No scope to appeal against Straitgate Quarry decision

Devon County Council has ruled out an appeal against the granting of planning permission for the Straitgate Quarry near Ottery St Mary. 

Philippa Davies 

The council has expressed disappointment that its refusal of permission was overturned by planning inspectors earlier this month, but said it could not challenge that decision. 

It gives the quarrying company Aggregate Industries permission to extract up to 1.5 million tonnes of raised sand and gravel over 10 to 12 years, and transport it to Hillhead Quarry near Uffculme – 23 miles away – for processing. 

Ottery town councillors have unanimously condemned the decision, which they said ‘appeared to have ignored a lot of expert witness statements and scientific advice’. 

Cllr Vicky Johns, the Mayor, said: “I’m still shocked and saddened by the quarry being given the go-ahead and can’t believe they didn’t take the residents’ and local councils’ comments into account.” 

Following the successful appeal by Aggregate Industries, the town council wrote to the county authority asking if it could take any action to prevent the huge quarrying operation, but Devon County Council said the only possibility was a judicial review. This would not question the merits of the proposals to quarry at Straitgate Farm, but would examine the way the decision to grant permission was made ‘on the grounds of illegality, irrationality or procedural impropriety’. 

Attention is now focusing on the huge number of planning conditions and legal obligations imposed on the quarrying company, including many that must be satisfied before any mineral extraction can start. 

Devon County Council will be responsible for enforcing all these conditions, and will also have a duty to investigate any reports of alleged breaches. These could include working outside the agreed hours, failure to control levels of noise or dust, or failure to carry out habitat management or restoration work. 

Ottery Town Council and the Straitgate Action Group are now urging the county council to carry out those duties rigorously. 

Ottery councillor Dean Stewart said: “The council did contribute to the Straitgate Action Group and we need to explore whatever options are still available. The appeal decision did attach a lot of conditions to the approval and we need to make sure that Devon County Council and East Devon District Council impose all of those conditions and police them carefully.” 

Picket lines for nurses strike action at Cornwall hospitals

Nursing staff across Cornwall will be taking part in two consecutive days of strike action this week in what has been described as a “last resort.”

Emma Ferguson 

Members of the Royal College of Nursing will be outside the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust and Cornwall Partnership Foundation Trust hospitals on both Wednesday and Thursday.

There will be four picket lines set up, with the industrial action running between 7.30am and 7.30pm on both days for three of them, although at West Cornwall Hospital in Penzance it will end at 5pm.

Picket lines will be outside the Royal Cornwall Hospital at Treliske in Truro, the West Cornwall Hospital in St Clare Street, Penzance, near Camborne Redruth Community Hospital in Barncoose Terrace, Redruth, and near Bodmin Hospital in Boundary Road, Bodmin.

It is after the necessary majority of members voted in favour of strike action last year.

Cornwall was not involved in the first strikes that took place on December 15 and 20, but is taking part in the second phase in a bid to build pressure on the government.

A spokesperson said: “Our members join thousands of RCN members across England in taking this action.

“Strike action is a last resort for nursing staff, but low pay in the profession is driving chronic understaffing, which is putting patients at risk and leaves nursing staff with no choice but to take action.”

There is no picket line for NHS Blood and Transport staff, who are invited to join other pickets.

Staff not scheduled to work on the day of strike action can also still attend the picket line to support colleagues.

Some staff will be withdrawn from the action in what is called ‘derogation’, to ensure that life-preserving care can still be delivered without breaking the strike.

The RCN added that the action was designed to “rectify the years of real-terms pay cuts that are pushing people out of the nursing profession and putting patient safety at risk.”

It went on to say: “Our pay position is clear. We expect to see a pay award that goes 5% above inflation (the retail prices index).

“We reached our pay position for 2022-23 in close collaboration with our members across the UK. We carried out an analysis of economic trends and NHS pay over the past decade. We also considered the staffing pressures facing the profession.”

