East Devon bus routes set to be improved by county’s £1m of extra cash

A host of bus routes in East Devon and Exeter are set to be improved thanks to £1million of extra funding poised to be splashed around the county.

Daniel Clark   eastdevonnews.co.uk 

Routes serving Exmouth, Sidmouth, Honiton, Ottery St Mary, Budleigh Salterton, Seaton, Axminster and Cranbrook  are among those in line for a boost.

Devon County Council (DCC) has spending plans for 18 routes in this financial year, subject to the Department for Transport (DfT) approval.

East Devon bus services in line for improvements are: 

157 Sidmouth – Newton Poppleford – Colaton Raleigh – Otterton – East Budleigh – Budleigh Salterton – Littleham – Exmouth.

There is currently a bus for the full route between Exmouth and Sidmouth every two hours in the summer only on Sundays. The proposal would make this an all-year round service. It comes from a public request and as a response to the level of passenger demand.

4 Exeter – Cranbrook – Ottery St. Mary – Honiton – Axminster.

An additional peak-hour bus from Axminster and Honiton via Cranbrook to Exeter is proposed in response to passenger demand, especially on peak worktime buses to and from Exeter, where there is currently overcrowding.  This particular service improvement will benefit the most people in the shortest time and the successful use of support funds towards bus services has generated in this area the highest proportion of sustainable travel in Devon.

885 Seaton – Colyford – Colyton – Whitford – Musbury – Axminster.

The service runs from Monday to Saturday every hour and the proposal would keep this going as the frequency is currently funded by developer contributions that run out in October 2020. Assessment of passenger growth and potential for commercial viability means that the service should continue.

B Pinhoe – Exeter City Centre – Marsh Barton – Exminster.

The proposal is to maintain the current Sunday service along the entire route as the Exeter – Exminster section would otherwise have been withdrawn due to expiry of Section 106 developer funding in October 2021. This is in response to levels of passenger usage.

H Digby – Broadfields – RD&E Hospital – Exeter City Centre – Exeter St David’s Station.

An additional hourly service between City Centre – Exeter St David’s – Cowley Bridge is proposed.

694 Honiton – Awliscombe – Dulford – Kentisbeare – Cullompton – Plymtree – Payhembury – Feniton – Honiton

&

682 Marsh – Yarcombe – Upottery – Rawridge – Monkton – Otter Valley Caravan Park – Honiton.

Currently there is one bus each way on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays (694), and Tuesdays only (682), but the proposal would see the 694 increase to being daily, Mondays to Saturdays, and 682 to Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The 694 is, in terms of daily passenger usage, Devon’s strongest less-than-daily service.

 

DCC says that, while the cash it has to spend is a significant amount, it will not transform the whole bus network.

The proposals would see some routes that were withdrawn in 2015 return, while others would see a more frequent service provided or services extended to run on Sundays.

A spokesperson said: “Our proposed approach is therefore to use the funding to strengthen or restore services which demonstrate the strongest likelihood of being sustainable, either commercially, or within ongoing support budgets and criteria.

“The best and most realistic prospect is therefore to mostly build on existing services rather than start entirely new ones where the risk is greater.

“In support of this approach, the DfT guidance states that consideration should be given to how the funding can be used to benefit the most people most quickly, including extending the existing hours or frequencies of current services.

“At the same time, a rural County such as Devon will reasonably expect the benefit to show a geographical spread and not be concentrated purely on the most viable urban and inter-urban routes.

“We believe the best way of addressing this is to ensure that the service proposals bring a consequential benefit for those rural areas along the route.”

Anyone wishing to respond to the consultation can do so here.

The closing date for receipt of comments is Friday, April 24, to allow time for further due consideration by the Devon County Council cabinet prior to meeting the Government’s deadline for submission of spending plans.

The implementation of these plans could be severely affected by the COVID-19 crisis, but, at the time of writing, the DfT has confirmed that the submission deadline still stands.

 

Motorhome owner sent home from Devon after driving from Birmingham

A man driving a motorhome was stopped at the Devon border by police and sent back to Birmingham because of the new coronavirus Covid-19.

