Large Covid outbreak at Exmouth care home

A large outbreak of Covid-19 at an Exmouth care home reached 26 positive cases among residents and staff.

Anita Merritt www.devo

Knappe Cross Care Centre in Brixington Lane had its first Covid-19 case confirmed last Saturday, December 5, after one of its residents was tested positive during a hospital admission.

Since then steps have been taken to try and halt its spread, with extra staff coming on board to cover for staff who are currently having to self-isolate and to look after the residents.

All ‘window visits’ to the care home by family and loved ones have been suspended until the outbreak is under control.

Devastated registered manager Mircea Ciobanu said: “It was something that was very unexpected. We have been fairly fortunate so far up until now that we have not had any cases through this pandemic.

“It was a disappointment to us, as much as it was to families, residents and staff that this has now happened. We are doing the best we can to control the outbreak and I think we have done very, very well so far in doing that.

Knappe Cross Care Centre

Knappe Cross Care Centre

“We have not had any residents or staff who have been very, very poorly, and nobody has died.

“We have been in touch with the local authority, Public Health England and the Care Quality Commission, and have a meeting scheduled with them.

“We are fortunate to say that in spite of some staff testing positive we have managed to cover the floors and bring in enough staff. They are very busy and are doing their best to keep our residents safe following the advice we have been given.

“What matters now is how we manage it and how things will be when this is over.”

The care facility is home to 37 residents and it employs up to 45 members of staff.

Expressing his gratitude to all the care home’s staff for what they have done this year, Mr Ciobanu added: “My staff have made very big sacrifices through the pandemic to take care of our residents such as sacrificing holidays and not seeing their own loved ones.

“I would like to thank them for how supportive they have been.”

A spokesman on behalf of Public Health Devon said: “Public Health experts and Devon County Council are working together to support staff at Knappe Cross Care Centre in Exmouth following a number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 at the care home.

“The home is following all of the current guidance to control infection. It is minimising the risk of the transmission among its residents and staff through a comprehensive range of measures including self-isolation of those affected, wearing of correct PPE, rigorous cleaning, as well as social distancing and hand hygiene.

“Any contacts of the confirmed cases have been contacted and asked to self-isolate for the appropriate duration, and should symptoms develop they should be tested.”

Steve Brown, director of Public Health Devon (designate) said: “Care homes in Devon are working extremely hard to keep residents and staff safe and to control the risk of infection.

“We are working closely with care homes to support those currently affected and will continue to monitor the latest data and intelligence.”

297 flats and an aparthotel proposed in Cambridge

Plans for hundreds of new flats and an aparthotel  in Cambridge have been put forward for public consultation.

Benjamin Hatton 

Vertex Living, which would manage the property if approved, has proposed the development on the site of the former National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Huntingdon Road.

The plans include 297 build-to-rent apartments, a 201-room aparthotel, a cafe, microbrewery and bike shop, as well as “pocket parks” on site.

The plans have no formal planning status at present, but a planning application is expected early next year after the consultation.

The developer said the tallest building on site would be around five storeys.

Vertex Living is the property managing agent for Marchingdale Developments, which already has permission to convert the former NIAB offices into 149 flats.

That proposal proved controversial for including “very small” flats with a floor space of 17 square metres, about the size of a disabled parking bay. The city council’s executive councillor for planning policy. Labour’s Katie Thornburrow, branded it “appalling” and said it would provide “inadequate spaces to live in”.

‘Gym and swimming pool’

Marchingdale Developments obtained permission for the conversion in May via a national policy that encourages developers to convert offices into homes, bypassing some of the locally enforced regulations, including, in this case, the council’s minimum space standard of 37 square metres.

At the time, the leader of the city council, Labour’s Lewis Herbert, described the method of obtaining planning consent as a “loophole”.

The developer defended the plans, saying they comply with the relevant planning legislation, and saying “the units are of a perfectly reasonable size, allowing for all of the necessary functions to support daily life”.

The latest proposal would retain 68 of the flats that proved controversial, which will be developed by converting the frontage of the 1920s building of the former NIAB offices while replacing the plans for the other 81 flats with the new purpose-built flats and aparthotel.

Although the developer is seeking permission for its latest proposal, it already has permission to implement its original plan should it choose to.

Vertex Living says that all of its plans for the site are compliant with the necessary planning policies and that the latest build-to-rent scheme will address a need for rented homes in the city by offering purpose-built rental accommodation with secure tenancies, aimed at those who do not qualify for affordable housing but who cannot afford to buy a property.

