East Devon Alliance announces candidates for May Devon County Council elections

From EDA press release:

Three Independent candidates supported by the East Devon Alliance (EDA) will be standing for Devon County Council on May 6th. The Independent alliance has decided to concentrate its efforts in the divisions where it won or came a strong second in the last County elections in 2017.

In AXMINSTER, PAUL HAYWARD, who is deputy leader and economy portfolio holder at EDDC, will be standing. Paul came a close second in the last County election and says, ‘Axminster is tired of waiting for better times. We need action on potholes now. We need better healthcare provision now. We need a solution to our traffic and speeding problems now. Our residents need better and faster broadband now. On May 6th, if elected, I will start to deliver the change Axminster needs and deserves.’

In the Seaton and Colyton division, the current County Councillor, MARTIN SHAW, is standing again. He says, ‘My battle to secure the future of Seaton Hospital is only half-won, and I still have a huge amount of work to do, to help improve our environment, extend the Stop Line Way cycle route, achieve 20 mph limits in our town and village centres, and repair our rural roads. I am looking forward to another term if the voters agree.’

In Sidmouth, where EDA also came a close second last time, the Independent candidate will be LOUISE MACALLISTER, a project manager at Devon Communities Together who has worked on many projects in East Devon, including Sidmouth. She says, ‘As a passionate environmentalist, I am keen to enhance and protect Sidmouth’s natural assets and flood resilience. If elected, I look forward to working with the community to tackle issues with highways, traffic, and public transport, and ensure our NHS services and education provision are maintained and improved.’

In addition to its strong performance in these areas in the last County elections, the East Devon Alliance has 13 councillors on EDDC and its leader, Paul Arnott, is Leader of the Council.

[Owl draws attention to the trends. In the 2015 District elections there were 10 EDA councillors a net gain of 7. In 2019 this rose to 13 despite Cllr Ben Ingham’s double defection to “Independent” now “Conservative” and Cllr Megan Armstrong campaigning as one of Ingham’s “Indys” though now part of the “Independent Progressive” grouping working with the coalition. As mentioned in the press release EDA currently have only 1 County Councillor but are campaigning in two more divisions where they came a strong second.]

40,600 people likely caught Covid while hospital inpatients in England

More than 40,600 people have been likely infected with coronavirus while being treated in hospital in England for another reason, raising concerns about the NHS’s inability to protect them.

Caelainn Barr www.theguardian.com

In one in five hospitals at least a fifth of all patients found to have the virus caught it while an inpatient. North Devon district hospital in Barnstaple had the highest rate of such cases among acute trusts in England at 31%.

NHS England figures also reveal stark regional differences in patients’ risk of catching the virus that causes Covid-19 during their stay. Just under a fifth (19%) of those in hospital in the north-west became infected while an inpatient, almost double the 11% rate in London hospitals.

Hull University teaching hospitals trust and Lancashire teaching hospitals trust had the joint second highest rate of patients – 28% – who became infected while under their care. The former has had 626 such cases while the latter has had 486. However, the big differences in hospitals’ size and the number of patients they admit mean that the rate of hospital-acquired infection is a more accurate reflection of the success of their efforts to stop transmission of the potentially lethal virus.

The trusts with the next highest rates were Stockport (28% – 386 cases), Brighton (367 cases – 27%) and James Paget in Norfolk (27% – 319 cases). At least one in four of all patients with the virus in hospital became infected at 10 of England’s 127 acute trusts.

Across England as a whole one in seven (15%) of all patients treated for the virus between 1 August 2020 and 21 March got it while in hospital.

The data shows that hospitals in England estimate a total of 40,670 people probably caught coronavirus while in hospital in their care during that time.

Doctors and hospitals claim that many of the infections were caused by the NHS’s lack of beds and limitations posed by some hospitals being old, cramped and poorly ventilated, as well as health service bosses’ decision that hospitals should keep providing normal care while the second wave of Covid was unfolding, despite the potential danger to those receiving non-Covid care.

“These heartbreaking figures show how patients and NHS staff have been abysmally let down by the failure to suppress the virus ahead of and during the second wave,” said Layla Moran MP, the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus.

 Doctors and hospitals say many infections were caused by the NHS’s lack of beds, old hospital buildings and the decision to run normal services during the second wave. Photograph: Hannah McKay/PA

“It is simply staggering that one in seven hospital patients who developed Covid-19 caught the virus while being treated for another illness. This analysis also reveals deeply alarming regional disparities, with rates of hospital-acquired Covid in the north-west almost twice those in London.”

