NHS told to find £1.5bn of savings to fund staff pay rise: Track and Trace underspends by £8.7bn

Will the Treasury insist that the Track and Trace £8.7bn underspend is returned to them or could it be used to pay for the pay rise (many times over)? See NAO report for details of the underpend. – Owl

NHS told to find £1.5bn of savings to fund staff pay rise, despite fears of service cuts

www.independent.co.uk

The NHS has been told to find £1.5bn of savings from within existing budgets to fund the pay rise for staff announced on Wednesday, in a move branded “brutally unfair” by nurses’ representatives.

The chaotic announcement of the 3 per cent boost for 1 million workers prompted suspicions of a battle between chancellor Rishi Sunak and health secretary Sajid Javid over who pays the bill.

In the Commons, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt demanded a commitment that the £1.5bn cost would not mean “cuts” to wider health or care spending.

But Boris Johnson’s spokesperson said, shortly afterwards: “The pay uplift will be funded from within the NHS budget.”

He claimed the move would “not impact funding already earmarked for the NHS frontline”, but it was unclear how that could be avoided if savings are required.

Royal College of Nursing general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen said: “This pay announcement is fast unravelling. Not only is the figure scandalously low but Downing Street has been forced to admit that the money isn’t new either.

“It is brutally unfair to force the NHS to do yet more with the same money. Ministers must be honest about the impact this would have on patient care.

“The government is failing to give the NHS the money it truly needs. This current game of smoke and mirrors is dangerous for patients and nursing staff who care for them.”

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said it was clear that Mr Javid was “refusing to back up the pay settlement with the cash needed, instead expecting overstretched hospitals to find this extra money” at a time of summer crisis due to Covid and a backlog of cancelled operations.

“The NHS needs a fully funded plan to provide quality care, and bring ballooning waiting lists down,” said Mr Ashworth. “Alongside this, ministers must provide the NHS with the extra investment required to give staff a pay rise.”

Meanwhile, the British Medical Association (BMA) branded the government “callous and unjust”, as it emerged that tens of thousands of NHS doctors are being excluded from the 3 per cent hike despite advice from an independent pay review body that they should be included.

Mr Hunt, now the chair of the Commons health committee, also warned against diverting cash from the care sector, fearing it “once again loses out because of pressures in the NHS”.

Nadhim Zahawi also came under fire over the plan for “vaccine passports” to enter crowded venues, starting with nightclubs from the end of September.

The minister triggered suspicions that the government might swerve a vote it is in danger of losing, by saying: “We reserve the right to mandate its use in the future.”

But, under pressure from MPs on all sides demanding a vote first, Mr Zahawi conceded parliament would have an “appropriate say on the matter”.

The minister also lifted the lid on other “crowded venues” that might be included, if the crackdown goes ahead as threatened.

He namechecked “music venues”, “business events and festivals” and “spectator sport events” – with the Premier League already known to be considering the move.

“We’ve seen in other countries, whether it’s in Holland or in Italy, the opening of nightclubs and then having to reverse that decision rapidly,” he told MPs.

“So what we’re attempting to do – the reason we have the Covid vaccination pass in place – is to work with industry in this period, whilst we give people over the age of 18 the chance to become double-vaccinated.”

However, many believe it is a phantom threat, to browbeat young people to accept vaccination by September – as Mr Johnson allegedly acknowledged in a private briefing with Tory MPs

Mr Zahawi also came under fierce pressure to bring forward the 16 August date for exempting the double vaccinated from isolation rules, if identified as a close contact of a Covid case.

Mr Hunt urged the government to “listen to public opinion and scrap the 10-day isolation requirement immediately”, provided those people tested negative for Covid with a lab test.

“Otherwise we risk losing social consent for this very, very important weapon against the virus,” he warned Mr Zahawi.

But the minister said accelerating the change would “run the risk of infection rates running away with us”, over the next few weeks.

COVID estimates updated as more people are being vaccinated

In the July 19th post: “Were we turning a corner when Boris hit the gas?” Owl wondered whether Tim Spector’s study had identified a turning point, as it has done before, or whether in this case it reflected a sampling problem.

It turns out to have been a sampling problem.

Estimates 23 July

covid.joinzoe.com

To make sure that our figures are as robust as possible, we’ve updated the way we calculate our COVID incidence figures. This means that you’ll see the numbers change.

Why is ZOE updating its COVID incidence figures ?

Many people rely on information from the ZOE COVID Study to understand what’s going on with COVID in the UK, but the situation is changing fast as the Delta variant spreads and more people get vaccinated. 

We’re constantly monitoring our data and reviewing our figures. When we looked closer at how the pandemic and people’s behaviour were influencing our estimate of new cases, we decided it was the right time to adjust our methodology.

