Mobile Covid testing centres coming to Honiton, Exmouth and Axminster

Mobile community Covid testing centres offering results within an hour are set to visit Honiton, Exmouth, and Axminster after a successful trial in Exeter. 

A new unit was tried out at Devon and Cornwall Police’s Middlemoor HQ on Friday, February 19.

It has been bought by the county council and, from this week, is hitting the road offering rapid testing to the public in areas with the highest rates of coronavirus.

More mobile facilities are ‘expected to come online soon’, says the authority.

They will be available in Honiton, Exmouth, Axminster, Okehampton, Tavistock and Ivybridge ‘in the coming weeks’.

Devon County Council (DCC) says mobile testing centres will be a ‘vital part’ of its efforts to offer rapid testing.

It will target anyone who leaves their home to work or volunteer, and who may come into contact with others.

A DCC spokesperson said: “Around one in three people who have coronavirus do not show any symptoms and may unwittingly be spreading the infection.

“Regular rapid testing identifies those non-symptomatic carriers of the virus – and anyone regularly in contact with others is encouraged to take these quick tests twice a week to prevent the potential spread of the virus.

“And if they do test positive, they are required to self-isolate immediately to prevent them from transmitting it to others.”

Devon’s director of public health Steve Brown said: “These new mobile test centres will help us to offer more rapid Covid-19 tests in more locations to those who need it.

“The tests are quick, painless and easy to book with results back within an hour via text or email.

“By being regularly tested it could prevent you unintentionally passing the virus to others.

“But please remember, while a positive test will require you to self-isolate at home, a negative test does not remove the need to continue following national guidance around social distancing, wearing a face covering, and washing your hands properly and regularly. These simple steps are still vital in preventing the transmission of the virus.”

The mobile centre trialled at Devon and Cornwall Police’s Exeter HQ saw specially-trained members of the constabulary test Middlemoor-based officers and civilian staff.

Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Steve Parker said:

“We welcome the co-operation of Devon County Council in providing this testing service to our officers and staff.

“Working closely and collaboratively with our partners has been a critical part of the multi-agency response to the pandemic throughout the last year.

“The support will enable at least some of our staff to have a test and allow them to be reassured if they are negative for Covid-19, but also take immediate, preventative action if they test positive.

“We continue to explore any avenue which could help protect our staff from exposure to Covid-19 and in turn enable us to continue to provide frontline service delivery to the communities of Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.”

More information on community testing in Devon is available here.

Town halls to seize empty shops to put them back to use, under Labour plans to revive high streets

Town halls would be able to seize empty shops and bring them back into use, under Labour plans to revive decaying high streets.

The party will accuse the government of overseeing “a decade of decline” that has weakened the economy and society – vowing to give local councils beefed-up powers to act.

Under changes to come into force in August, restaurants, banks, gyms, creches and offices will also be fast-tracked for residential use.

That policy will see high streets “sold off to the highest bidder for poor quality housing without planning permission”, the shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds will allege.

Vowing to fight back instead, she will say in a set piece speech: “Britain’s high streets are at the heart of local communities

“It is not just a string of shops and post offices, it’s a place that people want to have pride in. The high street goes to the heart of Labour’s vision to make Britain the best place to grow up and grow old in.”

Labour believes a new “empty shops order” can enable councils to seize the initiative and ensure premises are used either for shopping, small businesses or “other enterprises”.

The idea was put forward a decade ago by Mary Portas, the broadcaster appointed by David Cameron to carry out a high streets’ review, but never enacted.

Ms Dodds will propose that town halls would first work with the owner of an empty shop, to restore it to use – but, if that fails, take it over and carry out any necessary works.

Councils would be permitted to charge rent and, after recouping the cost of carrying out any improvements, that rent would then pass to the property owner.

Last summer, the prime minister sparked a row by announcing that redundant buildings would be demolished and rebuilt without a normal planning application.

Pubs, libraries and village shops “essential to the lifeblood of communities” would be protected – but the move was condemned by campaigners who protested it was already far too easy to build poor quality homes.

Speaking in London, Ms Dodds will say: “The Conservatives have presided over a decade of decline in Britain’s high streets that has left our economy insecure and the foundations of our society weakened.