NHS England does not publish figures showing how many of those deemed likely to have caught coronavirus as an inpatient later died. But experts in hospital-acquired infection pointed out that many of those being admitted for other reasons – such as an operation or after a fall or flare-up of an existing medical problem – are frail and vulnerable and have underlying poor health, so would be more likely to die if they did get Covid.

“It is impossible to eliminate the risks of nosocomial infection, but the huge drive to run parallel Covid and non-Covid care since the summer has inevitably heightened those risks,” said Dr Claudia Paoloni, the president of the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association.

“Due to years of systemic understaffing and a cost-cutting approach to new hospital design we have far fewer beds available than our European counterparts, which has made it harder to separate out cases and led to an increase in the chances of hospital-acquired infection. Tragically, people will have caught Covid and inevitably died as a result of this shortsightedness.”

NHS staff need proper personal protective equipment to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus at work, especially FFP3 masks rather than just surgical masks, as the former are better at limiting the spread of the new variants of coronavirus, she added.

Stopping the spread of coronavirus in hospitals has been a key priority for hospitals internationally during the pandemic. The Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch watchdog published a report last year which criticised the NHS in England’s track record. Recent research by Public Health England found that 15.5% of all cases of Covid among hospitalised patients had either probably or definitely occurred while they were in hospital.

Three small single-hospital trusts in London have had some of the lowest rates of nosocomial infection in England among acute trusts. Thirteen people since August have caught coronavirus while an inpatient at the Whittington hospital, giving it a rate of just 1%. The North Middlesex and Homerton hospitals have had 66 and 47 such cases respectively, so the rate at each was 4%, the NHS figures show.

Dr Rob Harwood, chair of the British Medical Association’s consultants committee, said: “The NHS went into the current pandemic underfunded, understaffed and overstretched. The knock-on effects – particularly limited bed and workforce capacity – has unfortunately meant that controlling the spread of Covid-19 within hospitals has been more difficult than necessary.”

University hospitals Birmingham trust has had the most cases since August – 1,185. But its size means that those cases represent a rate of 14%, just below the national average of 15%.

Northern Devon healthcare trust said: “We acted quickly to put in place enhanced infection prevention and control measures when needed, including increased inpatient testing to identify any patients with no symptoms.”

A spokeswoman for the Hull trust cited high local rates of infecton and added: “We are taking all possible steps to reduce the risk of hospital-acquired infections, given the constraints placed upon us by our ageing estate, including the creation of ‘pods’ with floor-to-ceiling partitions, the removal of beds to reduce the risk of transmission, the isolation of patients with the virus and a regular testing regime.”

Lancashire teaching hospitals trust said that it had had a spate of nosocomial infections in November and December when it was very busy and that had led to an increased risk of hospital-acquired infection and affected its average over the year. “We also have an old estate which limits the opportunities for ventilated space,” a spokesman added.

NHS England insisted that the real rate of hospital-acquired coronavirus is 4.5%, not 15%, and blamed high rates of infection in the population. Its statement was based only on cases regarded as “definite” because the person tested positive on or after the 15th day after their admission.

An NHS spokesperson said: “The Office for National Statistics and other data conclusively demonstrate that the root cause of rising infection rates in hospitals is rising rates in the community.

“Since asymptomatic tests kits were made available for the first time by the government’s test-and-trace programme in November, millions of staff have been tested helping to keep infections as low as possible, and all staff have been asked to rigorously follow PHE’s infection control guidance with hospital infection rates currently standing at around 4.5%.”

On Thursday Sir Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive, recommended that the health service reduce the national alert threat level from Covid from four to three because of the recent big fall in the number of people in hospital with the disease. UK hospitals are now looking after 5,407 such patients, a fraction of the 39,249 they were treating on 18 January, at the peak of the pandemic’s second wave.

• This article was amended on 26 March 2021 to correct the spelling of Barnstaple.

County council to take control of Special Educational Needs and Disability support

A radical plan to bring Devon’s school improvement services and support for special needs children back in-house has been agreed. 

Does this count as a U-Turn in DCC? – Owl

Daniel Clark Local Democracy Reporter www.exmouthjournal.co.uk

Devon County Council’s cabinet unanimously backed the plans at their meeting on Wednesday (March 10) which entails the authority taking responsibility for some 200 staff when its current contract with providers Babcock ends. The contract is worth £8.8 million a year. 

The meeting heard that one of the key aims of the move is to integrate all Devon’s support for children in the county with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and that bringing the service in-house will achieve a much more seamless offer across Devon. 