As our ZOE app contributors and the wider population continue to take full advantage of the vaccine rollout to help tackle the pandemic, we’ve seen the number of unvaccinated people in our dataset steadily decline. 

After thorough testing, we’ve developed an updated calculation method that will allow us to continue reporting on incidence figures in the UK with confidence. 

As one of the UK’s leading studies into COVID-19, it’s our responsibility to constantly review how our survey works to keep pace with the changing situation on the ground. 

What does our updated methodology show?

Last week, we reported a plateau in new COVID cases based on our methods at the time, which relied on a small number of unvaccinated people in our dataset compared with the wider UK population. The number of daily new cases in the unvaccinated group appeared to be dropping which in turn resulted in our overall numbers trending down. This meant the figures were accurate to our dataset but didn’t represent the full picture in the UK.

Using our new methodology to adjust for this, the new estimates show that the number of daily cases in the UK is still on the rise in both vaccinated and unvaccinated groups (Graph 1).

Graph1 to show new figures for incidence in vaccinated and unvaccinated

As you see in the graph below, when we overlay our previous estimate (red line) and new adjusted estimate (orange line) in a single graph, we can see our updated methods align more closely to trends observed in government confirmed cases (blue line) (Graph 2).

Graph 2 to show new incidence figures, old incidence figures and official confirmed cases

Also, to help you see how the new incidence figures compare to the other COVID-19 surveillance studies, we’ve created the graph below, which shows us that the new figures are more closely aligned (Graph 3). 

Graph 3 to show new and old estimates compared to other COVID-19 surveillance studies

How has ZOE updated COVID incidence estimates?

The main adjustments we’ve made to our calculations are:

  • Changing the definition of ‘newly sick’ to include more people in our estimate calculations
  • Inclusion of Lateral Flow Test results
  • Adjustment by both age and vaccination status

Changing the definition of ‘newly sick’ 

We use the term ‘newly sick’ to identify app contributors who could potentially be newly infected with COVID-19 based on their symptoms. We’re now broadening the criteria that defines a contributor as ‘newly sick’ so that more people, including those who report less frequently, also fall into this category, increasing our sample size. We’re also including data reported on behalf of others e.g. parents reporting for their children. 

While a (now increased) sample of our data is used to calculate  incidence, all data collected by the ZOE COVID Study is used in the research conducted by King’s College London and has contributed to the important discoveries including: vaccine after effects, vaccine effectiveness and post-vaccination infection symptoms.

Including lateral flow tests as well as PCR tests

Historically, we only included the results of PCR tests in the survey as they were the first tests to be available and being used for the majority of testing. However, since Lateral Flow Tests (LFT) have been made widely available in the UK, we’ve seen huge numbers of LFTs logged in our app. As a result, we’re now including the results of LFTs in our incidence estimates. 

Currently, we see roughly half of all tests coming from PCR and the other half from LFTs. 

Adjusting by both age and vaccination status

Back in May, we began taking people’s vaccination status into account in our incidence estimates. With the addition of LFTs and the updated definition of ‘newly sick’ we have increased the sample size and we can now include adjustments based on age group. This accounts for our high proportion of older app contributors and vaccinations in our data set and helps control for the fact younger people are more likely to be unvaccinated and be infected in the current environment. 

What does this mean for the future? 

The ZOE COVID Study will soon reach a point where the numbers of unvaccinated people of all age groups are so low we will not be able to report COVID incidence estimates for unvaccinated people. Based on the current rates of vaccination uptake, this could happen in the next few weeks. This is something that all the COVID-19 surveillance surveys will be experiencing soon as well.

It’s something we anticipated, and we’ve arrived at this point sooner than the wider population because our loyal contributors have been so keen to get their vaccines and report them in the app!   

We’re keeping a close eye on our data as we move forward, and we’ll keep you updated when we make the decision that we are no longer able to estimate incidence in unvaccinated people.

We still need you to keep logging your health in the ZOE app!

The good news is, thanks to your amazing contributions, we have unrivalled data on the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccinations in the real world. This means we’ll continue to be at the forefront of understanding how the pandemic is evolving in the UK and across the world. 

Together with our research colleagues at King’s College London we’re looking at:

  • COVID incidence and prevalence in vaccinated people 
  • Incidence and prevalence in different age groups of vaccinated people
  • Vaccine effectiveness against new variants 
  • The symptoms of COVID infection in vaccinated people 
  • The risk factors for getting COVID after vaccination
  • What protects vaccinated people from COVID?
  • Reinfection of vaccinated people

To help us answer these vital questions and more, all you need to do is use the ZOE COVID Study app and spend just one minute logging your health each day. Thank you.

Stay safe and keep logging.

High-risk loan needed for Cranbrook

The New Guard Still trying to sort out the legacy problems from this example of developer led town planning.