“Labour’s plan would help secure the future of the high street. It would give local communities a proper stake in their town centres, support new businesses to open up on our high streets and help rebuild our economy post-pandemic.”

Could it be an election year? Alison Hernandez off the leash

The Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall is urging people to report incidents of dog theft to police officers in order to help them better understand the scale of the problem in the region.

Police commissioner urges public to report dog thefts

Molly Dowrick 

Alison Hernandez, who has been the commissioner for Devon and Cornwall Police for almost five years, says she has heard “numerous” accounts of potential dog theft incidents in the region – but officers appear “sceptical” about the size of the problem.

Ms Hernandez has penned an extensive report on the need for “harsher penalties” for pet theft and is urging local people to complete a national survey on dog theft.

She says she wants to stamp out pet theft in the South West region and is calling for urgent reform to ensure pet theft is treated as seriously as it should be.

In her statement – which you can read in full on her campaigns website here – Ms Hernandez says pet theft is currently the worst it has ever been, with 80% of pets stolen never being returned to their owners.

Ms Hernandez said: “Pet theft is not treated with the seriousness it deserves and reform is urgently needed.

“During the pandemic, dog ownership and prices have risen significantly – pet theft is now the worst it has ever been, rising in some areas by 250%.

“Tragically, just one in five pets are ever returned to their owner. Only about 1% of pet thefts lead to charges.

“I know how much my family love our cat Mylo and would be devastated if he was stolen, along with many cat and dog owners.”

She continued: “Because punishments are often related to the monetary value of a pet, they usually result in trivial fines rather than imprisonment.

“Although the Theft Act of 1968 allows a maximum penalty of up to seven years, this never seems to happen. The majority of prison sentences awarded are less than six months. This Act is over 50 years old and may need amendment.

“Pet theft is Low Risk and High Reward, attracting organised crime.”

Ms Hernandez comments come after a Freedom of Information request from our crime reporter Carl Eve which disclosed that Devon and Cornwall Police logged 73 dog theft crimes in 2020, covering a total of 78 dogs.

Of these incidents, the most common place for a dog theft crime was a dwelling (36 incidents) and from a road (12 incidents), though other dogs were reportedly taken from farms and gardens as well as a dog taken from each of the following categories: a beach, a business, a shop, a stable.

Ms Hernandez’s comments come after people across the region have flooded neighbourhood groups on social media with reports of alleged dog thefts.

Last month, many Plymouth residents said they feared their homes had been marked as targets for potential dog-snatchers after spotting strange cable-ties affixed to lampposts allegedly outside homes with dogs.

But police soon confirmed that there was no evidence to suggest people putting up cable-ties had a sinister motive or that these the cable ties marked houses for dog thieves.

Tips to keep your dogs safe from theft

from the RSPCA:

  • Don’t leave your dog outside a shop on his own or in a car alone
  • Teach your dog a reliable recall for when you are out walking
  • Check your garden to make sure it is secure and if you have a gate then fit with a lock
  • Neuter your pet as this can reduce the likelihood of roaming
  • Make sure your pet is wearing a collar with an ID tag and that it is up to date: it is a legal requirement for a dog to have an ID tag with your name and address on it (The RSPCA also recommends including your mobile phone number on any ID tag as this can help reunite you with your pet quickly should he ever get lost or stolen)
  • Microchip your pet and keep the details up to date, so that if your pet does go missing or is stolen then there is a higher chance they can be reunited. It is a legal requirement to have your dog microchipped in England and Wales.

‘People’s Covid Inquiry’ To Look Into Government’s Handling Of Coronavirus

Frustrated by the government’s reluctance to hold a public inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic any time soon, and worried about a “rapid rewriting of history”, a group of legal and medical professionals have taken it upon themselves to conduct their own.

Chris York

The People’s Covid Inquiry will on Wednesday night begin the first of eight virtual hearings to be held over the next 16 weeks, examining every aspect of how the pandemic has affected the UK and what Boris Johnson’s government did and didn’t do to stop it.

The initiative, organised by the campaign group Keep Our NHS Public (KONHSP), comes amid growing calls for an immediate public inquiry so that lessons can be learned and applied in an attempt to limit further loss of life.