The decision in response to the national reforms that were introduced in 2014 that required much closer cooperation between education, health and social care providers. 

And it aims to address some of the issues that have led to the council’s children’s services being found inadequate by Ofsted. 

Devon County Council deputy leader and cabinet member for children’s services, Cllr James McInnes, said: “Bringing all these services back under one roof will mean we can offer a much better package of integrated help and support for these vulnerable children and their families in a one-stop shop. 

“This doesn’t imply any criticism of the work that Babcock has done which is much valued and which has achieved good outcomes for children. 

“Indeed successive annual reports have demonstrated the significant positive impact the services have on children in Devon. 

“But these services were outsourced in 2012 and the national picture has changed dramatically since the national reforms of 2014. 

“When we came to review our services and the current contract, it became clear that it made sense to integrate all our help for children with special needs. 

“We looked at whether private companies would want to bid to provide our school improvement services in the future but in the end it seemed more sensible to bring them all back in-house.” 

The SEND services include education psychology, early years support and advice, children missing education, physical and sensory support, social, emotional and mental health, communication and interaction and multi-sensory impairment which is currently under a separate contract. 

The other services which are currently out-sourced are: teaching, curriculum and learning advisory support, governance, school improvement and quality assurance, education safeguarding, elective home education support and monitoring, English as an additional language and the education welfare service. 

Devon’s chief officer for children’s services, Melissa Caslake, added: “There is a strong, partnership-wide commitment to develop a truly transformative SEND service where education, health and care work as one team. 

“Parents have told us we need to meet the needs of children with SEND earlier and better and improve access to and coordination of support. 

“We have excellent inclusion opportunities for children with SEND in Devon with 57 per cent of statutory school age children with education, health and care plans accessing mainstream education. That is 14 per cent above the national average. 

“We are committed to improving and securing the best long term futures for our children with additional needs and integrating these services will help us to achieve this.” 

Cllr Rob Hannaford, leader of the Labour group, said: “This is a good move and one I support as it is a better opportunity to lead and develop to changes. Getting this right is key to turning children’s’ services around.” 

Cllr Alan Connett, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, added: “I welcome the broad direction of travel and huge synergies that can be achieved by bringing the service in house, and doing the right thing for the children of Devon is the most important thing for all us of.  

“After seven years of Ofsted finding the service inadequate, if this step does anything to help improve that, then it is very much to be welcomed.” 

Leader of the council, Cllr John Hart, added: “This one decision which will have a fundamental effect on children’s services.” 

Q.When is a “nightclub” not a nightclub? A. When it’s closed

Exmouth’s only nightclub has permanently closed

Chloe Parkman www.devonlive.com 

Exmouth’s only nightclub – Popworld – has closed permanently, it has been confirmed.

Stonegate pub company has confirmed that the nightclub will not be reopening at all after lockdown.

Back in 2019, Devon Live reported that Popworld took over from Fever, Boutique and Kukui – it’s last remaining nightclub in East Devon.

A spokesperson for Stonegate Group said: “We can confirm that our lease at Popworld in Exmouth has come to an end, so unfortunately, it will not reopen after lockdown.

“However, Popworld in Plymouth will reopen on 21 June, in line with government restrictions, and we are looking forward to throwing our customers a Popworld Party once more.”

In August, Devon Live reported that following the lockdown Popworld in Exmouth reopened with strict social distancing measures.

According to the PM’s roadmap out of lockdown, from June 21 at the earliest, all remaining restrictions on social contact could be lifted, larger events can go ahead and nightclubs could finally reopen.

Tracking Financial Vulnerability in the UK

Go online to select a nation, region, or parliamentary constituency to see that area’s Financial Vulnerability Index score and the six component measures that make up that score.


A Data Tool for Policymakers

As the United Kingdom deals with the economic effects of COVID-19, policymakers need to know how their constituents are faring. But many measures of financial health are out of date or narrow in scope.

To offer a clearer picture, we created the UK Financial Vulnerability Index using unique consumer data from Lowell and publicly available measures. Use this tool to see how financial vulnerability has changed since 2017 and where resources could be targeted to improve financial resilience.

Cabinet Office To Probe Deloitte Contract To Draft Ministers’ Answers On Test And Trace

“This is a government which appears to have even outsourced itself!”

Paul Waugh www.huffingtonpost.co.uk 

The Cabinet Office has vowed to investigate HuffPost UK revelations that private consultants Deloitte are being paid to draft ministers’ parliamentary answers about Test and Trace.