What chance Jenrick’s tree-lined streets, beautiful houses and open spaces – “Build back beautifully” – Owl

Joe Ives, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk

£40 million needed to build the town’s infrastructure

East Devon District Council’s strategic planning committee has agreed in principle that the local authority should borrow £40 million to help build Cranbrook’s infrastructure.

The money from the Public Works Loan Board, would be used as a ‘revolving’ infrastructure fund – essentially a loan that’s loaned out again. The council would lend the money to developers who might otherwise be put off by high-interest repayments if they sought loans independently. They would then invest in improving Cranbrook’s infrastructure as the town grows – whilst saving themselves around £8 million.

The motion was passed nine votes to three and will now go on to cabinet.

Council officers believe Cranbrook needs to quickly fund an additional primary school, and health and wellbeing provision as well as, potentially, a new special educational needs school and a highway upgrade works on London Road. 

The council would then recoup the cash on a ‘roof tax’ basis, in essence getting money back for every new home sold as a result of the infrastructure. If the revolving infrastructure fund is successful the council would recover all the money it loans.

Officers consider the loan high risk but nonetheless recommended it to the committee to be considered in principle. It is feared that the risk of delaying new homes in Cranbrook through lack of infrastructure is greater than the risk of the loan.

Councillor Jess Bailey (Independent, West Hill and Aylesbeare) expressed concerns, describing the size of the loan as “eye-watering” and questioning why the committee had not received more information on the finer details.

She said: “I understand that developers may not want to take the risks associated with those very large costs, but do then do the taxpayers want to?”

Cllr Bailey did not believe the plans were ready to pass onto the next stages of the decision-making process, adding: “It’s like the train’s left the station and is on the tracks and I don’t think it’s ready to leave the station.”

Cllr Mike Allen (Conservative, Honiton St. Michael’s) also took against the decision, describing the report as “inadequate.”

For those in favour, the decision was simple: the council has to take out the loan if it is to meet its housing obligations.

Councillor Mike Howe (Conservative, Clyst Valley) said: “We don’t have a choice. We have to do it, or Cranbrook will once again stall.”

“This is fundamental to Cranbrook’s expansion and without that Cranbrook expansion our five-year land supply fails – pure and simple.”

Council leader Paul Arnott (Democratic Alliance Group) said: ”We have a moral and ethical duty to the people of Cranbrook to sort this out”, noting that further details of how the loan would work would be compiled before the matter goes to cabinet.

Councillor Kevin Blakely, an Independent who represents Cranbrook on the council in a grouping called Cranbrook Voice, backed the proposals. He said: “I honestly feel, as Councillor Howe said, that we don’t have a choice in this.” He recognised the risk but said he believed the council would see its money returned.

A more detailed report on the revolving infrastructure fund will now go to the cabinet. Any final decision would then have to go through full council.

Cranbrook currently has approximately 2.350 homes and 5,500 residents. This number would grow by more than 4,000 homes bringing a total of around 18,000 people if plans set out in East Devon local plan and the draft Cranbrook plan go ahead.

The Cranbrook plan is being examined by an inspector appointed by the secretary of state.  A ruling is expected before the autumn.

Dozens of English care homes lost at least 20 residents to Covid, data shows

The National and Local picture are both covered in this post.

First the Local data from www.devonlive.com 

A Devon care home saw 33 deaths of residents related to Covid-19.

The figures cover the period of April 10, 2020 to March 31, 2021, and show that Primley Court care home in Paignton was the hardest hit of anywhere in Devon and Cornwall.

Barton Place Nursing Home in Exeter saw the second highest number of deaths of residents in Devon with 18, all of which occurred between April and June.

Furzehatt Residential and Nursing Home in Plymouth saw 15 deaths, with Greycliffe Manor in Torquay seeing 14, with 13 at both Lucerne House in Exeter and Fernhurst Nursing Home in Exmouth.

Other care homes in Devon which saw ten or more deaths were Belle Vue care home in Paignton, Culm Valley Care Centre in Cullompton, Knappe Cross Care Centre in Exmouth, Silverleigh in Axminster, Cadogan Court in Exeter, Coppelia House in Moretonhampstead, and Ilford Park Polish Home in Newton Abbot.

Parkland House in Exeter, The Old Rectory Nursing Home in Exeter, The Firs Residential Home in Budleigh Salterton, Ernstell House in Plymouth all saw nine deaths, while Pottles Court in Exminster, Deer Park Care Home in Holsworthy, Hembury Fort House in Awliscombe, Sunningdale House Care Home in Honiton, and Brandon House in Exmouth saw eight deaths.

The full list, in the publicly available dataset, can be seen here.

ONS data show that there have been a total of 456 deaths of care home residents in care homes in Devon since the pandemic began, where Covid-19 has been put on the death certificate.