“Not in the spirit of fighting the virus”.

[Neither is shuffling vulnerable people around care homes to meet management targets, even if you do use “existing protocols” – Owl]

Neil Shaw  www.devonlive.com

Police said the driver’s actions were ‘not in the spirit of fighting the virus’ and sent them back to the West Midlands.

Officers from the North Devon Roads Policing team were patrolling the major routes in the county when they stopped the mobile holiday home.

Tough new rules were brought in across the UK by Prime Minister Boris Johnson last Monday stating you should only leave your home for absolutely essential work if you can’t work from home, essential shopping for food or medical supplies, local exercise once a day or a genuine medical reason.

On Thursday a new law came into force allowing police to enforce those rules with on-the-spot fines or arrest and they can use reasonable force to ensure you comply with an order to disperse and go home.

A Sergeant with the North Devon RPU tweeted: “Birmingham to North Devon is not in the spirit of fighting the Virus. The North Devon Roads Policing team are patrolling and will stop and ask why you are on the roads. This gentleman is now on his way back to the midlands! #Covid19#Police”

Other officers said: “Words fail”

Others took to social media to express their shock at the tourist’s bold move to get away from Birmingham – one of the areas in the Uk with the highest number of Covid-19 infections.

One wrote: “Must come from a different planet or something, cloud cuckoo land.”

 

There with you: A list if community lifelines in Sidmouth

In order to provide information to the people of Sidmouth, we have created this community lifeline to find sources of help in the area.

www.sidmouthherald.co.uk 

Local Volunteer Networks

Sid Valley HELP has more than 40 local volunteers to help with various services from dog walking, shopping, collecting medication and befriending on the phone.

Anyone who would like some help, should call Di Fuller on 07786 816890, to be connected to a volunteer.

Sidmouth Voluntary Services will support all members of the community in self-isolation. The group is providing a meal delivery service, assistance with shopping and will help elderly and vulnerable residents in Sidmouth, in any way it can. Its medical car service is still in operation for people without coronavirus symptoms, who still have medical appointments. Email sidmouthvs@gmail.com or call 01395 515063.

Devon Freewheelers is offering a medication delivery service and a phone service to support those feeling anxious. Call 0300 8000109.

—–

Pubs/Restaurants

All pubs, restaurants and cafés in Sidmouth are now closed, following guidelines issued by the Government to help control the spread of coronavirus.

Yet several food establishments in the town are offering takeaway and delivery services.

The Courtyard Café will be running a delivery service of hot and cold food. A small delivery charge applies. To place an order call 01395 577553

The Balfour Arms will be delivering hot and cold meals. It will also offer a telephone befriending service and shopping for those in need. Email Deborah Bennett at info@balfourarmssidmouth.co.uk or call 07900 200327.

Royal York and Faulkner Hotel/Blinis Meal Home Delivery Service will be offering free delivery of freshly prepared meals throughout the Sid-Valley area. Call the freephone number 0800 220714.

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Schools

Sidmouth College has confirmed that it will be closed to all pupils except ‘children of key workers and the most vulnerable’ from Monday, March 23. Sarah Parsons, principal of Sidmouth College said: “We are also doing everything possible to prepare all our students for home learning.

“We await further guidance from the Government on how we will be able to ensure our students have the right qualifications to pursue the next stages of their educational and professional careers.”

Sidmouth Primary School has now closed and is recommending parents to visit the Home Learning section on its website – http://www.sidmouth-primary.devon.sch.uk/home-learning.

—–

Transport Links

Since Monday March 23, bus services run by Stagecoach have been running on school holiday timetables.

Check the colour or text codes on the timetable. Look for journeys marked with SH for ‘school holiday’.

On timetables without this code, the buses will run as normal. Concessionary passes can now be used before 9.30am, to allow the elderly and vulnerable to use the bus to take advantage of the supermarkets exclusive shopping times. See http://www.stagecoachbus.com

South West Railway has reduced the number of services since Monday, March 23. For the amended timetable visit: http://www.southwesternrailway.com

—–

Churches

All public acts of worship at the Catholic Church of the Most Precious Blood have been suspended temporarily since Friday, March 20.

