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Covid 19

Coronavirus: UK ‘not considering’ compulsory face masks in workplaces


Health Secretary Matt Hancock delivers a speech on the future of the NHS at the Royal College of Physicians in central London.

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PA Media

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Matt Hancock said evidence suggests transmission at workplaces is low

The UK government is not considering making the wearing of face masks compulsory in offices and workplaces, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.

It comes as France ruled that coverings must be worn in most workplaces following a surge in coronavirus cases.

“We constantly look at the scientific advice and the answer here is that we are not currently considering doing that,” said Mr Hancock.

Face coverings are currently required in some indoor settings in the UK.

For example, they are compulsory for customers in shops in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland – but not for staff.

They are also required for anyone travelling on public transport anywhere in the UK.

Earlier this week, France announced that from 1 September masks would be compulsory in all shared spaces in offices and factories where there is more than one worker present.

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Getty Images

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Previously, the French government only advised wearing masks at work when distancing is not possible

Masks are also compulsory in some busy outdoor areas in Paris and other French cities.

Asked on BBC Breakfast whether the UK would follow France and introduce masks in workplaces, Mr Hancock said it was not being considered.

“And the reason is that the evidence from NHS Test and Trace for where people catch the disease is that, very largely, they catch it from one household meeting another household, usually in one of their homes.

“And so it’s that household transmission that is the core root of passing on this virus in this country.

“The amount of people who have caught it in workplaces is relatively low, we think, from the evidence we’ve got.”

It comes as the government announced on Wednesday that a further 16 people had died with the virus, taking the UK’s total to 41,397.

These are deaths for any reason within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test.

There is currently no universal rule for workers to wear face masks at work in the UK. However, the government has set out guidance for particular industries.

For example, hairdressers and beauticians are advised to cover their faces because it’s harder to socially distance with the public.

Staff that work in shops or other indoor settings do not have to wear face coverings – although the government suggests businesses “consider their use where appropriate”.

From the start of August, the government changed its guidance about work, no longer ordering people to work from home where they can.

It is now up to employers to decide whether staff can return to the workplace – as long as it is safe to do so.

Previous restrictions on the use of public transport in England have also been removed, meaning anyone can now use it.



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Media captionDoes it matter if you wear your face mask wrong? Well, yes.

Over the past few months, there have been outbreaks among workers at meat processing plants as well as factories.

Most recently, there has been an outbreak at a factory in Newark, Nottinghamshire, which makes desserts for Waitrose and Tesco.

In other coronavirus developments:

  • Heathrow Airport is planning to offer coronavirus tests so that passengers returning to the UK from some countries would not have to spend the full 14 days in quarantine if they test negative. The plan needs government approval but, if rolled out, travellers would be tested at the airport and then again at home a few days later. If they pass both tests they will be able to stop quarantining. Mr Hancock told LBC the government was working with Heathrow on the plan but it must be made “safe and secure”
  • A survey that tests people in the UK is to be expanded, to get a better idea of how many are infected at any one time. The aim is to test 150,000 people a fortnight in England by October, up from 28,000 now
  • Mr Hancock revealed the government is “absolutely looking at” lifting the cap on the number of places to study medicine, after fears there will not be enough places for all the students with the grades to get in
  • European researchers have said the loss of smell that can accompany coronavirus is unique and different from that experienced by someone with a bad cold or flu


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Covid 19

Coronavirus smell loss ‘different from cold and flu’


woman smelling a cut lemon

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The loss of smell that can accompany coronavirus is unique and different from that experienced by someone with a bad cold or flu, say European researchers who have studied the experiences of patients.

When Covid-19 patients have smell loss it tends to be sudden and severe.

And they usually don’t have a blocked, stuffy or runny nose – most people with coronavirus can still breathe freely.

Another thing that sets them apart is their “true” loss of taste.

It’s not that their taste is somewhat impaired because their sense of smell is out of action, say the researchers in the journal Rhinology. Coronavirus patients with loss of taste really cannot tell the difference between bitter or sweet.

Experts suspect this is because the pandemic virus affects the nerve cells directly involved with smell and taste sensation.