Figures in the CQC data will be higher than the ONS data as the CQC data also includes deaths related to coronavirus that have occurred in hospitals and/or other settings of care home residents, rather than just in a care home, as ONS data records by place of death.

The National data Patrick Butler www.theguardian.com 

Dozens of care homes in England lost at least 20 residents to Covid-19 during the pandemic, according to “highly sensitive” data published by the care regulator, with one home registering 44 deaths over the past year.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) revealed that 6,765 homes across the country registered at least one death between 10 April 2020 and 31 March 2021, highlighting the devastating impact of the crisis on vulnerable residents.

At least 30 deaths were reported by 21 homes. There were 44 deaths at the Bedford care home in Wigan, owned by the large private care home operator Advinia, and 41 deaths registered by Calway House in Taunton, owned by Somerset Care, a not-for-profit operator.

The CQC had refused to publish the death rates data for almost a year, despite pressure from residents’ families and freedom of information requests from journalists, on the grounds that it would undermine confidence in the already fragile predominantly privately owned residential care home market.

In total, there were 39,017 care home deaths over the period, prompting renewed criticism of the government’s failure to stem the outbreak in the residential care sector, and its failure to tackle years of underfunding and understaffing.

The highest number of care home deaths over the period were registered in the south-east region of England (7,404), followed by the north-west (5,748) and the east of England (4,943). The fewest deaths were recorded in London (2,635).

“In considering this data, it is important to remember that every number represents a life lost – and families, friends and those who cared for them who are having to face the sadness and consequences of their death,” said Kate Terroni, the CQC’s chief inspector of adult social care.

In a statement, the CQC suggested its about-turn on publishing the data came partly following discussions with families who had lost loved ones to Covid. This “helped us shape our thinking around the highly sensitive issue of publishing information” around death notifications on a home-by-home basis.

“We have a duty to be transparent and to act in the public interest, and we made a commitment to publish data at this level, but only once we felt able to do so as accurately and safely as possible given the complexity and sensitivity of the data,” said Terroni.

However, the CQC warned the data should be treated with caution because they were not a reliable guide to care quality or safety at individual care homes. Homes are required to register the death of residents even if they died in hospital or contracted the virus elsewhere.

There are currently around 15,000 care homes inspected by the CQC. Other factors potentially leading to high death rates include the the prevalence of Covid infections in the local community, the availability of PPE, and the number of residents who were discharged from hospital to homes without being tested for the virus during the early phase of the pandemic.

Around 25,000 people were allowed to return to care homes without a Covid test between 17 March and 15 April last year despite a plea to the government from home providers to outlaw the practice. This is believed to have enabled the virus to spread rapidly through homes populated with older, vulnerable residents.

Care home owners were said to be unhappy about the publication of the data because of the danger of it being misinterpreted. Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, which represents care providers, said every death needed to be seen in context. “We do not believe that this data is a reflection of quality.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson insisted the government had done all it could to protect protect vulnerable people throughout the pandemic, saying: “We have provided billions of pounds to support the sector, including on infection and prevention control measures, free PPE, priority vaccinations and additional testing.”

James White, head of public affairs and campaigns at the Alzheimer’s Society, said the data showed the “devastating and tragic consequences” of the government’s failure to protect care homes at the start of the pandemic, and the damage caused by years of underfunding.

Hugh Alderwick, head of policy at the Health Foundation, said the CQC data showed how government support for social care during the pandemic was often “too little, too late”, particularly during the first wave. “The government’s claim of ‘a protective ring’ around care homes was not grounded in reality.”

Promise of cleaner rivers with more farm inspectors

Cuts over the past 10-15 years have meant an individual farm could expect to be inspected once every 236 years.

(And then you only get a slap on the wrist! – Owl)

Ben Webster, Environment Editor www.thetimes.co.uk

Ministers have announced plans to drive up water quality for wild swimming and wildlife by almost trebling the number of inspectors ordered to target farmers who pollute rivers.

They have ordered the Environment Agency to increase enforcement following an investigation last year by The Times which found the agency had cut farm inspections in England by two thirds since 2014-15 and was failing to enforce rules introduced in 2018 to stop farmers contaminating rivers with slurry and fertiliser.

The agency recorded 137 breaches of the rules but brought no prosecutions and issued no fines.

Slurry and fertiliser pollution from farms is the single biggest cause of poor water quality in England and Wales which results in 84 per cent of rivers failing to meet the government’s target for good ecological standards.

The agency is recruiting 50 staff to inspect farms in England for compliance with pollution legislation, raising the number of inspectors to 78.

The Rivers Trust, a conservation charity, welcomed the plans, saying that cuts over the past 10-15 years had meant an individual farm could expect to be inspected once every 236 years.

It said: “These new staff do not replace all those that have been lost over the years but the appointments are a very welcome reversal of a decline in enforcement of environmental legislation.”