The church will remain open during daylight hours every day for solitary prayer. Anyone requiring assistance with shopping or would like a chat can call the parish office on 01395 513340.

Sidmouth Parish Church, St Giles and St Nicholas has cancelled all services, concerts and social events until June 15. During the period with no services, a weekly ‘virtual’ service will be provided via http://www.sidvalley.org.uk/sundayservice.htm. The church will remain open as usual for private prayer. For more information call 01395 578566.

Due to the latest coronavirus measures, Sidmouth Methodist Church is closed for the foreseeable future. A weekly service sheet is available on the website: http://www.sidmouth-methodist.org. For information call 01395 513384.

—–

Online Support

Sid Valley Help has a useful website filled with information on health and social care support services in the Sid Valley.

The webpages will be updated regularly to help people during the current situation. See http://www.sidvalleyhelp.co.uk

Rethink Mental Illness has created an online hub filled with practical information for people living with or supporting people with mental illness during the coronavirus pandemic. Go to http://www.rethink.org/advice-and-information/covid-19-support/

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Local People’s Views

Mark Williams, chief executive of East Devon District Council said: “We will need to be resilient, resourceful and courageous to make it through the difficult months ahead. We need to work together, to help each other wherever possible and, above all, to ‘keep calm and carry on’.”

Dawn Stabb, Devon County Council’s head of education, said: “Devon schools have already been doing a brilliant job ensuring that children of key workers continue to be educated as a priority even if they have had to partially close as a result of staff shortages.”

—–

Local Shops

The Spar in Temple Street, Sidmouth, will be delivering groceries every day between the hours of 9am and 4pm.

To place an order call Sue Mearns on 01395 513008

Woolbrook News will deliver any item from their shop. In addition, they will deliver on behalf of Vinnicombes bakery, and fruit and vegetables from Winchester’s. Place a call before 11am for same day delivery. There is a nominal £1.25 charge for each delivery drop. Call 01395 512224.

The Dairy Shop is offering free delivery on orders over £10. Sidmouth town centre deliveries only. Call 01395 513018.

Kings Garden and Leisure has a free local delivery service of plants and household items. To place an order call 01395 262278.

Essential Contacts

NHS: 111

Sid Valley HELP 01395 892011; email sidvalleyhelp@gmail.com

Beacon Medical Centre or Blackmore Health Centre: 01395 512601

Citizens Advice Bureau: 03444 111 444

Salvation Army Sidmouth: 07889 755777, angela.carney@salvationarmy.org.uk

Sidmouth Living with Cancer: jklfilm@aol.com

Sidmouth Town Council: http://www.sidmouth.gov.uk

 

Coronavirus Community Lifelines – Honiton

In order to provide information to the people of Honiton, we have created this community lifeline to find sources of help in the area.

www.midweekherald.co.uk

Local Volunteer Networks

Honiton Health Matters has a team of volunteers to give support where it is needed during the coronavirus crisis. A dedicated phone line has been set up by Beehive volunteers. Call 01404 384050, from Monday to Friday, from 10am to 4pm.

Devon Freewheelers is offering a medication delivery service and a phone service to support those feeling anxious. Call 0300 800 0109.

The Honiton 55 Centre will take telephone orders for meals to be delivered to the doors of the elderly and vulnerable, every Monday, Thursday and Friday. If demand is high this service will be extended to include Tuesdays and possibly Wednesdays as well. Call 01404 43545

——

Pubs/Restaurants

All pubs, restaurants and cafes in Honiton are now closed, following guidelines issued by the Government to help control the spread of coronavirus. Yet several food establishments in the town are offering takeaway and delivery services.

The Bird’s Nest restaurant in Honiton, selling Cantonese food, is continuing to offer a takeaway service. To place an order, ready for collection, call 01404 43131

Bella Pizza in Honiton has a well-established delivery service in place. It delivers to properties in Honiton and the surrounding three-mile radius of the town. A delivery menu can be found on the website – http://www.bellapizzahoniton.co.uk

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Schools

Glenn Smith, head of Honiton Community College said the school has a three-phase action plan to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus.