When asked last month if a public inquiry would be held, a government spokesperson told HuffPost UK ministers had been “clear” that there would be “opportunities in the future to look back, analyse and reflect on all aspects of this pandemic”.

They added: “As the prime minister has said, this will include an independent inquiry at the appropriate time.”

When that “appropriate time” actually is has not been specified.

“We don’t think the government will hold a public inquiry for a long time, until it’s not politically damaging to them,” Dr John Puntis, a consultant at Leeds Teaching Hospital and Executive Committee member of KONHSP, told HuffPost UK.

“They couldn’t come out of one well.”

Wednesday’s inaugural session is titled: “How well prepared was the NHS?” It will examine Conservative policy in the decade leading up to the pandemic as well as how the government coped when it began. 

It will be chaired by Michael Mansfield QC and feature health experts as well as frontline workers and bereaved relatives who will share their own personal experiences.

  • Jo Goodman – co-founder Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice
  • Professor Sir Michael Marmot  – director, UCL Institute of Health Equity, UCL Dept of Epidemiology and Public Health
  • Holly Turner – children’s mental health nurse/CAMHS
  • Professor Gabriel Scally – president Epidemiology and Public Health Section Royal Society of Medicine, visiting professor of Public Health, University of Bristol, member of Independent SAGE
  • John Lister – health journalist and campaigner

“It’s not just about experts,” said Puntis. “It’s also about taking testimony from ordinary people so we have nurses, frontline workers, bereaved families – it’s about giving them on opportunity they wouldn’t necessarily get in an official inquiry.”

Puntis acknowledges that without the resources available to the government, the People’s Covid Inquiry can’t hope to conduct as thorough an examination as a full public inquiry could achieve, but he says doing what they can now is crucial.

“It’s important to have it now while it’s fresh in people’s memories and document it and then this will be a body of evidence that we will pass on to the Department of Health [and Social Care] and the Commons health select committee,” he said.

“We then hope this will prompt them to hold an inquiry or feed into a subsequent and much better resourced inquiry.”

A major concern has been prompted by comments health secretary Matt Hancock made this week when he denied there had been a shortage of PPE in the early days of the pandemic.

“History’s already being rewritten,” Puntis said.

“Last spring and summer there were healthcare workers who could not get PPE. I’ve got junior doctors in my family who did not have the right PPE – they still don’t, actually.

“And you’ve now got Matt Hancock saying: ‘No, there wasn’t a shortage.’ I am very worried about this rapid rewriting of history.”

Every two weeks for the next 16 weeks, the People’s Covid Inquiry will examine a different area, including: 

At the time of writing, 120,757 people had died in the UK within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19. But alongside the grim daily death tolls, the government has been keen to share news of the so-far-successful vaccine rollout and the PM’s roadmap out of lockdown announced on Monday.

“The vaccination rollout is being framed by the government as: ‘Forget everything bad that’s happened, we’ve done a great job,’” Dr Puntis said.

“Whereas actually, the death toll absolutely refutes that.”

Why we’re suing over the £23m NHS data deal with Palantir – openDemocracy

The government is battling ‘vaccine hesitancy’. How does sneaking through a massive deal with a controversial spy tech firm help?

Mary Fitzgerald

Imagine you’re doing something unlawful – how do you avoid getting sued? Lately, if you’re Boris Johnson’s government, it seems you try sneaking it through before anyone notices.

Unfortunately for them, it didn’t work this time. We’ve just issued a lawsuit over their £23m NHS data deal with controversial ‘spy tech’ company Palantir.

We’re taking the government to court because, right before Christmas, they quietly gave this CIA-backed firm a major, long-term role in handling our personal health information, and in England’s cherished National Health Service.

The government claimed the initial Palantir ‘datastore’ deal, signed last March, was a short-term, emergency response to the pandemic. But December’s new, two-year contract reaches far beyond COVID: to Brexit, general business planning and much more.

And, as the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reveals today, it comes after years of Palantir lobbying top UK and NHS officials, courting them in London, San Francisco and Davos – over dinner and watermelon cocktails.

Health secretary Matt Hancock and his advisers must have known it wouldn’t look good.