It said the jobs would have 18-month employment contracts, pending further funding, and there were concerns that this might deter applicants and that it did not indicate a long term strategy by the government.

Mark Lloyd, chief executive of the Rivers Trust, added: “After years of writing letters, campaigning and presenting evidence to ministers, we are delighted that the government has at last decided to fund this vital work to drive compliance with legislation passed by parliament to protect the rest of society from farm pollution.

“As we enter a new era of public money for public goods, it is unthinkable that an industry benefitting from a multi-billion pound public subsidy scheme would not be properly regulated.”

The agency said last year that it had sent 14 warning letters in response to the 137 breaches and the rest had resulted in “advice and guidance”, which it claimed all the farms had heeded.

Covid restrictions could return in three weeks if hospital admissions soar, say Sage scientists

England may have just three weeks to avoid coronavirus restrictions being reimposed after Sage scientists urged ministers to take action if hospital admissions soar above expected levels.

By Jane MerrickPolicy Editor inews.co.uk 

Scientific advisers have warned that Boris Johnson should be prepared to act in the first week of August to prevent the NHS becoming overwhelmed by the end of that month.

Modelling has suggested that the central case for UK daily hospitalisations at the peak of the third wave – expected at the end of August – could be between 1,000 and 2,000, with deaths predicted to be between 100 and 200 per day.

Yet latest figures show that in the middle of July, six weeks before the expected peak, there were 745 patients admitted to hospital in the UK in a day, and that figure continued to rise even before the 19 July relaxation of all restrictions on so-called “freedom day”.

Last week chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said hospitalisations were doubling roughly every three weeks.

This would suggest close to 1,500 admissions by the end of the first week of August, well above the trajectory for the central case scenario for the third wave. It would point to 3,000 at the peak by the end of that month, which would match the peak of the first wave in April 2020.

Insiders stressed there is a lot of uncertainty in the modelling, and the picture will change all the time depending on vaccine take-up and people’s behaviour after 19 July.

But if admissions are outstripping the central estimates, Sage scientists have advised that some non-pharmaceutical measures should be reintroduced, such as mandatory face masks and advice to work from home, in early August, halfway between the19 July unlocking and the predicted peak at the end of August.

This early intervention, they argue, would prevent the NHS becoming swamped in a late summer crisis.

On Tuesday there were 46,558 new coronavirus cases in the UK, while a further 96 people have died, the highest daily reported fatality rate since the middle of March.

Experts warned against predicting hospital admission rates two to three weeks in advance, but stressed that contingency plans should be in place to reintroduce measures at short notice.

Last week, when the Prime Minister gave the go-ahead for the fourth and final stage of the roadmap in England, he accepted that some restrictions may have to be reimposed if the situation worsened.

A source said what was needed was “less of an emergency brake and more of a gear change” in readiness to keep the third wave “under control”.

While mandatory face masks would be the “easiest” route to curb transmission, with minimal impact on the economy if it were kept to public transport and essential settings like supermarkets, this would have to be weighed against the “totemic” impact it would have on the public if they were ordered to cover up once again.

But others are arguing that the government should be prepared to take tougher action.

Professor Dominic Harrison, director of public health for Blackburn, said: “Any return to non pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to control spread would have to focus on those that give the biggest suppression effect. 

“Essentially we might expect a reverse through the lockdown lifting steps with each ‘reverse step’ being introduced to match the scale of the surge in cases.”

Prof Harrison added that the rise in hospitalisations may be because the bar for admission is lower now, when there is less pressure on the NHS, than during the first wave in April 2020 and second wave in January this year.

He said: “The current rise in hospital cases is difficult to interpret clearly. It is likely some cases now hospitalised might not have met the threshold for hospital admissions in the last wave in January as the system is ‘adaptive’. 

“Some cases now hospitalised may have been managed by care at home on ‘virtual COVID wards’ when the system was under highest pressure of cases in the last wave.

“However for anyone with significant symptoms, hospitalisation will give the best chance of high quality care and close monitoring of risk – so a lower (current) threshold of admission may be keeping mortality rates as low as possible.”

Grass stops 22 Bovey Tracey homes being built

Fields 1. Homebuyers 0.

Plans for 22 new homes in Bovey Tracey have been refused for reasons including the impact on wildlife.

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk

During an hour-long debate on the application near Indio House to the south of the town, some councillors raised concerns about building on two fields of ‘MG5 grassland.

Other reasons for refusal were parking concerns, the application’s eco-credentials and uncertainty about whether a cycle and pedestrian link would be successful.

According to Natural England, MG5 grassland is ‘unimproved natural grassland’ including hay meadows that was once ubiquitous in England lowlands but are in decline. Their briefing document on this type of land says: “MG5 grassland is a valuable resource that needs continued management, monitoring, research and protection for it to survive.” 