The first phase, which is in effect now, has seen the college organise work for stay-at-home students. The second phase, for the duration throughout Easter, will see the college try and continue to keep provision for young people.

For the third phase, beyond Easter, Mr Smith is hoping to launch a project consisting of a more joined-up form of provision between schools in Honiton and surrounding parishes.

Honiton Primary School is going to be re-purposed to provide support for children of the key workers listed by the Government. From Monday March 23, the school will open for children of key workers from 8am to 5pm. This format will run for the week and then merge into the HPS Hippos Holiday Club. Key workers are asked to call the office on 01404 548700.

——

Transport Links

From Monday March 23, Stagecoach buses’ services will run on school holiday timetables.

Check the colour or text codes on the timetable. Look for journeys marked with SH for ‘school holiday’. On timetables without this code, the buses will run as normal. Concessionary passes can now be used before 9.30am, to allow the elderly and vulnerable to take advantage of the supermarkets exclusive shopping times. See http://www.stagecoachbus.com

South West Railway will reduce its number of services from Monday March 23. For the amended timetable visit http://www.southwesternrailway.com

——

Churches

Services are cancelled at St Paul’s CofE Church, Honiton until further notice. Visit http://www.honitoncofe.org for information about weddings, baptisms and funerals. Or call the parish office on 01404 44035. The office will not be open to visitors during the crisis. Anyone in urgent need can call 07565 740894.

Honiton Evangelical Congregational Church will be suspending all services during the pandemic. Instead, each Sunday, a fresh sermon will be posted on the website to access and play. To be added to the church’s circulation list to receive regular news updates during this difficult time, email mike.plant427@btinternet.com. For more information see: http://www.honitonecc.org

——

Online Support

Trip, the Honiton-based charity that provides transport to those in isolation in East Devon, has set up a special online webpage for people to either request support or volunteer their help. Go to http://www.tripcta.org/help-us

To help with any mental health issues that people may be facing at this time, the Honiton Health Matters group has an extensive list of various groups and organisations that may be able to help. See https://drive.google.com/…/1rQbIidzGT8vCmXx14h0a0MCDc…/view…

The Debt Advice Service Honiton (DASH) Honiton is still running its service. For any queries email office@thecommunitychurch.co.uk

Local People’s Views

Mark Williams, chief executive of East Devon District Council said: “We will need to be resilient, resourceful and courageous to make it through the difficult months ahead. We need to work together, to help each other wherever possible and, above all, to ‘keep calm and carry on’.”

——

Local Shops

The Co-op in Honiton has a dedicated shopping hour for the elderly and the vulnerable. Exclusive use of the shop for people in this group will be from 8am to 9am from Monday to Saturday, and from 10am to 11am on Sundays. Certain items are being limited to two products per person, to ensure there is enough for everyone in the community.

Tesco in Honiton has an exclusive shopping hour for the elderly and vulnerable. The shop will open for this group only, from 9am to 10am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. NHS Staff will be given exclusive use of the shop to browse for essential items every Sunday, for one hour before the checkouts open.

Essential Contacts

NHS: 111

TRIP: 01404 46529

Honiton Surgery: 01404 548544

Honiton Dental Centre: 01404 42023

Brookvale Dental Practice: 01404 44800

Honiton Health Matters: http://www.honitonhealthmatters.org.uk/

Honiton Carers Support Group: facebook.com/Honiton Carers Support group

 

Coronavirus Community Lifelines – Exmouth

 

In order to provide information to the people of Exmouth, we have created this community lifeline to find sources of help in the area.

Terry Ife  www.exmouthjournal.co.uk

Local Volunteer Networks

The home support service run by Age Concern in Exmouth is still operational.

Anyone who is self-isolating and needs supplies dropped off on the doorstep should call 01395 271242.