Palantir is best known for powering US intelligence operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Its founder Peter Thiel, a Trump-backing Silicon Valley billionaire, famously once wrote: “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.” Palantir’s tech has been accused of creating ‘racist’ feedback loops in US ‘predictive policing’ software. Its own staff have criticised its role in Trump’s brutal deportations of undocumented migrants.

How does all this sit with the current drive to combat ‘vaccine hesitancy’ among Black, Asian and migrant communities in the UK? Striking quiet deals with firms like Palantir, especially with no real public dialogue, risks demolishing trust in the NHS among the very communities where the government now urgently seeks to shore up trust.

As Kailash Chand, former deputy chair of the British Medical Association, put it: “The secrecy around what the government is doing with NHS data, working with companies like Palantir, will damage what trust is left amongst ethnic communities, for migrants, and in the NHS family as a whole. It makes it difficult for people like me to convince ethnic minority people that this is being done in their best interests.”

The NHS is at a crossroads

This isn’t just about Palantir. The future of the NHS is being written now, in the latest chapter of the pandemic. The government has put us on notice that sweeping changes to our health service are on the way. They present both opportunities and grave risks.

The government has a legal duty to consult us, citizens and NHS users, before they strike massive deals which affect that future. In doing so, they need to take important steps (like conducting ‘data protection impact assessments’) to ensure our health information and our rights are protected. They haven’t done this for the Palantir datastore: that’s why we’re bringing this case.

More broadly, our elected leaders need to explain their long-term plans for our cherished NHS – enabling genuine public debate about them.

The government’s published plans for overhauling the NHS include new rules for handling the nation’s health data, and involve handing over almost all power over the NHS to Matt Hancock. By scrapping many NHS procurement rules, they open the door for big tech firms to take ever-greater slices of the NHS pie – including access to our health data for profit, and unaccountable influence over vital healthcare decisions. These are issues in which the public deserves a say.

Our NHS: worth more than a watermelon cocktail

How did we get here? Was it really, as some suggest, that the government suddenly turned to Palantir in an emergency because there was no other choice?

It seems not. As the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s reporting reveals, Palantir has been intensively lobbying top UK and NHS officials.

On 2 July 2019, the night before the launch party of NHSX – the UK’s flagship digital health initiative – emails released through Freedom of Information show Palantir hosting the chair of NHS England, Lord David Prior, for dinner and cocktails. (Prior is a Conservative peer and former junior minister.)

Palantir’s UK chief, Louis Mosley, emailed his pitch the very next day: “I’m more convinced than ever that the UK is uniquely placed to pioneer the next generation of medical discoveries and treatments.” [The next two paragraphs of Mosley’s email are, strangely, redacted].

Prior responded just hours later to thank Mosley “for the watermelon cocktails” and added: “[redacted] If you can see ways where you could help us structure and curate our data so that it helps us deliver better care and provides a more insightful data base for medical research, do be in touch.”

The correspondence is clear. The UK government was keen to lay a path in the NHS for Palantir – undermining official claims that the Covid datastore was an emergency fix with no long-term plans in prospect.

Health data, yes – but only with public trust

There are countless ways in which trustworthy and public-spirited use of data could benefit the NHS, and all of us, in tackling disease and delivering better public health outcomes. Several important patient juries on the use of health data consistently show that people are cautiously open to data use for the right reasons: to improve care, and so long as benefits are distributed equally and fairly to all patients.

But proceeding without public trust undermines our chances of achieving any of this. It doesn’t help that, under the new Palantir contract, we have no idea what is going into the long-term datastore: for the first time, the government has completely redacted the list of health-data sources fed into it.

This approach carries echoes of the ‘’ debacle from 2013 to 2016. This was another massive health data centralisation plan involving big private firms that failed because the government didn’t consult on its plans and communicated them badly – and lost public trust as a result. So many people opted out (some 1.2 million patients) that the NHS abandoned the programme.

The NHS story could go two ways. We could channel all the solidarity and goodwill – expressed not just in thousands of claps and posts but in community support groups and voluntary initiatives – to build an NHS that is well-funded, well-staffed and fit for the future. But this future is only possible if we, the public, are in the driving seat.