The meeting heard from three public speakers, two of whom objected on ecological grounds, and a representative of the developer to support the scheme.

In 2018, the committee refused outline application for homes on the site, which had previously been allocated for development as part of the Teignbridge local plan. However in 2019, following an appeal by the developer,  a planning inspector over-ruled that refusal.

Last month councillors deferred the application after deciding they needed more information and time to consider the implications, and a visit to the site.

Teignbridge’s local plan originally allocated 45 homes for the location, which was lowered to 30 in the outline planning permission and then down to 22 for the applicant’s more detailed application.

The homes were recommended for approval by planning officers, who said: “there is no reasonable grounds for refusal of this [application] relating ecology or loss / compensation of the MG5 grassland.”

They said that while “significant local concern has been raised regarding the loss of […] MG5 grassland, a priority habitat,” the officers explained that: “substantial weight has given to the outline application and the approved ecology survey that does not require any compensation to be delivered”.

In their report, they added how the outline permission had not been legally challenged by the council and said: “The access to the site, traffic generation and impact of this development on Indio House were all considered by the inspector who found these matters to be policy-compliant when approving the application.”

Addressing the committee, a planning officer said the scheme was: “the best that we’re going to get whilst making good use of the land and taking into account the allocation that we’ve got.”

Objecting to the plan, Councillor Avril Kerswell (Conservative, Bovey ward) said: “Once again I would like to remind this committee that Teignbridge District Council has declared a climate emergency, and therefore we should be putting biodiversity, ecology and all green issues to the fore of our decision making.

“The MG5 grasslands, which the applicant wishes to build upon, are so important for many reasons. One of them being that there must be an ecosystem within these two meadows which, if examined closely, would astound all of us.”

Cllr Kerswell also questioned why the planning report contained a letter from the applicant’s QC, who said it was okay to build on the land, but not one from the residents’ legal representative who disagreed.

However, chair of the committee, Councillor Mike Haines (Independent, Kerswell-with-Coombe) said the remaining grassland could still be managed and he saw “no reasons that have been presented today that would make me consider refusal” as he backed the recommendation for approval.

In response, Cllr Kerswell said that “most of the grassland will be built on, and that’s not what the people of Bovey Tracey want”.

Councillor Jackie Hook (Lib Dem, Bushell ward) added that while the application was “deeply unsatisfactory…. “us refusing this today, unfortunately, will not stop it happening because there is valid outline planning consent for 22 houses.”

“The refusal reasons I hear are unfortunately not ones that I will think will hold water and I think, therefore, sadly we will not achieve anything in particular by refusing this today.”

Councillor Janet Bradford (Newton Says No, College ward) also objected: “Because of the rare status of this site, I have lots and lots of concerns and I won’t be able to support this.”

The committee were tied on voting for an original motion for refusal, then rejected another motion to approve the scheme by nine votes to five. At the third vote, councillors refused it by the same tally.

The developer, KACH Developments, said they are discussing the next steps and are taking legal advice as to whether they will appeal the committee’s decision.

Britain’s rivers are suffocating to death

There’s more below the surface than we thought – something even worse than the water companies’ disgusting habit of filling our rivers with raw sewage. After a deep dive into the data, the team that made Rivercide last week discovered that while sewage now dominates our perceptions of river pollution, it’s not their major cause of death.

George Monbiot www.theguardian.com

On the border between Wales and England, we found a great river dying before our eyes. The Wye is covered by every possible conservation law, but in just a few years it has spiralled towards complete ecological collapse. The vast beds of water crowfoot, the long fluttering weed whose white and yellow flowers once bedecked the surface of the river, and which – like mangroves around tropical seas – provide the nurseries in which young fish and other animals grow and adults hide and breed, have almost vanished in recent years. Our own mapping suggests a loss of between 90% and 97%.

They have been suffocated. With increasing frequency, warm weather brings algal blooms. Water that should be crystal clear becomes a green or brown slop of diatoms (microscopic algae). The diatoms shut out the light the crowfoot needs; and at night, as they respire, they draw oxygen from the water, stressing and sometimes killing the remaining fish and insects. Any crowfoot that survives this onslaught may then be colonised by sewage fungus and green slime, which also smothers the fronds, preventing photosynthesis.

Similar things are happening across Britain. Scarcely a river in England and Wales is unaffected by plagues of algae or sewage fungus, caused by an excess of nutrients. But the main culprit is not human excrement.

So what is it? Farming. This is now the biggest cause of river pollution in the UK. There are various reasons, including soil erosion, fertilisers and pesticides, but the most intense and extreme cause, especially in the west of Britain, is industrial livestock units.

Over the 21st century, livestock units have consolidated into giant factories. Vast buildings now house hundreds of dairy cattle, thousands of pigs or tens of thousands of chickens. Regions now specialise in particular animals. The catchment of the River Wye is the UK’s chicken capital.