A new Facebook group, Exmouth Mutual Aid Covid-19, has launched to bring volunteers together to help those self-isolating from coronavirus. It is currently seeking volunteers from all areas of Exmouth. Currently, there is a small group of coordinators dealing with the requests for help, but the plan is to develop this into several neighbourhood teams. The services on offer include grocery pick-ups, dog walking and phone support. Go to Facebook and search for Exmouth Mutual Aid Covid-19,

Devon Freewheelers is offering a medication delivery service and a phone service to support those feeling anxious. Call 0300 800 0109.

Exmouth Community Larder will be open from 1.30pm to 3pm on Mondays and Fridays for people in food emergency. Recognising the vital importance of social distancing, the hall will be laid out in a way to keep individuals well separated. Referrals should be made by email to help@exmouthlarder.co.uk. Referrals for people in self-isolation will be accepted. Deliveries will be dropped off by volunteers and left on the recipient’s doorstep. For more, call 07749 322291 or see http://www.exmouthlarder.co.uk

—–

Pubs/Restaurants

All pubs, restaurants and cafes in Exmouth are now closed, following guidelines issued by the Government to help control the spread of coronavirus. Yet several food establishments in the town are offering meals on wheels and delivery services.

Lunchies Exmouth offers doorstep delivery of healthy homemade, hot meals to customers in Exmouth and Woodbury, Budleigh Salterton and Lympstone. To place an order call 01395 272877

Moores Pasties will deliver its freshly made pasties, pies and sausage rolls to residents in Exmouth and the surrounding area. The food is made fresh in the kitchen every day. To place an order call 01395 265448

The Heavitree in Exmouth will deliver freshly prepared meals to people in Exmouth. This is on a temporary basis whilst the main pub is closed. To take a look at the menu visit http://www.theheavitreeexmouth.co.uk or call 01395 227643

Schools

Exmouth Community College closed on Friday.

It is running classes for the children of key workers and vulnerable students which include pupils with Education and Health Care Plans and those who are engaging with Social Services.

Children currently in receipt of free school meals will receive packed lunches from the catering van or onsite for students attending college. The school is looking at the possibility of working with either Tesco and/or Lidl to provide vouchers for these vulnerable families, should the school close completely. For updates see http://www.exmouthcollege.devon.sch.uk

Brixington Primary Academy, Marpool Primary School, Bassetts Farm Primary School, Exeter Road Community Primary School, St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School and Littleham C of E Primary School are now closed until further notice. These primary schools will only run skeleton classes for vulnerable children and children of key workers.

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Transport Links

Since Monday March 23, bus services run by Stagecoach have been running on school holiday timetables.

Check the colour or text codes on the timetable.

Look for journeys marked with SH for ‘school holiday’. On timetables without this code, the buses will run as normal. Concessionary passes can now be used before 9.30am, to allow the elderly and vulnerable to use the bus to take advantage of the supermarkets exclusive shopping times. See http://www.stagecoachbus.com

South West Railway has reduced its number of services since Monday, March 23. For the amended timetable visit: http://www.southwesternrailway.com

—–

Churches

All events and services at Brixington Community Church have been suspended until further notice.

It will be live streaming its Sunday worship from 10.30am. For details call the church on 01395 268720. Check the Facebook page for all the latest updates.

The Mission Community of Littleham, Exmouth and Lympstone have suspended public worship until further notice. For live streaming of services see http://www.exmouthcoastalchurches.org.uk/latest-news

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Online Support

Open Door Exmouth will help anyone struggling or in crisis.

It is already collecting the details of vulnerable people and those in self-isolation and will arrange a ‘no contact’ delivery of meals and/or food parcels and place welfare calls. See http://www.opendoorexmouth.org.uk

Rethink Mental Illness has created an online hub filled with practical information for people living with or supporting people with mental illness during the coronavirus pandemic. Go to http://www.rethink.org/advice-and-information/covid-19-support/

—–

Local People’s Views 
Mark Williams, chief executive of East Devon District Council said: “We will need to be resilient, resourceful and courageous to make it through the difficult months ahead. We need to work together, to help each other wherever possible and, above all, to ‘keep calm and carry on’.”