If our legal challenge is successful, it’ll be an important step towards making sure our NHS health data can be used only in ways the public can trust. After a year of repeated ‘COVID cronyism’ scandals and massive failures – from Serco’s disastrous mishandling of ‘test and trace’ to last week’s ruling that Hancock acted unlawfully over PPE – it’s time for a different approach.

Plans to use council car parks for evening entertainment and to install electric charging points revealed – East Devon

Plans to install electric vehicle charging points across seven car parks in the district are set to go before East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) Cabinet. 

This is one of a number of exciting projects, recommended for approval or investigation by the authority’s ‘Car Parking Task and Finish Forum’ (TAFF).

An investigation into how the car parks can be used at off peak times, such as the occasional evening cinema, farmers market or car boot sales has also been recommended by TAFF.

It is hoped it could generate additional income while also providing exciting services that residents and visitors can enjoy, although mindfulness would be needed so it does not encroach on existing businesses.

As well as this, the TAFF are keen to look at whether a small area of some car parks could be considered for hiring out electric bicycles so residents and visitors could explore the local area on two wheels rather than four.

The group has also recommended a number of trial contactless machines be installed to minimise the need for residents to touch buttons while paying for parking.

If given the go-ahead is given by Cabinet, the first part of the project will see charging points installed across seven car parks that are able to serve 14 vehicles at a time.

The TAFF hope the charging points will serve both residents and visitors alike, whilst reducing carbon emissions as the public move to using more electric and hybrid vehicles – supporting the EDDC emergency climate declaration and action plan.

The installation of the charging points comes as part of the Innovate UK funded Exeter Rapid Charging Project to install and operate up to 30 further rapid charging units in EDDC’s public car parks in 2021.

The TAFF has also supported further plans for another six or seven car parks to be considered for future expansion of charging points to meet any gaps in provision.

Drivers will need to pay to use the charging points but will not have to pay for parking as long as they don’t exceed their charging time.

Councillor Val Ranger, who is the vice-chairman of the Car Parking TAFF and ward councillor for Newton Poppleford and Harpford, said:

Members of the TAFF were keen to congratulate officers for the work done on the future provision of electric charging points in our car parks.

TAFF have been working to ensure that public car parks owned by EDDC are effectively managed and providing a valuable service whilst paying for themselves.

Mindful of the sanitary situation and how best to protect car park users and council staff, East Devon council is keen to offer contactless solutions for paying parking charges to anybody who wishes not to touch the machines.

The TAFF suggested trialling these entirely contactless in some car parks with several machines, reducing or removing the need to touch buttons or screens when paying for parking.

Paying for parking remotely from a mobile phone for example also removes the need to queue at machines and allows users to top up and extend their parking time from the beach or restaurant without having to return to their vehicle.

Contactless card payment can be faster than paying in coins also- a benefit in busy car parks.

TAFF will also be reconsidering the signage at car parks, and fitting more prominent and clearly worded signs to advise residents of the lower cost options available to them such as annual permits.

The forecasts that spooked Boris Johnson into slowing exit from lockdown

“I won’t be buccaneering with people’s lives” Boris Johnson, Monday

Haroon Siddique 

On Monday, Boris Johnson announced his roadmap for lifting all Covid restrictions by 21 June but faced criticism from some Conservative MPs for not providing for a speedier return to normal life. Here is some of the evidence the government and its scientific advisers have been considering, outlining the risks of lifting restrictions too early.


Based on modelling by Warwick University and Imperial College London, the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M), a subgroup of the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage), warned that “rapid relaxation [of restrictions] results in a very large wave of hospitalisations and deaths”.

It said that if all restrictions were lifted by 26 April (scenario one), even under the most optimistic of assumptions, including 4m doses of vaccine a week from 22 March, there would be “another wave comparable in size to January 2021, resulting in a further 62,000 to 107,000 deaths in England”. More pessimistic vaccine efficacy led to a prediction of 102,000 to 176,000 further deaths.

Explaining the likely resurgence were restrictions lifted earlier, SPI-M says: “There are still many people in vulnerable groups who do not have protection; neither directly (either because they have not been vaccinated or because their vaccination has not prevented them from becoming infected then ill) nor indirectly from wider population immunity (because many younger age groups have not yet been vaccinated or infected).”