NHS hospital beds data analysis – BMA

The NHS has a shortage of hospital beds, with occupancy rates consistently exceeding safe levels. As the health system faces unprecedented pressures due to rising demand and the burden of COVID-19, bed capacity will remain a critical limiting factor in the ability of the NHS to recover.

This page provides analysis on the availability and occupancy of beds in the English NHS and is updated regularly with new data. [Online article contains more graphics.]

Last updated: 20 December 2022

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on service delivery. A number of factors impact the usage and availability of beds:

  •  infection control measures placing limits on ward space
  • reduced elective capacity
  • staffing redeployment.

This is why data shows a sharp fall in the number of available hospital beds in 2020/21.

To fairly illustrate long-term trends this analysis therefore uses the pre-pandemic year of 2019/20 as the comparator.

The UK has fewer hospital beds than comparable nations

Compared to other nations, the UK has a very low total number of hospital beds relative to its population. The average number of beds per 1,000 people in OECD EU nations is 5, but the UK has just 2.4. Germany, by contrast, has 7.8.

Combined with staffing shortages, an insufficient core bed stock means that hospitals are less able to cope with large influxes of patients, for example during winter or periods of high demand.

This has ultimately impacted hospitals’ ability to provide safe and timely care and remains a major factor in growing backlogs.

NHS hospital bed stocks have changed over time

Overall bed stock has declined

Prior to the pandemic, the total English NHS hospital bed stock reduced by 8.3% between 2010/11 and 2019/20 as the average daily total of available beds fell from 153,725 to 140,978.

The ratio of beds that are overnight versus day-only has also undergone change. Between 2010/11 and 2019/20 the overnight bed stock shrunk by 10% while the number of day-only beds increased by 13.4%.

Different settings

The extent to which overnight bed numbers have fallen varies across different settings. Learning disability and mental illness beds have seen the largest reduction of 56% and 22.5% respectively since 2010/11. This reflects policies to move care for these patient groups out of hospitals and into the community.

A  reduction has also occurred in the available number of general and acute overnight beds which have decreased by 6.9%, from 108,958 average daily beds in 2010/11 to 101,432 in 2019/20.

The rise in general and acute day-only beds reflects an increase in day-case surgeries reducing the need for overnight stays, following clinical innovations that have lowered the time patients generally need to spend in hospital.

COVID-19 has impacted bed availability

As NHS England has noted, capacity has had to be organised differently during the pandemic. This is to comply with enhanced infection control measures and to treat COVID and non-COVID patients separately.

As a result of this reorganisation, the number of general and acute beds available for use dropped to a low of 92,559 in the first quarter of 2020/21.

Latest data for the second quarter of 2021 showed this has now increased to 98,000, but remains well below pre-pandemic levels.

Safe limits are routinely breached

Rising occupancy

While overall bed numbers have declined, occupancy rates have been rising.

Since 2010, average bed occupancy has consistently surpassed 85%, the level generally considered to be the point beyond which safety and efficiency are at risk.

Coming into the pandemic, England had an average occupancy of 90.2% in 2019/20. However, local variation in supply and demand have seen many trusts regularly exceeding 95% capacity in the winter months.

Bed shortages alongside high occupancy rates are unsafe for patients and staff. It can:

  • increase delays in emergency departments
  • delay patients transfer from intensive care units and between wards
  • add stress to staff and patients.

Impact of COVID-19 on occupancy levels

The pandemic has seen a drastic fall in bed occupancy rates as a result of infection control procedures and rapid discharge arrangements. However, occupancy levels go hand in hand with the availability of beds.

Low occupancy with a low bed stock and low throughput is neither good for patients nor staff, who are facing long waits for treatment, a mounting backlog and capacity pressures.

Data for the second quarter of 2022/23 indicates that bed occupancy levels in England have risen substantially and have passed the recommended safe threshold again.

