a farm worker has to live in a specific location.

Rame Protection Group said: “If this is allowed, there will be nothing to stop any farmer who owns a plot of land in a beauty spot using this case as a precedent to secure permission to build in any of Cornwall’s beautiful locations, regardless of protective landscape and environmental legislation.”

Mr Wilton expects the home to cost £120,000 to build but the group said that it could be worth up to £1 million. The group claimed that Maker with Rame parish council had shown “favouritism” to Mr Wilton by not holding a public meeting before expressing support for his plans.

Mr Wilton, 46, said that campaigners were motivated partly by envy. “Unfortunately it stems from jealousy … the location has lovely views.” He claimed that most were green campaigners who resented he had voted against a proposal for the parish council to declare a climate emergency. He said the council was not allowed to consult the public owing to coronavirus restrictions.

Maker with Rame council said it had “reached an unbiased decision on the application as the councillors felt the impact to the AONB was minimal”.

Cornwall council said that the decision would be “robustly defended”.

Revolt in PM’s own constituency over planning reforms

Boris Johnson may want to build back better but he better not build in his own backyard, Conservatives in his constituency have warned.

George Grylls, The Times, Saturday 14

The prime minister and Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, are facing revolts over plans to give developers approval to build huge numbers of new homes. Tory councillors responsible for planning in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Mr Johnson’s constituency, and Newark, Mr Jenrick’s seat, have said the reforms are “worryingly naive”. One said that he initially thought the proposals were a joke.

About 80 Tory MPs plan to oppose the reforms, which will limit the ability of residents to block developments. They have denounced a “mutant algorithm” which allocates where homes will be built. The formula demands increases in housebuilding in rural areas and London, while development in many northern cities will shrink.

Keith Burrows, head of planning at Hillingdon council, in Mr Johnson’s constituency, said that the plan was “one of the worst pieces of planning legislation we’ve had for a long time”. He added: “We always have legislation come out of central government and some of it makes sense. Unfortunately, this one doesn’t. This one is so out of the field, I don’t know whether the person [who came up with it] was just bored.”

Mr Burrows said that when he was presented with the plans “I actually thought somebody was pulling my leg”.

Under the reforms 446 new homes a year will need to be built in Mr John son’s west London constituency. Mr Johnson has previously been critical of housebuilding in the area. Last year he objected to a scheme for 514 flats.

In Mr Jenrick’s constituency Roger Blaney, of Newark and Sherwood district council’s planning committee, said that the algorithm’s focus on the southeast contradicted the government’s “declared intention of levelling up”.

A housing ministry spokesman said: “We’re reforming the country’s planning system to deliver the high-quality, sustainable homes communities need.”