These factories gather nutrients from a wide area and concentrate them into a small one. The chicken units draw soya from huge tracts of Brazil and Argentina, with devastating consequences for rainforests and savannahs, and pour it into chickens housed along the Wye and its tributaries. The nutrients in the feed then come out in their dung.

Animal dung is high in water and low in value, so it can be shifted economically across only short distances. This means, if you are not to spend more on diesel than the manure is worth, spreading it in the catchment of the river. The soil soon saturates. The nutrients in the dung from then on wash into the river whenever it rains. It doesn’t matter whether farmers illegally pump the dung directly into the river or follow the rules to the letter in spreading it on their fields. Eventually the phosphate, nitrate and other pollutants it contains end up in the water.

So once a certain number of chicken, dairy or pig units have been built in a catchment, rivercide is inevitable. Even if there were effective government monitoring and enforcement, which there isn’t, it would make little difference.

The crucial decision point is the granting of planning permission for industrial livestock units. The local authorities granting it, and the regulators issuing environmental permits, sign the river’s death warrant. Astonishingly, from their responses to our questions, we discovered that neither the two county councils giving these permissions (Powys and Herefordshire), nor the Welsh and English regulators (Natural Resources Wales and the Environment Agency), appear to have any idea how many chickens are now housed in the catchment or even how many factories there are. This task was left, as so much crucial data gathering has been, to citizen scientists. Alison Caffyn, an academic researcher, and Christine Hugh-Jones, a retired GP, set out to map the factories, and estimated that they house, at any one time, 20 million chickens.

Because none of the authorities have kept score, they cannot assess the cumulative impact of these factories. In granting permission for new units, they treat each one as if it were built in isolation, with no attempt to determine what the extra increment of dung will do to an overloaded river. Worse still, in many cases no environmental decision is made at all, because below a very high threshold (40,000 chickens or 2,000 pigs) a livestock unit does not require an environmental permit. It’s a scandalous regulatory failure.

So the only way of saving many of our most beautiful rivers from this shitstorm appears to be to shut down many, perhaps most, of the industrial livestock units in their catchments. In our film, when I pressed the Welsh minister for rural affairs, Lesley Griffiths, on this matter, she appeared to commit to do so if necessary. Through campaigns such as River Action, we should hold her to it, and pressurise her English counterparts, who flatly refused to speak to us, to do the same.

In the meantime, our lovely rivers are being transformed by industrial livestock farms into stinking drains. Let’s stop taking this shit.

We need to have a conversation on COVID statistics with Boris, Lord Sumption and the BBC

The context is Boris Johnson’s apparent view at one stage of the pandemic (and may still be) that the majority who died would have died soon anyway and that the over 80’s aren’t worth crashing the economy for.

Fact: the life expectancy of an 80 year old man is 9 years and for a woman 10 years. After surviving another five years i.e. for an 85 year old man, life expectancy hasn’t reduced by five years to three, it is actually double that at 6 years and for a woman 7.

Boris Johnson is 57 so he should expect to reach 87, not as old as an 80 year old who has already survived the perils of the sixties and seventies.

On Tuesday’s BBC Today Programme the right wing libertarian (and old Etonian) Lord Sumption was interviewed on this subject but his erroneous statements on Covid statistics were not challenged during the interview.

Others did challenge them vigorously and the BBC did subject them to their own fact check on Wednesday.

In case there is any doubt amongst Owl’s readership here is the fact check on the interview.

fullfact.org  20 July 2021

What was claimed in the Lord Sumption interview

No more than 100,000 people have died of Covid in the UK.

Our verdict

Incorrect. So far, 124,082 deaths have been recorded in England and Wales alone, where Covid itself was the underlying cause.

The virus has not killed over 100,000 people. What has happened is that a very large number of people have died with Covid, but not necessarily of Covid. The definition is anybody who has died within 28 days of a positive test is treated as a Covid death.

The former Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption made several mistakes with Covid-19 data when talking about the disease on the Today programme this morning.

More than 100,000 people have died “of” Covid

First of all, he said that the virus had not killed more than 100,000 people, because many of the deaths recorded may have been people who were infected with Covid, but died for other reasons.

This is not true. The daily data on the number of people who have died after a positive test does include some people who died for other reasons. However, we also have data from death certificates, which records whether or not Covid itself was the “underlying cause”.

This shows that up to 2 July this year, 124,082 people died with Covid as the underlying cause of death in England and Wales alone.

On average, people who die of Covid lose about a decade of life

Lord Sumption went on to say that the people who died of Covid would soon have died anyway. He said: “At the age which they had reached, they would probably have died within a year after, as even Professor Ferguson has I think admitted.”  [1.19.00]

This is not supported by the evidence.

