“DWP’s secret benefit deaths reviews: Investigations into deaths double in two years”

“The number of secret reviews carried out by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) into deaths linked to benefit claims appears to have doubled in the last two years, according to figures the information watchdog has forced the government to release.

The figures relate to the number of internal process reviews (IPRs), investigations conducted by the department into deaths and other serious and complex cases that have been linked to DWP activity.

They show that, from April 2016 to June 2018, DWP panels carried out 50 IPRs, including 33 involving the death of a benefit claimant, or roughly 1.27 death-related IPRs a month.

DWP figures previously obtained by Disability News Service (DNS) show that, between October 2014 and January 2016, there were nine IPRs involving a death, or about 0.6 a month.

These figures are only approximate, because the information about IPRs (previously known as peer reviews) provided by DWP through freedom of information responses does not provide precise dates for when each of them took place.

But they do appear to show a clear and significant increase since early 2016 in the number of IPRs carried out following deaths linked by DWP to its own activity.

They also appear to show a return to the kind of frequency of reviews related to deaths of claimants that were seen between February 2012 and October 2014, when there were 49 such reviews at a rate of about 1.5 a month, at a time when research and repeated personal testimonies showed the coalition’s social security cuts and reforms were causing severe harm and distress to claimants.

The new figures also show that 19 of the deaths in the last two years involved a claimant viewed as “vulnerable”, while six of the IPRs (and four deaths) related to a claimant of the government’s new and much-criticised universal credit (see separate story).

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said ministers “always get up at the despatch box and say they are continually improving the system. This proves that to be false.

“Universal credit should be scrapped, sanctions should be scrapped and the government should call off the dogs, because it is leading to people’s deaths.”

McArdle said that if there was a tragedy involving the deaths of 33 people in a train crash there would be an independent inquiry into what went wrong.

But because these deaths were happening in the social security system, he said, no such public inquiry would take place.

He added: “It just shows a callous disregard for the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society.”

A DWP spokeswoman declined to say whether the figures showed that DWP’s treatment of vulnerable and other benefit claimants had not improved significantly since 2012 and had worsened in the last two years.

She also declined to say if DWP was concerned that there had already been four IPRs following the death of a universal credit claimant, even though only a small number of people are currently claiming UC. … “


“£1bn in unpalatable county council cuts’ ahead in England”

“Council bosses in England say the “worst is yet to come” in cuts to services, as the government further reduces local authority funding.
The County Council Network predicts “unpalatable cutbacks” next year as the councils identify at least £1bn savings to plug a £1.5bn shortfall by 2020.

It also warns the risk of some councils stripping their services back to a minimum ‘core offer’ is growing.

The government said councils will get a real term funding increase in 2018-19.

It insists its approach strikes the right balance between relieving pressure on local government and ensuring taxpayers do not face excessive bills.


But town hall bosses say local government funding from central government, through the revenue support grant, will have been cut by around 60% by 2020.
Cllr Paul Carter, chairman of the County Council Network and leader of Kent County Council said: “Counties will work hard to deliver the savings required, but the scope for making deliverable savings has dramatically reduced, and decisions for next year will be truly unpalatable if we are to fulfil our statutory duties.

“Without additional resource, the worst is yet to come.”

Some councils have reached a financial crunch point, such as Northampton – where £70m of savings are required by March.

And Somerset and East Sussex have had to rubber-stamp in-year funding cuts to keep to their 2018-19 budgets.

The County Council Network, which represents 36 larger authorities, surveyed its members about their budgets and what they planned to cut next year.

All 36 responded said they faced significant cost pressures, including a growth in demand in some areas – particularly children’s and adult social care, inflation and rising costs outside of their control.

The survey revealed council bosses had already ear-marked £1bn worth of services as potential sources of savings.

Some £685m of those are to balance the books going forward.

Twenty five councils who responded to a separate survey, set out what they were planning to cut, moderately or severely:

58% said highways and transport (including road improvements, streetlights, pothole filling)
47% said libraries
45% said early years and youth clubs.
44% ear-marked public health services like smoking cessation, sexual health, substance misuse
36% said children’s services.

Councils say they are expecting to have to switch funds from non-statutory services – the ones they are not obliged to provide by law – to ensure statutory services are provided.