Pressures in social care are causing delayed discharges from hospital

Issues surrounding bed capacity are compounded further by discharge delays caused by pressures in social care. Up to one in three English hospital beds are occupied by patients who are medically fit to be discharged, but remain in hospital as there is no space for them in social care. This issue highlights the importance of properly funding both health and social care systems so that they can effectively work together.

Critical care capacity remains low despite increases in beds

National data on critical care beds is collected via monthly situation reports. Until February 2020 this consisted of a snapshot taken at midnight on the last Thursday of the month.

In March 2020 reporting adjustments due to COVID-19 changed this to an average across the month.

NHS England paused the regular publication of complete critical care bed capacity in February 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UK entered the pandemic with a low number of critical care beds relative to its population, with just 7.3 critical care beds per 100,000 people, more than half the average in OECD EU nations (15.9).

This is despite the total number of adult acute critical care beds actually having risen over the years. 

In placing new demands on critical care services, COVID-19 laid bare that England does not have enough critical care beds.

When the NHS was asked in early 2020 to free up critical care capacity to prepare for a surge in patients, it achieved this through reorganising existing resources to:

As a result of these measures the number of available critical care beds saw a sharp increase between March and April 2020.

However, the need for rapid expansion of critical care capacity has come at a large cost to the NHS, which now faces extensive backlogs in other parts of the system. See our secondary care capacity analysis.

What the BMA is calling for

With bed capacity pressures mounting, the BMA is calling for action to be taken to ensure that the core bed stock grows to reach a level that will cope with year-round demand.

Increasing the total number of available beds is a sensible and achievable step towards addressing bed shortages in the NHS.

Expanding bed numbers will only be meaningful if there is sufficient workforce to staff them safely.

Funding for the adequate staffing of these beds – alongside long-term investment in increasing the NHS workforce – must therefore be provided by the Government.

This must be accompanied by a workforce strategy to ensure that the appropriate number of future staff are being recruited and trained. This is likely to save costs in the long run – through, for example, a reduction in locum costs.

Richest 1% in UK now wealthier than 70% of population combined

The richest 1% of people in the UK are now wealthier than 70% of the population combined, according to analysis by Oxfam.

“Survival of the Richest” – Proves that there is no such thing as trickle-down economics. – Owl

Laura Parnaby

A report by the charity highlights how the 685,500 richest people in Britain are worth a total of £2.8 trillion, compared with 48 million people in the UK whose combined wealth totals £2.4 trillion.

Oxfam’s report, called Survival of the Richest, builds a picture of widening worldwide inequality, after extreme poverty and extreme wealth increased simultaneously over the past two years for the first time in quarter of a century.

Throughout 2021 and 2022, the richest 1% accrued nearly twice as much “new wealth” – revenue created in the global economy – as the rest of the world combined, Oxfam has said.

According to the report, this elite group pocketed £21 trillion in new wealth over the last two years, which equates to almost two-thirds of all new revenue.

This comes after both the number and wealth of billionaires doubled over the last decade.

At the same time, at least 1.7 billion workers now live in countries where inflation is outpacing wages, and more than 820 million people – roughly one in 10 people on Earth – do not have enough food.

Oxfam is calling for a wealth tax of up to 5% on the super-rich to raise £1.4 trillion each year, which the charity argues is enough to lift two billion people out of poverty.

Danny Sriskandarajah, Oxfam GB chief executive, criticised governments for failing to tackle the issue of financial inequality, describing the current economic situation as “an affront to basic human values”.

He said: “Multiple crises have pushed millions to the brink while our leaders fail to grasp the nettle – governments must stop acting for the vested interests of the few.

“How can we accept a system where the poorest people in many countries pay much higher tax rates than the super-rich?

“A flour seller Oxfam works with in Uganda pays 40% tax each month, while some billionaires’ true tax rates have been as low as 3%.

“Governments must introduce higher taxes on the super-rich now.”

Along with Patriotic Millionaires and Tax Justice UK, Oxfam is pushing for one-off “solidarity wealth taxes”, and a permanent increase on tax for the richest 1% to at least 60% of their income from labour and capital, with higher rates for billionaires.