Councillor Steve Gazzard, Exmouth Town Mayor, said: “I would like to request that we are all mindful of elderly and vulnerable relatives and neighbours and that we do what we can to help them through this uncertain time”.

—–

Local Shops

The family run shop, Callands Budgens in Exmouth, has been providing free home delivery for over 10 years.

It has access to plenty of produce from local independent traders and replenishes its stock levels on a daily basis. It will continue to deliver daily, especially to those who are elderly, vulnerable or self-isolating. Orders can be made over the phone on 01395 275042, by email exmouthbudgens@gmail.com or via its Facebook page.

Greendale Farm Shop offers a local delivery service for customers living in Exmouth and the surrounding areas. Order fresh produce from the farm and fishing fleet. Delivery costs £4.95 or it is free for orders of £50 or more. Call 01395 232836 or go to http://www.greendale.com/customer-support/home-delivery/

Pet supplies are delivered free of charge by Garden Pets at Littleham Cross, Exmouth. To talk through an order call 01395 266230

Essential Contacts

NHS: 111

Exmouth Friends in Need: 07581 375855

Exmouth Town Council: http://www.exmouth.gov.uk or call 01395 276167

East Devon District Council Recycling: 01395 571515

Exmouth Citizens Advice Bureau: 0344 411 1444

Exmouth Community Larder: http://www.exmouthlarder.co.uk

 

Despite a national lockdown care home residents are being shuffled from one home to another.

Abbeyfield appear intent on moving two frail residents from Shandford on Monday to other care homes, despite the country being in lockdown.  

Owl has been deluged by local comment since this story appeared on-line a couple of days ago. This is Owl’s attempt at putting these in context.

The country is in a form of lockdown described as: stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives, allowing limited movement outside the home for essential purposes.

This week the most vulnerable were sent a letter instructing them to stay at home and not to move outside for any reason. These would have included the sort of vulnerable centenarians, resident in the Abbeyfield “Shandford” care home.

Yesterday, the national restrictions were further tightened when healthy people contracted to move house, even as soon as this weekend, were advised not to.

Despite this national emergency, Owl understands, Abbeyfield are intent in moving the frail and vulnerable out of Shandford to meet their self imposed deadline to close the home. Apparently, at least two are scheduled to leave on Monday. When the safety of this has been questioned the reply given by Devon County Council is that this is in accordance with “existing protocols” .

Owl finds this incomprehensible. Unfortunately, Covid-19 has breezed through “existing protocols” which is why we are facing an uncontrolled epidemic with infections doubling every three days. Covid-19 is spread by person to person contact. Shuffling people around is recklessly irresponsible, “existing protocols” must be torn up and common sense applied or our collective attempts at achieving control will fail.

To date Covid-19 restrictions appear to have kept Shandford open for longer than Abbeyfield intended. Owl understands that Shandford could have been saved. Amica Care Trust had made approaches to take over the home. Simon Jupp MP had tried to facilitate this.with no success. A local “Save our Shandford” organisation could have formed the nucleus of providing a local source of fundraising. An attempt at creating a Community Interest Company to take Shandford back into local control has been frustrated by Abbeyfield’s refusal to disclose details of the 2012 deed of transfer, when local control was ceded to Abbeyfield. 

Owl has been told all monies will be returned to the Town when the site is sold. So Owl is puzzled by why Abbeyfield appears intent on “realising the assets” at the start of an economic crash, rather than transfer it to Amica or back to local control as a going concern.

To Owl this appears a scorched earth policy.

Daniel Wilkins  www.exmouthjournal.co.uk

A bid to rescue a much-loved Budleigh care home has come ‘too late’ to halt its closure.

Amica Care Trust, which runs a care home and an independent living facility in Exmouth, has confirmed it made a bid to take over the Shandford home which is set to close at the end of the month.

However, the Abbeyfield Society, which has run Shandford since 2012, said an offer from a third party was rejected as it came too close to their intended closure date.

The society also said halting the process would require Shandford to run with only a third of the beds filled.