Minister for implementation Julia Lopez told the Commons she would look into the issue after Labour jibed that £323m contracts with the company showed “this is a government which appears to have even outsourced itself”.

HuffPost UK revealed on Wednesday that the small print of contracts between Deloitte and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) included a requirement to “draft and respond to parliamentary questions, Freedom of Information requests, media queries and other reactive requests”.

Civil service union chiefs and transparency campaigners warned that the clause risked undermining Whitehall impartiality and possible conflicts of interest, with outsourcing firms potentially “marking their own homework” in formal replies to MPs’ questions.

Shadow cabinet office minister Fleur Anderson raised the issue in the Commons on Thursday, declaring that since the start of the pandemic ministers had relied on a “centralised, privatised” approach to contact tracing that gave millions of taxpayers’ cash to a handful of large companies.

“Last night, we learned that as well as paying Deloitte £323m for their role in the Test and Trace system, they are even paid to draft government ministers’ parliamentary answers, defending the indefensible,” Anderson said.

“This is a government which appears to have even outsourced itself! What will the minister do to end this practice – or do I need to write to Deloitte to find out?”

In reply, Lopez said: “I thank her for highlighting that interesting piece of information to me.

“I’m very happy to look into this idea that consultants are drafting responses for ministers, it’s not something I’m aware of.”

“I appreciate the concerns that have been raised about the use of consultants and in relation to some of the work that’s been done during the pandemic we had to surge our capacity very quickly. But I appreciate the concerns have been raised about the cost of contracting.”

Green party MP Caroline Lucas ridiculed the practice by tweeting a new parliamentary question referencing Deloitte.

DHSC officials revealed earlier this year that 900 of Deloitte’s consultants were currently being used at a pay rate of £1,000 a day, equivalent to nearly £1m every day.

Government documents show that Deloitte has been awarded four different contracts worth £323m to support Test and Trace, the controversial service run by Tory peer Dido Harding. The most recent is for £122m, and runs from February this year until September.

Two of the contracts have a clause that specifies a role for the firm in “communications” on so-called Pillar 4 of the testing programme, which covers blood and swab testing for national surveillance on the prevalence and spread of the virus, as well as the accuracy of home testing.

Boris Johnson defended the £37bn allocated to Test and Trace claiming it was “a very valuable thing” that enabled ministers to understand the pandemic in a “very granular way”.

But the service has been dogged with criticism, with the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee highlighting its use of outsourced private firms, consultants being paid £1,000 a day and poor performance on contact tracing and testing turnaround times.

Earlier this year, Harding defended the use of consultants needed to build the testing programme from scratch last May, claiming that their use would be phased out and their skills transferred to civil servants in coming months.

Gemma Abbott, legal director of the Good Law Project, told HuffPost UK: “We have a government so addicted to outsourcing that it has even outsourced being held to account.

“If a member of the public submits an FOI request, or an MP asks a parliamentary question about the government spending millions on contracts with Deloitte, it seems that it’s Deloitte at the other end marking its own homework – it is beyond parody.

“Does anyone know where the Department for Deloitte ends and the Department for Health begins?”

In a late night response on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the DHSC did not deny the contracts specified support for drafting parliamentary questions but suggested the ultimate responsibility lay with the civil service and ministers.

“The government employs contractors in the same vein that private businesses do and responsibility for answering parliamentary questions, freedom of information requests and media enquiries rests firmly with a team of civil service communications professionals within the Department of Health and Social Care,” they said.

“Every single response is subject to the highest levels of scrutiny to ensure they are both factual and detailed.”

In her evidence to the Public Accounts Committee earlier this year Harding defended the use of consultants. “I think it is appropriate to build a service in extreme emergency circumstances using short-term contingent labour and consultants for some of those roles,” she said.

“I think they’ve done very important work alongside the public servants, the military, the healthcare professionals and members of the private sector who have come and joined us as well. We couldn’t have built the service without all of that combined expertise.”

Later in the House of Lords, two peers – Green party peer Baroness Bennett and shadow minister Baroness Thornton – raised the Deloitte issue.

“The news today does not bode well when we hear from HuffPost that private firm Deloitte has been receiving taxpayer cash to help ministers draft parliamentary answers and media lines to take to defend Test and Trace,” Thornton said.

“Which raises two questions. It is, I always thought, at the heart of an official’s job to help ministers to be accountable to parliament in a truthful manner. And is it not like marking your own homework if Deloitte’s are receiving taxpayers’ money to answer those questions?”