Councillor Nick Rushton, CCN finance spokesman and leader of Leicestershire County Council, said authorities were in a “serious and extremely challenging financial position” and further cuts and rising costs would make a “bad situation even worse”.

“County councils across the country have no choice but to find a further £1bn of savings next year,” he said.

“There is not enough money today to run vital services. Next year there is even less from the drop in government funding.”

He added that councils were again at the point where council tax rises alone would not protect services.

Councillor Martin Hill, leader of Lincolnshire County Council, said his authority had to save £25m a year since 2010.

He said it would soon come to a point where the council would have to consider whether it can operate safely with regard to its responsibilities to vulnerable children and adults.

A Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government spokesman said local authorities were responsible for their own funding decisions, “but over the next two years, we are providing councils with £90.7bn to help them meet the needs of their residents”.

They said local councils would have the power to retain the growth in income from business rates and develop a system for the future.”


“Let American firms run hospitals, urges free trade group”

“Ministers should allow American healthcare companies to compete with the NHS to run hospitals as part of a free-trade pact after Brexit, a think tank recommends.

The Initiative for Free Trade (IFT) said that Britain should also end its ban on imports of products such as chlorinated chicken and accept American environmental and food safety regulations as equivalent to those in the UK.

The moves, it claimed, would help clear the way for a UK-US trade deal that would “rewrite the rules” of global commerce and allow Britain to take advantage of trade freedoms offered by Brexit. The IFT has received backing from Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, and Boris Johnson.

The report, edited by Daniel Hannan, a Tory MEP, was partly written by the trade lawyer Shanker Singham who has been consulted on free trade by Dr Fox, David Davis, Steve Baker and other ministers since the referendum.

Its conclusions will fuel suspicions that the think tank is being used as an “outrider” to align Britain with America on standards to secure a trade deal that would not be possible if the government signs a Chequers-style agreement with the EU.

The report, which was published simultaneously in London and Washington, was a collaboration between the IFT and the libertarian US think tank the Cato Institute.

It calls for Britain and the US to negotiate the most ambitious agreement ever that would allow British and American companies to compete on a level playing field in each other’s markets across both goods and services. Both countries should accept each other’s regulations on safety and environmental standards and open up all government procurement contracts to both sides.

It also suggests that any British or American citizen should be able to work in both jurisdictions if they have secured a job. It is the group’s proposals to open up the NHS to competition that is likely to prove the most contentious.

Daniel Ikenson, one of the report’s editors, described the NHS as an “incumbent” healthcare provider that should have competition. “The purpose of liberalising trade is to expose incumbent businesses to competition, including healthcare providers,” he added.

A Department for International Trade spokesman said: “We are currently seeking a wide range of views about four potential free-trade agreements, including with the USA, and we encourage all interested organisations and members of the public to make their voices heard through our online consultations.”

Source: Times (pay wall)

Cold homes are killing people

“… people in the UK were more likely to die from a cold home than in a road traffic accident during the cold snap last winter a report found. …

… the particularly cold spell between February 28 and March 3, dubbed the beast from the east, also left thousands of households stranded without access to support. …

We heard frequent reports of vulnerable people being discharged from hospital to homes with no light or heat. This is despite national guidance to the contrary.”

National Energy Action, as quoted in Sunday Times (pay wall)

Meeting in Parliament on the failure of scrutiny of NHS changes

DCC Health and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee- and particularly its chair Sarah Randall Johnson – take note:

“NHS campaigners meeting with MPs to call for better scrutiny and review to stop damaging cuts

Defend the NHS campaign groups from across England are to lobby MPs at a meeting in the House of Commons on Monday 10th September.

They will share their experiences of the need to improve the process of scrutiny and review of substantial changes to NHS services, in order to stop damaging cuts and changes.

The meeting is hosted by Paula Sherriff, MP for Dewsbury – where the District General Hospital has lost many of its key services.

Local campaign group, North Kirklees Support the NHS, will explain the risks this has created for the Dewsbury public.

Along with six other campaigns from Lincolnshire, West Yorkshire, Devon, Northumbria, Dorset and Oxfordshire, the Dewsbury group will tell MPs that there is an urgent need to address serious flaws in the process whereby Councils’ scrutiny committees refer proposals for damaging NHS cuts and changes to the Secretary of State for Health and the Independent Reconfiguration Panel.