The Station Road care home is set to close on Tuesday, March 31.

Keran Wilkinson, chief executive of Amica Care Trust, said: “We did reach out to Shandford with the view that we could offer a rescue plan but having met with the Abbeyfield Society it was not something they wanted to consider as they felt they were too far down the closure route.”

A spokesman for the Abbeyfield Society said: “Despite the lateness of this approach, the suggestions presented were carefully considered by the Abbeyfield senior leadership team but were unfortunately deemed unsuitable.

“This was largely due to the approach being made only two weeks before the home was due to complete its close and, as a result, two thirds of the residents had been found more suitable care placements elsewhere.”

The Abbeyfield Society said the few remaining residents were in the process of being found new homes so they came to the ‘difficult decision’ that it would be ‘inappropriate’ to halt the closure.

The spokesman continued: “Doing so would disrupt the process that was well under way with no guarantee of a different outcome, causing greater disruption and confusion to residents.

“Any halt in the process would also mean that Shandford would be required to run with only one third of the beds filled for a potentially lengthy time period, further reducing the financial stability of the home and causing significant financial pressure.”

 

Advice on protective gear for NHS staff was rejected owing to cost

The Department of Health rejected high-level medical advice about providing NHS staff with certain protective equipment during an influenza pandemic because stockpiling it would be too expensive, the Guardian can reveal.

Evidence based decisions, economic assessment, reconsider, rewrite. It’s all in the words. Questions here for Jeremy Hunt to answer – Owl

Harry Davies  www.theguardian.com 

Documents show that officials working under former health secretary Jeremy Hunt told medical advisers three years ago to “reconsider” a formal recommendation that eye protection should be provided to all healthcare professionals who have close contact with pandemic influenza patients.

The expert advice was watered down after an “economic assessment” found a medical recommendation about providing visors or safety glasses to all hospital, ambulance and social care staff who have close contact with pandemic influenza patients would “substantially increase” the costs of stockpiling.

The documents may help explain a devastating shortage of protective gear in the NHS that is hampering efforts by medical staff to manage the Covid-19 virus pandemic.

Doctors are threatening to quit the profession unless they are properly equipped, and NHS trusts across England have been asking schools to donate science goggles due to the shortages, the Guardian revealed on Wednesday. The health secretary, Matt Hancock, has acknowledged “challenges” with the supply of protective material to NHS staff and has drafted in the army to get supplies to frontline workers.

In recent days, his department says, more than 15m face masks have been delivered to the frontline, including 24.6m gloves and 1.9m sets of eye protection delivered on Wednesday.

However documents seen by the Guardian suggest officials working under his predecessor resisted advice about stockpiling supplies of eye protection in case of a pandemic of this kind.

In 2015, what is now the Department of Health and Social Care tasked one of its independent advisory committees, the new and emerging respiratory virus threat advisory group (Nervtag), to review the UK’s approach to stockpiling personal protective equipment (PPE) for use in an influenza pandemic “to help inform future stockpile and purchasing decisions”.

Nervtag had been created the previous year to advise the government on pandemic influenza and new virus threats to the UK. The advisory group made a series of “formal recommendations” to the department in March 2016, which had been compiled by a subgroup of senior NHS clinicians and scientists, and agreed by the wider committee.

Asked what items of PPE would be required in a pandemic, the government’s advisers recommended “providing eye protection for all hospital, community, ambulance and social care staff who have close contact with pandemic influenza patients.”

They said the protection could be either visors or safety glasses, adding such equipment was necessary because there was some evidence of risk of infection via the eyes when in close contact with pandemic influenza patients.

However, according to minutes of a Nervtag meeting in June 2017, a health department official told the advisers to reconsider their advice as information had emerged about “the very large incremental cost of adding in eye protection.”

A minute from the meeting stated that “a subsequent internal DH health economic assessment has revealed that following these recommendations would substantially increase the cost of the PPE component of the pandemic stockpile four-to six-fold, with a very low likelihood of cost-benefit based on standard thresholds.”