‘Build-to-rent for those who cannot afford to buy’

A spokesperson for Vertex Living said: “The private rental market is the largest housing tenure in the city and currently 49 per cent of all households in Cambridge rent privately.

“The build-to-rent concept is new to Cambridge, however the council has acknowledged that there is a need and demand locally for this form of accommodation. The new homes are primarily targeted at those people who cannot access social housing but also cannot afford to buy due to the high cost of property in Cambridge.

“The build-to-rent homes will provide future residents with secure tenancies within a well-managed development that will offer excellent communal facilities, high-speed internet and on-site maintenance.

“Affordable dwellings will be delivered as part of the build-to-rent offering and provided as discounted rent homes allocated to local workers. This approach is compliant with National Planning Guidance and supported by the housing team at Cambridge City Council.

Dozens of GP practices in England opt out of Covid vaccine rollout

More than 100,000 patients will not be able to get the Covid vaccine from their family doctor after their GP surgeries decided not to take part in its deployment, the Guardian can reveal.

Denis Campbell

Dozens of GP practices in England have chosen not to join the NHS’s coronavirus vaccination programme amid concerns their workloads are already too heavy, they have too few staff and that patients could suffer if practices have to cut back other services so doctors can administer the injections.

Their reluctance to inoculate patients threatens to overshadow the start of the second phase of the vaccine rollout, which is due to start next week, with GPs taking part for the first time.

The Guardian has established that a number of practices in Manchester, Sussex, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and the Thames Valley have opted out of the programme. The local NHS will have to arrange for patients registered at those surgeries to be vaccinated elsewhere.

While GPs are pleased the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has become available, many are concerned at how they will put on vaccine clinics from 8am to 8pm seven days a week, as they are obliged to do under the terms of the contract covering their involvement, which NHS England negotiated with the British Medical Association, the doctors’ trade union.

A new rule requiring every vaccine recipient to then be monitored for 15 minutes, introduced by NHS England after two hospital workers had an allergic reaction to it when deployment began on Tuesday, has also prompted some surgeries to not get involved.

Many GPs are torn between their desire to immunise patients in order to save lives and the practical difficulties of participation. Their feelings are also complicated by not wanting to be seen to be undermining public confidence in, or access to, the vaccine.

Discontent in Manchester is so great that two primary care networks (PCN), or groupings of practices, which between them have more than 100,000 patients, have decided not to take part. One, Cheetham Hill and Crumpsall PCN, involves eight surgeries which between them have around 56,000 patients. The other, Higher Blackley, Harpurhey and Charlestown PCN, comprises nine surgeries with about 46,000 patients.

“We are already struggling to staff our surgeries, so how are we going to provide the staff to do the vaccinations? And how can we scale back other services, to free up staff time to vaccinate people, without compromising patients’ safety?” said one GP in Cheetham Hill and Crumpsall.

Primary care services in England are delivered by about 7,000 surgeries organised in 1,260 PCNs. Family doctors in about 250 PCNs are due to start vaccinating patients next week. They will join the 70 “hospital hubs” across the UK which began delivering the vaccine to over-80s, care home staff and NHS personnel with underlying health conditions on Tuesday.

Dr Julia Patterson, the lead for Everydoctor, a network of grassroots NHS medics, said: “I’ve not spoken to a single doctor who doesn’t want to take part in the vaccine rollout; medical professionals are acutely aware of the importance of vaccinations. However, PCNs in some areas may simply be forced to opt out in order to keep normal patient services going, and keep their patients safe this winter.”

There is concern that, once a surgery has signed up, the length of the contract – nine months – could mean that patients may struggle to access care during that time.

A letter from GPs at a surgery in Lincolnshire claimed the “inflexible” contract, and NHS England’s ability to unilaterally impose new conditions during the rollout, “pose a real risk to the safe and essential general medical services we provide to our patients, to the wellbeing of our colleagues, and to the financial stability of the GP practices”.

Pulse, a news website for GPs, reported on Thursday that the 15-minute observation rule had prompted North East Derbyshire PCN to pull out of the scheme.

The Royal College of GPs acknowledged the challenge facing GPs and tension in their ranks.

Prof Martin Marshall, its chair, said: “It is going to be an enormous challenge, given the workload and workforce challenges GPs and our teams are currently working under … Given these challenges, we understand why some practices have felt like they cannot sign up. But there has been an excellent response from the large number of practices able and wanting to be involved.”

A spokesperson for the NHS said: “As set out and supported by the BMA, general practices will deliver the vaccine from nominated sites within primary care networks, where it is safe and practical to do so. There has been a fantastic response from GPs across England signing up to do so.