The main symptoms of coronavirus are:

  • high temperature
  • new, continuous cough
  • loss of smell or taste

Anyone with these symptoms should self-isolate and arrange to have a swab test to check if they have the virus. Members of their household should isolate too to prevent possible spread.



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Media captionCoronavirus symptoms: What are they and how long should I self-isolate?

Lead investigator Prof Carl Philpott, from the University of East Anglia, carried out smell and taste tests on 30 volunteers: 10 with Covid-19, 10 with bad colds and 10 healthy people with no cold or flu symptoms.

Smell loss was much more profound in the Covid-19 patents. They were less able to identify smells, and they were not able to discern bitter or sweet tastes at all.

Prof Philpott, who works with the charity Fifth Sense, which was set up to help with people with smell and taste disorders, said: “There really do appear to be distinguishing features that set the coronavirus apart from other respiratory viruses.

“This is very exciting because it means that smell and taste tests could be used to discriminate between Covid-19 patients and people with a regular cold or flu.”

He said people could do their own smell and taste tests at home using products like coffee, garlic, oranges or lemons and sugar.

He stressed that diagnostic throat and nose swab tests were still essential if someone thought they might have coronavirus.

The senses of smell and taste return within a few weeks in most people who recover from coronavirus, he added.

Prof Andrew Lane is an expert in nose and sinus problems at Johns Hopkins University in the US.

He and his team have been studying tissue samples from the back of the nose to understand how coronavirus might cause loss of smell and have published the findings in the European Respiratory Journal.

They identified extremely high levels of an enzyme which were present only in the area of the nose responsible for smelling.

This enzyme, called ACE-2 (angiotensin converting enzyme II), is thought to be the “entry point” that allows coronavirus to get into the cells of the body and cause an infection.

The nose is one of the places where Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, enters the body.

Prof Lane said: “We are now doing more experiments in the lab to see whether the virus is indeed using these cells to access and infect the body.

“If that’s the case, we may be able to tackle the infection with antiviral therapies delivered directly though the nose.”


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Covid 19

Linda Nolan and Bill Turnbull urge public not to delay cancer checks


Linda Nolan and Bill Turnbull

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Linda Nolan and Bill Turnbull have joined NHS doctors in encouraging cancer checks

Singer Linda Nolan and presenter Bill Turnbull are among the celebrities with cancer who are urging the public not to put off seeking important checks.

Concerns have been raised that people have delayed coming forward because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of people getting cancer checks in June dropped sharply compared with the previous year.

Linda and Anne Nolan recently announced they had been diagnosed with cancer within days of each other.

Linda, 61, said the public should feel “absolutely safe in the hands of the NHS” and praised its “heroic work”.

Turnbull said cancer “unfortunately did not disappear” during the coronavirus outbreak, and urged people not to delay getting checked if they had concerns.

The pair are taking part in a new campaign. Around 141,600 people were referred for cancer checks in June, compared with almost 200,000 during the same month last year.

Nearly half of the public have said they had concerns about seeking help amid the pandemic. One in 10 said they would not contact their GP even if they had a lump or a new mole.

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The Nolan Sisters: Linda, Anne, Bernie and Maureen pictured in the 1970s

Linda Nolan has been having treatment for liver cancer, while Anne, 69, has stage three breast cancer.

Linda said she had received “exceptional” care and praised the NHS for working “to continue to deliver the vital care we all need, even as they deal with the ongoing pandemic”.

She added: “It’s so important people get checked out when they need to. Cancer doesn’t wait, and timing is everything. It might be the very thing that makes all the difference.”

When former BBC Breakfast host Turnbull revealed his diagnosis in 2018, it led to a 36% jump in people being referred for prostate cancer.

He said: “Cancer is a cruel disease and unfortunately it did not disappear during the coronavirus outbreak.

“We know that it’s all too easy to put something like this off, but please do contact the NHS if you have any signs of cancer.”

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Turnbull previously co-hosted BBC Breakfast alongside Sian Williams

Professor Peter Johnson, NHS clinical director for cancer, said waiting to get help could have serious health consequences.