Hospital admissions

With warnings that the NHS is “on its knees” after three waves of the pandemic, ensuring it is not overwhelmed by a fourth wave is one of the key factors in the decision about whether to lift restrictions.

For its paper, discussed by Sage on 4 February, SPI-M asked University of Warwick and Imperial College to model four scenarios, with scenario one envisioning the earliest return to minimal measures (26 April) and scenario four the latest (2 August). SPI-M said: “All four scenarios modelled lead to a substantial resurgence in hospital admissions and deaths.” It found the models from the two universities to be in “remarkable quantitative agreement about hospital admissions”.

Daily admissions for Covid peaked at 4,134 on 12 January, but on Monday stood at 904. The most optimistic interpretation of scenario one in Warwick’s modelling suggested a resurgence in admissions later this year, peaking at between 4,000 and 6,500 admissions a day.

Hospital occupancy

In the same document, SPI-M said: “Unless vaccine efficacy is significantly better than assumed here, it is highly likely that hospital occupancy would be higher than that seen in January 2021, if all restrictions are lifted by the start of May, even under the optimistic vaccine rollout scenario modelled here of 4m doses per week from the end of March.”

The number of beds in England occupied by Covid patients peaked on 18 January, at 34,336. This has since fallen (the figure was 14,137 on Monday) but the modelling warned of a reverse if restrictions were lifted too early. Under the most optimistic interpretation of scenario one, Warwick’s modelling suggested occupancy of approximately 20,000 to 50,000 beds.

SPI-M wrote: “Relaxation of current restrictions would be safer the lower the prevalence and hospital occupancy reached before any relaxations commence. This would give a longer time window to respond if it becomes apparent that the relaxation of measures is leading to an unsustainable rise in hospital admissions. Lower prevalence of infection will also reduce the risk of the evolution of new variants.

“Hospital occupancy is still very high and will remain so for a significant length of time. SPI-M-O’s [the operational subgroup’s] medium-term projection of hospital occupancy in England on 8th March is between 5,600 and 12,1001.”

Avoiding another lockdown

It is universally agreed on all sides of the argument that avoiding another lockdown is vital, whether to preserve people’s mental health or to prevent businesses being forced into closure or to lay off employees. SPI-M makes clear that lifting restrictions in haste would risk a fourth national lockdown based on the modelling.

It states: “As restrictions are relaxed virus transmission will increase. The more slowly restrictions are relaxed, the greater the number of hospitalisations and deaths prevented by vaccination and hence it would be less likely that restrictions would need to be reimposed later to avoid hospitals being put under extreme pressure. Rapid relaxation results in a very large wave of hospitalisations and deaths.”

Johnson has left a minimum of five weeks between each stage of restrictions being lifted and this, again, is supported by the evidence presented by SPI-M. It says: “It is much less likely that restrictions would need to be reimposed if an approach were taken in which each step was followed by a careful evaluation of data before any further unlocking was allowed. Several weeks between steps are required to determine if that change has significantly increased transmission.”

Restoring wetland drained over 150 years ago for farmland – Ozzie style

Bringing an Australian wetland back to life

In the shadow of Australia’s Grampians National Park lies Walker Swamp, a once-thriving wetland that was artificially drained and farmed for over a century.

But it is now welcoming new life once more, after a huge restoration project.

Its revival is one “message of hope” amid so much grim environmental news, ecologists tell the BBC.

Video by Isabelle Rodd

How the NHS can meet the demands of an ageing society


Bruce Keogh (The NHS rose to the challenge of Covid, but its next test may be even harder, 18 February) makes salient points about the post-pandemic NHS, with emphasis on older people. The six tests are useful, but his focus on digital technology does not reflect the needs of older people, many of whom do not use it. In fact at times, it seems an administrative deterrent to manage demand rather than to enable patients to access services. Will the NHS fund digital training for older people?

His comments about keeping older people out of hospital are doomed unless four critical issues are dealt with: reform of the funding system for social care; doing away with the iniquitous system of “continuing healthcare”, classing those with dementia as not ill and robbing many older people of their life savings; raising the “carer’s allowance”, recognising that this care saves the NHS large sums every year; and moving healthcare staff from hospitals to the community, enabling GPs to provide a more comprehensive service.