Their campaign is supported by Ian Gregg, former managing director of Greggs and the son of its founder, who believes he should be paying more tax.

Mr Gregg said: “I can never be happy with an economy that fosters such division in society for our children and grandchildren.

“Now, more than ever, the wealthiest must contribute more.

“For me, paying more tax would be a small price to pay to start the process of making society fairer, and reducing inequalities in both wealth and opportunity.”

Oxfam also found that 95 food and energy corporations more than doubled their profits in 2022, making £251 billion in windfall profits, and paying out 84% of this sum to rich shareholders.

The charity said that excess corporation profits have driven at least half of inflation in Australia, the US and the UK.

Some progressive governments have taken steps to increase taxation, including Costa Rica which increased its top rate of income tax from 15% to 25%, while Bolivia and Argentina have also introduced wealth taxes.

Exeter to London Waterloo this week?

You’ll be lucky

First the strikes. Then engineering works. Now a landslip.

The chances of getting smoothly between Exeter and London Waterloo are often somewhat fraught. But now rail operator South Western Railway (SWR) is warning passengers there’s little hope of going the distance, at least on Tuesday and possibly for the best part of a week.

Ar landslip in the Hook area of Hampshire is severely reducing the number of trains that can safely run on the line. Trains aren’t going between Basingstoke and Waterlooo and only a limited shuttle service is in place connecting with trains at Woking.

People should check the situation before travelling for the next few days.

Sunday’s landslip was one of 11 incidents affecting infrastructure on SWR’s routes overnight on Sunday into Monday.

Claire Mann, managing director of South Western Railway, said: “We are deeply sorry for the significant disruption felt by customers across our network on Monday. What began as a major landslip at Hook was then compounded by 10 separate weather-related infrastructure failures, which have made planning and delivering a reliable train service across our network very difficult.

“We are working hard to provide a service that our customers can rely upon and unfortunately, we will be unable to run through services from Exeter, Weymouth, or Portsmouth (via Eastleigh) to London Waterloo from Tuesday. 

“With the repairs at Hook set to take at least a week to complete it is likely that further service alternations will need to be made. We are sorry for the ongoing disruption caused by the landslip and will communicate any changes to our customers as soon as possible.”

Going nowhere for a while (image courtesy: SWR)

MP calls for safeguard to public access on Dartmoor

No, it’s not any of the Devon Tory MPs. – Owl

The MP for Tiverton and Honiton, Richard Foord, is calling for the Government to safeguard people’s right to use Dartmoor for wild camping. 

Philippa Davies 

A recent High Court judgement ruled that individual Dartmoor landowners have the right to remove people from land they own within the National Park. There has been growing concern about how this will be enforced and the implications it would have.  

Mr Foord says many local residents have contacted him to express their anger and concern. Many fear that this will undermine the South West’s tourist trade and affect events that rely on Dartmoor for training, such as the Ten Tors Challenge and the Duke of Edinburgh award – both of which are undertaken by schools in East Devon.  

He has tabled a motion in Parliament celebrating the success of the Ten Tors challenge and calling on the Government to bring forward new legislation that would guarantee the continued right to camp on Dartmoor. He is asking other MPs across the area to back his motion. 

Mr Foord said: “Dartmoor is an amazing place. It is one of the few areas in England where you can cut away from the noise of 21st century life and get lost in nature. Spending the night on Dartmoor allows you to properly switch off from the sound and fury of modern life.   

“The recent ruling means that our right to pitch a tent is now at risk of being brought to an end by wealthy landowners. It should not be the case that vast tracts of our National Park are effectively fenced off to the public.  

 “So many people have been in touch with me to express their anger at the ruling and concern about how our green spaces are to be used. Dartmoor is a place for rest, recuperation and healing, and it should stay that way.  

“The Conservative Government must act on this. So far, they have failed to respond to the ruling or even bring forward a statement on the issue. This indifference is damning, and it is angering communities across the South West.”