He said: “We cannot let Covid become a reason for people not to get checked for cancer – NHS staff up and down the country have worked very hard to make sure that tests and treatment can go ahead quickly and safely.

“Cancers are detected earlier and lives are saved if more people are referred for checks, so our message to you is to come forward – it could save your life.”


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Covid 19

South Korea tightens Covid-19 curbs amid warning of new ‘crisis’


Police undergo virus testing in Seoul, South Korea

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Museums, nightclubs and karaoke bars have closed in and around South Korea’s capital, Seoul, as Covid-19 cases reach a five-month high.

The country reported another 297 new cases on Wednesday – the highest daily figure since March.

South Korea is viewed as one of the world’s coronavirus success stories for its management of the disease.

But a spike in new cases linked mostly to a church has sparked concerns of a wider outbreak.

Wednesday saw a three-digit increase in cases for a sixth day after weeks with numbers generally around the 40s. Of the 297 infections reported, 252 were in the greater Seoul area.

Many of the new cases have been linked to the Sarang Jeil Church, whose pastor has been a vocal critic of President Moon Jae-in.



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Media captionHow South Korea is trying to keep its beaches safe amid the coronavirus pandemic

It follows another outbreak at a different place of worship, the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which was identified earlier this year as South Korea’s biggest virus cluster.

The controversial group was found to be linked to more than 5,200 cases.

In total 623 members of Sarang Jeil Church have been infected so far, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

Ten of these were people confirmed to have attended anti-government demonstrations on the past two weekends in Seoul, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

This is a moment of “grave crisis” in South Korea’s fight against coronavirus, say health officials.

There are two main concerns. First that the outbreak is in the highly populated greater Seoul area, and secondly that the cluster involves yet another highly secretive church and hundreds of members have provided false contact details at gatherings.

Let’s not forget, South Korea has been in this position before and prevailed. Its highly efficient track-and-trace system, paired with multiple testing facilities, has brought cluster outbreaks under control.

But Sarang Jeil church members rallied in the centre of Seoul at the weekend, ignoring warnings from health officials that they risked spreading the virus.

Domestic media has also shown footage of church members shouting and swearing at virus contact tracers. It seems some of them believe that this is part of a conspiracy to close the right wing church, which is highly critical of President Moon’s administration. They are also reluctant to comply with quarantine orders or get a test.

Authorities have the power to introduce stricter social distancing guidelines and they have shut down facilities such as karaoke rooms and nightclubs. Most companies based in Seoul have also told their employees to work from home.

But tracking down reluctant church members who are most at risk of catching and spreading the virus may prove more difficult.

Authorities have already banned all in-person church services as they try to trace congregation members to ask them to self-quarantine and get tested.

“We’re facing a crisis where if the current spread isn’t controlled, it would bring an exponential rise in cases, which could in turn lead to the collapse of our medical system and enormous economic damage,” said Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, earlier this week.

Starting from Wednesday, 12 high-risk business categories including nightclubs, karaoke bars and buffet restaurants must cease operations in Seoul, Incheon and the neighbouring Gyeonggi province.

Museums have also been closed and indoor gatherings of more than 50 people, and outdoor ones of more than 100, are banned.


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Covid 19

A-levels U-turn: Government considering lifting cap on medicine places


Students protest over the awarding of A-levels

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The government is “absolutely looking at” lifting the cap on the number of places to study medicine, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.

The number of students studying to be doctors is regulated because of the cost and for NHS workforce planning.

But after this week’s changes to A-level results, universities fear there will not be enough places for all the students with the grades to get in.

The body representing universities has called for the cap to be lifted.

The number of places to study medicine is the latest issue thrown up by the government’s U-turn on Monday to change how exam grades are awarded, following a backlash.

The decision to give A-level and GCSE students the grades estimated by their teachers, rather than by an algorithm, means thousands of A-level students may now have the grades to trade up to their first-choice university offers.

Although the cap on overall student numbers has been raised, places at medical schools remain limited because the costs of training doctors far exceeds the fees paid by undergraduates.

In a letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, seen by the BBC, Universities UK sought “urgent assurances” that he was speaking to the Department for Health about increasing the medical student cap.