Without these actions, the NHS will continue to be hamstrung in its efforts to reduce unnecessary admissions and long stays in hospital.

Ron Walton

Penarth, South Glamorgan

• There is a danger of missing the crucial issue of how integrated health and social care will be delivered at a local level. During the pandemic, the NHS introduced a system called “discharge to assess” (D2A). The immediate pressure was to get patients out of hospitals as soon as possible, but D2A is part of a continuing “home first” approach. D2A assumes that the majority of patients can be discharged straight home from hospital. It does provide for patients who may need more support before returning to home-based independence, but the numbers are assumed to be small and they are supported only on a limited basis.

Because of the closures of community hospitals and a lack of resources, too many people fall through the gaps between hospital and home, NHS and local authority, and are sent home without adequate support, or placed in care homes miles from where they live.

The promised reform needs to guarantee that integrated health and social care is properly provided after people are discharged from hospital, across the country, at a local level.

John Forsyth

Penzance, Cornwall

Most pheasants sold for food ‘contain lead shot’

Almost all pheasants sold for food in the UK contain toxic lead shot, scientists have found.

Despite voluntary ban declared a year ago.

There is also concern that the large and increasing release of gamebirds and associated shooting practices may be having negative impacts on the UK’s native wildlife.

By Victoria Gill  Science correspondent, BBC News 

The discovery comes one year into a five-year transition to non-toxic shotgun ammunition – a move backed by nine UK shooting organisations.

Of 180 birds examined by the scientists, 179 were shot with lead.

One shooting group said finding humane and effective alternatives to lead would take time.

‘No detectable impact’

The team, consisting of scientists and conservationists based across England and Scotland, bought wild-shot common pheasants that were sold by game dealers, butchers and supermarkets around the UK.

With labs closed in lockdown, the scientists carried out the pheasant dissections in their own kitchens.

“We took out the shot and sent it off for analysis and 99% of the ammunition we extracted was lead,” said Prof Debbie Pain, from Cambridge University.

“So really that hasn’t declined at all since the shooting organisations signed up to the voluntary ban.”

That voluntary ban was a declaration in February 2020 by shooting and countryside organisations, which all committed to phasing out lead shot and transitioning “completely” to non-toxic alternatives. Those alternatives are already widely available and include steel, bismuth and tungsten.

That commitment, the scientists conclude, has not yet had any detectable impact.

Lead is toxic even at very low concentrations, as Prof Rhys Green from Cambridge University explained.

“Over time, it has been banned from a progressively lengthening list of products, including plumbing, paints on things like children’s toys and as an additive to petrol. And the maximum allowable concentration of lead in many foods has also been limited by an EU directive, which still applies in the UK,” he said.

“But game meat products are not included on that list of foods, for reasons that are unclear. Currently, the amount of lead in game meat sold for human consumption is not regulated by law.”

Lead shot also builds up in the environment.

“When lead is shot into wildlife, it can be eaten by predators like scavenging birds,” Prof Pain explained. “And a lot of lead gunshot falls into the environment and it can then be eaten by wildfowl and terrestrial birds and cause poisoning.”

media captionDanish hunter Niels Kanstrup explains why he believes lead shot is a “poison for hunting”

The evidence about lead in the environment has led to an EU-wide ban on the use of lead shot over wetlands. But, because that restriction did not enter into force before the end of the Brexit transition period, it will not apply in the UK.

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (Basc), which previously argued against any change in the rules on lead ammunition, now supports the voluntary transition, but told the BBC that “change is difficult” and would take time.

“Lead shot is the traditional ammunition for live quarry shooting – it has been for generations,” said Steve Bloomfield from Basc. “[Our members] have to take time to try the alternatives – and those alternatives have to be effective and humane.”

In Denmark, hunters have had to use those alternatives since 1996, when lead shot was banned for all hunting.

Prof Green said he hoped these findings would speed up the move away from lead shot.

“I hope, within a few years, lead shotgun ammunition is not being used at all for game shooting in the UK,” he told BBC News.

“I have an open mind on whether this can be achieved through voluntary change or requires a government ban, but the evidence so far indicates that the voluntary approach needs to step up its effectiveness dramatically if it is to remain credible.”