The department asked Nervtag “to clarify the detail of their advice in light of the costings, and reconsider its recommendations against the strength of the scientific evidence of the ocular route as a source of infection, and the likely incremental cost-recommendations”.

The advisory committee then changed its official advice. The recommendation over protective eyewear was rewritten so that it instead told the department to buy enough eye protection for “exceptional usage” in higher-risk circumstances and when used with respirator masks during aerosol generating procedures.

According to a January 2018 minute, the update was made “in light of emerging evidence around cost-effectiveness, and the evidence around the incremental benefits of wearing eye protection.”

It is not clear at what level of seniority in the health department the Nervtag recommendations were considered back in 2016 and 2017. In a statement to the Guardian, DHSC said it would be incorrect to say ministers “intervened in this decision making”.

“As the public rightly expects, decisions of this nature are evidence-based and take into account a number of factors, including expert clinical guidance, cost effectiveness and practical consideration, such as shelf life and storage,” a DHSC spokesperson said.

“The government has prepared and stockpiled for an influenza pandemic. The documents clearly state that the scientific evidence did not support a vast increase in procurement expenditure on face masks with integrated eye protection for pandemic influenza.”

The DHSC is now scrambling to find ways to better supply hospital staff as it faces Covid-19, a highly infectious respiratory disease, with reports of doctors and nurses frantically trying to buy their own PPE and a particularly acute need for eye protection.

At prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, highlighted that the Healthcare Supplies Association had appealed to DIY shops to donate PPE. On Twitter, the association said it needed visors and protective glasses, tweeting: “Do we have to commandeer the stocks of DIY stores?????”

Hunt, who ran the department between 2012 and 2018 and now chairs the House of Commons health select committee, has in recent days led calls to better equip frontline staff battling the coronavirus. Last week, he told the BBC: “We must sort this out. We are asking people to put their own lives at risk on the NHS frontline…It is absolutely heartbreaking when NHS frontline professionals don’t have the equipment that they need.”

His spokeswoman told the Guardian: “Jeremy does not believe he was personally involved in decisions about PPE for NHS staff, but was acutely aware of the shortage of funds in the NHS budget which was why that year he fought for and secured an £8bn rise in the NHS annual budget followed by a £20bn rise two years later.”

However, the documents suggest the efforts by Hunt’s department to water down the advice on PPE impacted a round of procurement that was due to take place in 2017 to stockpile for a possible pandemic.

In addition to the discussions over eye protection, the documents also raise questions about the UK government’s policy regarding face masks for doctors, nurses and other health professionals dealing with Covid-19 patients.

In 2016, Nervtag advisers told the government that intensive care units (ICUs) should be designated “hot spots” carrying out aerosol generating procedures. Therefore, they said, a particular kind of mask known as an FFP3 respirator “should be recommended for all staff at all times in these areas when a patient with pandemic influenza is present”, except for some circumstances.

One intensive care nurse at a hospital in Yorkshire told the Guardian earlier this week she had had to spend £100 of her own money to buy a full FFP3 respirator mask online. In her unit on Monday, there were no masks or surgical gowns, another vital piece of PPE kit which has also been in short supply.

There have been other reports in recent days of NHS improvising in the face of insufficient PPE, with nurses in the Royal Free hospital in north London affixing clinical waste bags around their legs, while at North Middlesex hospital they have been tying plastic aprons around their heads.

Back in 2016, Nervtag advisers also recommended the government commission an update to its infection control guidance, which by then was seven years old. The guidance, they said, needed to recommend PPE usage “in line with the current evidence base and guidelines”.

In June that year, the department responded to Nervtag’s initial recommendations about pandemic stockpiling, saying work to reflect the advice was being prioritised and progressed. However, with regard to updating the control guidance to bring it in line with current evidence, officials replied: “This work is not considered a priority at this time and will be deferred for consideration at a future time.”

Frontline doctors and nurses have said recent changes to official advice in the UK have meant many NHS staff have been wearing less protective gear than the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends when caring for Covid-19 patients. The WHO’s advice recommends different standards of PPE to the UK advice in certain clinical situations.