“The role of universities in training the medical workforce is essential for all regions and nations of the UK, as clearly shown by our members’ response to the Covid-19 pandemic,” the letter said.

It also called more widely for “significant financial support” from the government as students are expected to change courses after being awarded higher grades.

The body, which represents 137 institutions across the UK, said that while the change to the grading method was the right decision, it would lead to grade inflation meaning universities with lower entry requirements would face a drop in course take-up and as a result require financial help.

The letter also asked for clarity on how increased student numbers could be managed alongside social distancing measures and guidance on how to handle a higher number of candidates with the required grades than available places.

Asked whether he would consider lifting the cap on medical students, Mr Hancock told BBC Breakfast: “We are looking at that.

“Thankfully we’ve got an expansion in the number of medical places this year, the biggest number of medical places ever, because we’re hiring into the NHS, we’re growing the NHS and we want to make sure the NHS has the doctors it needs in the future,” he added.

“But I am absolutely looking at this issue, yes.”

He later told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “But of course there’s now a huge number of pupils who have the grades, and so we’re working very much immediately on how we can go further than we already are.”

There have been planned increases in the number of medical school places available at English universities in recent years.



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Media captionGavin Williamson says his focus is on “making sure that every student gets the grades that they deserve”

Prof Jenny Higham, principal of medical school St George’s, University of London, told the BBC’s Newsnight: “Medicine is both a very practical discipline and also requires a great deal of clinical and practical experience and hence clinical placement capacity also needs to be increased.”

The pandemic has meant the current students have been unable to carry out their clinical studies meaning there is a backlog in places, she said.

Prof Higham added it was a high cost subject with courses funded by supplementary payments from the government as well as tuition fees, and the need to pay for clinical placements.

Conservative MP Sir John Redwood told Newsnight any changes also needed to be fair to the class of 2021 as well as “make up to the class of 2020”, with next year’s cohort needing to be assured of places if they got the necessary grades.

On Tuesday, universities minister Michelle Donelan said she wanted to ensure any students who had accepted a “different course” than planned, as a result of being downgraded last week, should be able to “change their mind and to reverse that decision”.

She said No 10 was working with universities to help “boost the capacity available” in order to “minimise the amount of students that will be looking to defer.”

Ministers in England, Northern Ireland and Wales all decided on Monday – four days after A-level results were issued – to revert to teacher assessed grades rather than the algorithm. Scotland reverted to teacher assessed grades on 4 August after facing a similar backlash.

The move prompted a scramble for university places as students tried to reclaim places at universities which they had last week been rejected from.

However, the top universities warned that students who now have higher grades could still be asked to defer if there is no space left on their chosen course.

Conversely, the Institute of Fiscal Studies is warning that lower-ranked universities may lose a substantial share of their intake, as candidates seek places on more demanding course. This could be “financially crippling”, it says.

The chaos and uncertainty has led to calls from school and college leaders for an urgent review.

The education secretary apologised for the distress caused by the U-turn.


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Covid 19

Coronavirus: Care homes ask for insurance cost help


Care home in Scarborough, North Yorkshire

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Representatives for the sector say insurance costs are “astronomical”

Care home owners whose insurance premiums have soared this year have called for government protection from being sued over coronavirus deaths.

Care England warned the situation was an “an absolutely enormous threat” to the future of the sector.

Owners said they feared they could go out of business if they were not offered similar indemnity to the NHS.

The government said it was doing everything it could to support the social care sector.

Care England, a charity that represents providers across the country, said if care homes could not get insurance they would not be able to take patients with coronavirus from hospitals.

‘People need to be cared for’

Mike Padgham, managing director of St Cecilia’s care group in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, said he was shocked to be told renewing his existing policy would cost him 880% more than last year.

He previously paid £10,000 but his quote for renewal was initially £98,000. He received an alternative offer of £41,000 and finally settled for a policy costing £18,000.

“I do have some sympathy with the insurance companies because they’re worried about the risk, which is why I want the government to step in and help the industry,” he said.

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One care home owner was shocked to discover his insurance might rise by 880%

Mr Padgham has written an open letter to the health secretary calling for government intervention.