The mention of Professor Ferguson seems to be a reference to the government’s former scientific advisor’s comments before the Science and Technology Select Committee on 25 March 2020, when he said that the proportion of people dying of Covid in 2020 who would have died that year anyway “might be as much as half to two thirds of the deaths we are seeing from COVID-19”.

In other words, he was talking at a very early stage of the pandemic about what might be seen by the end of the year, not stating a fact, or predicting what the facts would be.

Research suggests that people dying of Covid lost far more than a year of life—about a decade on average. We have written about this in detail before. 

Thousands of people without comorbidities have died of Covid

Lord Sumption also said: “The number of people who have died who are not in highly vulnerable groups who have died without a sufficiently serious comorbidity to appear on the death certificate is very small. It’s a matter of hundreds and not thousands.” [1.19.42]

This is not true either. It seems that Lord Sumption is talking about the number of death certificates that mention Covid as the underlying cause but do not mention any pre-existing medical condition.

There were 15,883 of these deaths in England and Wales alone, up to the end of March 2021. All of them had Covid as the underlying cause.

If you added all the deaths in Scotland and Northern Ireland too, the total would be higher.

Chris Whitty: serious health challenges in coastal communities must be tackled

Serious health challenges existing in coastal towns must be tackled by the Government or they will “get worse”, Professor Chris Whitty has said.

Professor Chris Whitty’s report can be found here.

West Somerset and Torbay feature as two of the ten study cases (Exmouth seems to have escaped):

Torbay

A patch of the Devon coastline on England’s south-coast that includes the towns of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham, Torbay has higher rates of cardio-vascular disease, respiratory disease, and diabetes than the national average.

Its ageing housing stock – it has high numbers of former guest houses converted into relatively cheap houses of multiple occupation, and caravan parks – is identified as a key environmental factor in poor health outcomes in the area.

And, of course, he mentions the “Oldies” in Budleigh, Seaton and Sidmouth: 

“The older age profile of the coastal towns’ resident population is particularly visible in smaller seaside towns, where 31% of the resident population was aged 65 years or over, in 2019, in comparison with 22% in smaller non-coastal towns. The proportion of population aged 65 years or over was highest in Budleigh Salterton in Devon at 45%, in Hunstanton in Norfolk at 44% and in Seaton and Sidmouth also in Devon at 43%.”

Chris Whitty: serious health challenges in coastal communities must be tackled

Daisy Stephens www.lbc.co.uk

England’s chief medical officer (CMO) has recommended a cross-government national strategy to improve the health and wellbeing of coastal communities as part of his 2021 Annual Report, which found that those living in coastal communities face lower life expectancies and higher rates of many major diseases compared to people in inland areas.

“Coastal areas are some of the most beautiful, vibrant and historic places in the country,” said Prof Whitty.

“They also have some of the worst health outcomes with low life expectancy and high rates of many major diseases.

“These communities have often been overlooked by governments and the ill-health hidden because their outcomes are merged with wealthier inland areas.

“A national strategy informed by local leaders and experts will help reduce inequalities and preventable ill health.

“If we do not tackle the health problems of coastal communities vigorously and systematically there will be a long tail of preventable ill health which will get worse as current populations age.”

According to Prof Whitty’s report, Health in Coastal Communities, Blackpool is the most deprived local authority in England, and also experiences the lowest life expectancy for both males (74.4 years) and females (79.5 years).

In West Somerset, 23 per cent of residents over 16 live with a long-term condition compared to 17 per cent inland, and in the entire county, hospital admissions for self-harm are significantly higher than the rest of England.

Coastal areas in the North East, such as Hartlepool and Hull, have seen high rates of coronavirus compared to the rest of the country and both have seen a negative impact on the local economies, the report sets out.

The report also found that seaside communities have fewer postgraduate medical trainees, consultants and nurses per patient than the national average.

The report also noted a number of factors that could partly explain the trend, such as the fact that coastal towns have an oversupply of cheap guest housing and houses of multiple occupation (HMOs) which encourages the migration of vulnerable people, often with certain health needs, and that older, retired citizens with increasing health problems often settle in coastal regions.

The report comes after the Government’s levelling up agenda was introduced, which aims to invest billions of pounds in projects across the United Kingdom and in seaside towns such as Hastings and Hartlepool.

Prof Whitty set out that a cross-government national strategy should be created to improve the health and wellbeing of coastal communities.

He also called for the “mismatch” between care worker deployment and disease to be addressed and said there needed to be an improvement in data and research into health needs.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid, said: “I welcome this report from Professor Chris Whitty, which raises important points on inequalities that we must tackle to improve the health of coastal communities – and I will carefully consider these recommendations.

“Those living in coastal areas clearly face different sets of challenges to those inland but everybody, no matter where they live, should have similar opportunities in education, housing, employment and health.

“We are committed to levelling up across the nation.”