Christine Hyde, from North Kirklees Support the NHS, said,

“The process of referral to the Secretary of State was opaque. The Independent Reconfiguration Panel is the key body with the power to advise the Secretary of State for Health to stop and/or require changes to major NHS cuts and “reconfigurations” – but there was next to no information about how it worked.

Once we had figured that out, we naively thought public opinion would have some weight. Together with the other five local NHS protector groups, we encouraged Independent Reconfiguration Panel members to visit Dewsbury.

We were ignored.

The Independent Reconfiguration Panel’s decision that local commissioners could sort out the failings in the hospital cuts proposals has not, for the most part, been borne out.

As the hospitals reconfiguration has been implemented, it has created huge problems for the most vulnerable groups – housebound patients, infants, children with disabilities and patients with life threatening illnesses like cancer.

The hospital changes were sold as being ‘better for patients’ but it really was all about the money and even so, the savings are recorded in a response to a Freedom of Information request as ‘nominal’.”

Campaigners will also demand political impartiality in the scrutiny and referral process.

The need for this is shown by Save Our Hospitals Devon’s observation of a discussion and decision by Devon County Council’s health and adult social care scrutiny committee, that reversed an earlier vote to refer the closure of community hospital beds in Eastern Devon to the Secretary of State.

Members of Save Our Hospitals Devon Netti Pearson and Sue Matthews said,

“The feeling among observers was certainly that the decision was a political one rather than one borne of effective and satisfactory scrutiny.”

Steven Carne from 999 Call for the NHS, the national campaign group which has convened the meeting, said,

“We are very excited about the campaign groups coming together from across the country to share their experiences of wrestling with the scrutiny and referral process.

This is key to stopping damaging NHS cuts, closures and inappropriate importation of insurance-based ‘care models’ from USA’s Medicare/Medicaid system. This provides a limited range of state-funded healthcare, on the basis of financial considerations – not clinical need, to people who can’t afford private health insurance. It is not what the NHS is about.

For the first time, campaign groups across England are pooling our knowledge and experience to lobby MPs to make this scrutiny and referrals process work better, because it definitely needs to.

And also to encourage other campaigns to get more actively involved with the process, in defence of NHS and social care services in their area.

The Department of Health guidance on health scrutiny says its primary aim is to strengthen the voice of local people in the commissioning and delivery of health services.

So it needs to make sure this happens.

This meeting is just a start. We are going to pursue this goal through thick and thin.”


“Almost 1,000 elderly people a day needlessly admitted to hospital amid social care crisis “

“Almost 1,000 elderly people a day are being admitted to hospital needlessly amid a crisis in social care, Age UK has found.

Analysis of NHS figures by the charity found that there were 341,074 avoidable emergency admissions for people aged 65 and over during the year to April 2017.

The number has risen by 107 per cent since 2003 for those aged 65 to 69, and by 119 per cent for older people aged 75-79.

Among the general population of England, the number has risen by 63 per cent.

The figures relate to admissions because of conditions such as ear, nose or throat infections, kidney and urinary tract infections, and angina, for which hospitalisation could potentially have been avoided had the person been better looked after.

Many older people rely on family and friends to help them in the absence of reliable social care, the charity warned.

One in three over-65s live alone, and one in ten have no children, and these figures are expected to rise as younger generations, who are less likely to have married or had children, reach retirement age.

Many of those who do have loved ones to care for them rely on elderly relatives who may have health problems of their own.

One case study highlighted by the charity involved a 67-year-old woman who has been a carer for 40 years, first for her parents and more recently for a younger sister who has Alzheimer’s disease.

In another case a 73-year-old woman has been the sole carer for her 75-year-old husband since he had a stroke and brain haemorrhage four years earlier. She cancelled previous at-home care because it was “unreliable and lacking in continuity”.

Its report also highlights the problem of older people stuck in hospital and unable to go home, putting more strain on the healthcare system.

Care not being in place was the main reason there were delays for older people leaving hospital in England last year, according to figures released by the NHS. …”


All hospital car parking now free in Wales

The current cost to park at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital for staff, patients and visitors:

20 Minutes free parking.
£2.50 for up to two hours.
£4.50 for up to four hours.
£8.50 for all eight hours.
£26.00 for a weekly ticket.