“Given the well-known logistical challenges of delivering this particular vaccine, GPs like others across the NHS are now responding rapidly to make arrangements for this to happen.”

Bellway housebuilders fined £600,000 for destroying bat roost in south London

A building firm that carried out demolition work at a site known to be inhabited by bats has been handed a £600,000 fine, the largest ever issued by a court for a wildlife crime, according to police.

The pound at East Budleigh comes to mind. Would the police take action here? – Owl

Bellway, the housebuilders, admitted damaging or destroying a breeding site or resting place in Artillery Place, Greenwich, south-east London, in 2018, where soprano pipistrelle bats had been documented the previous year.

All species of the animal in the UK are protected.

Bellway, which also had to pay costs of £30,000, agreed to make a £20,000 donation to the Bat Conservation Trust, the Metropolitan police said.

Inspector David Hawtin praised Sgt Simon Henderson and PC Giles Balestrini for their roles in the investigation.

“With the expert assistance of colleagues from specialist units within the Met, the officers constructed evidence to prove that the company had indeed committed an offence by carrying out work at a site where bats were known to inhabit,” he said.

“Bellway Homes has admitted responsibility for this and I hope it reinforces the message that this legislation is there for a reason and should be adhered to.”

At Woolwich crown court on Tuesday, the company pleaded guilty to damaging or destroying a breeding site or resting place of a wild animal of a European protected species between 17 March and 17 August 2018.

The company had been notified in planning documents that it would first need to obtain the appropriate mitigation and a Natural England European protected species licence.

Devon council data leak under investigation

A significant password data breach involving East Devon councillors has been uncovered – and is now under investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Owl can confirm that they failed to spot the data breach! (The article contains a splendid photo of “Colditz”.) 

Daniel Clark

Passwords used by at least 37 of the 60 strong East Devon District Council were briefly made publicly available as a result of the data breach that happened at the start of November.

Swift action was taken to rectify the breach, with councillors having their passwords reset.

It is understood that Strata, East Devon District Council’s IT provider, at some stage took the decision to add the both Airwatch, and Outlook 365 passwords to the individual councillor profiles, and as such, the data breach meant passwords were available.

It also meant that all the data within the councillors’ emails, which could have included confidential information such as probation reports, medical info and electoral register data, could have been accessed by other council members.

The Strata team acted quickly to reset the passwords and notified the Information Commissioners’ Office of the breach, and a full report will come before the council’s cabinet in 2021.

Cllr Paul Millar, who discovered the initial data breach, asked questions around the issue at Wednesday’s full council meeting.

He asked of Cllr Jess Bailey, Portfolio Holder for Corporate Services, what her assessment of the recent significant password data breach for Members, what steps is she taking to ensure that the appropriate safeguards are introduced to prevent the same or similar situation from happening again, and when will Cabinet receive a report?

In response, Cllr Bailey said: “Whilst I recognise that this is a serious matter, I have been sufficiently reassured such that in my view the actual risk of anything untoward having occurred is extremely low.

“Quick and early responsive action was taken to rectify the issue – acknowledged by the ICO – and I understand that the issue is very specific and, as such, is highly unlikely to result in any wider implications for the rest of the Council’s systems.

Blackdown House, East Devon District Council\'s new HQ in Honiton

Blackdown House, East Devon District Council\’s new HQ in Honiton

“The investigation report from Strata, which will come to Cabinet in the near future, will address this and I have been reassured that the Council’s Data Protection Officer will be ensuring that the recommendations and any mitigation actions identified are appropriate and that they will be implemented.”

As a supplementary, Cllr Millar asked for a yes or no answer to the question of ‘can you offer a categorical assurance that my emails and the data of many residents inside those emails were accessed by a third party?’

Cllr Bailey replied: “There will be a report coming through and once that’s available will be brought through,” to which Cllr Millar said: “That’s a no then.”

After the meeting, he added: “The Portfolio Holder’s evasive answer to my question confirms that she does not appear have any handle on an extremely significant data protection issue within the Council.

“There are simply no grounds to suggest that the risk is “extremely low” as she suggested in her written answer to me.

“I look forward to a proper explanation on behalf of the residents in my Ward that my email password and sensitive data will never be able to be viewed by third parties.

“There is no doubt of the seriousness of this situation and I have to say that I am very unimpressed with the Portfolio Holder’s total lack of urgency in terms of providing Members and residents with the much-needed clarity and peace of mind that she is personally on the case..”

A spokesman for East Devon District Council said there was nothing more they wanted to say in addition to the answer from the portfolio holder.