“I’ve had some sleepless nights over it,” he said.

“We don’t have to do this job, of course, but somebody has to provide the care because people need to be cared for.

“Providers like ourselves are playing a part in that, but we want the government to help us in that drive and if they’re true to their word, we are all in this together, then they should be helping us.”

‘Astronomical’ increases

There have been outbreaks of Covid-19 in about 44% of all registered care homes, according to Public Health England figures.

The National Care Association, which represents small and medium-sized care providers, surveyed all of its members regarding insurance.

It received 68 responses, with 68% reporting an increase in their premium and 35% changing provider.

Almost all respondents – 93.5% – said they had no Covid-19 cover included in their renewal.

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Care providers fear rising insurance costs will limit their services or put them out of business

Care England’s chief executive Martin Green said: “This is an absolutely enormous threat to the care sector and I think we should acknowledge that some of the increases in costs are absolutely astronomical.

“We’ve seen people who used to pay £12,000 being told they have to now pay £98,000 and also will get less cover than they used to get.

“So, faced with that situation, businesses are going to have to either find that extra money or in many cases they won’t be able to function and they’ll go out of business.”

During the early stages of the coronavirus crisis, government legislation was brought in giving additional protection – or indemnity – to the health service.

However, those measures would not apply to care homes.

Mr Green added: “The reality is that social care and the NHS are inextricably linked and we all support the same people.

“So I don’t see why the government should make an exception and deliver indemnity for one part of the system and totally ignore the other.”

A Department for Health and Social spokesperson said: “We are doing everything we can to support the social care sector during this unprecedented pandemic.

“We are working closely across government, with care providers and insurance representatives, to understand these issues and any action that may need to be taken.”

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Depression doubles during coronavirus pandemic


woman looking out of window wearing mask

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Twice as many adults in Britain are reporting symptoms of depression now compared with this time last year, Office for National Statistics figures suggest.

One in five people appeared to have depressive symptoms compared with one in ten before the pandemic.

The conclusions are based on a survey of more than 3,500 adults followed up over a 12-month period.

They were asked the standard set of questions used to assess depression.

People were asked to consider the previous two weeks and say how often they had experienced a range of symptoms, including changes in sleep or appetite, a loss of interest and pleasure in doing things, and difficulty concentrating.

Almost 20% of people met the criteria for depression, based on their responses, in June 2020 compared with just under 10% between July 2019 and March 2020.

While the measure of depression used is a well-known screening questionnaire though, Prof Elaine Fox at the University of Oxford, said: “It is important to remember that this does not give a diagnosis but rather an indication of everyday depressive feelings and behaviours”.

Severe mental health problems rise amid pandemic

A small number of people (3.5%) saw an improvement in their symptoms.

But 13% of people surveyed had newly developed symptoms of “moderate to severe” depression over the survey period.

People under 40, women, people with a disability and those who said they would struggle to meet an unexpected cost of £850 were the groups most likely to show symptoms of depression.

Laura Moulding, a 23-year-old recent graduate from Cardiff had this experience of struggling with worsening mental health over lockdown, while also managing a form of chronic fatigue called ME.

Although she was already managing with the symptoms of severe depression prior to coronavirus, not being able to go out or have face-to-face psychiatrist appointments left her feeling “the worst I’ve ever felt,” she told the BBC.

Pre-Covid she found going outside and keeping busy by volunteering helped to clear her head.

But over lockdown, she had “dark and intrusive thoughts…I’ve never known my depression feel this bad”.

Dr Charley Baker, an associate professor of mental health at the University of Nottingham, said: “It’s unsurprising to see these rates of low mood and depressive symptoms emerging…The people highlighted as struggling the most are those who are already more vulnerable to low mood, anxiety and poorer wellbeing.”

But she points out that not all of the increase in mental health symptoms will be among people who have clinical conditions.

“It’s important though to avoid over-pathologising what might be seen as reasonable responses to the current pandemic,” she said.

Stephen Buckley, head of information at the charity Mind, said: “It’s important to bear in mind that most of us will have found the last five or six months more difficult than usual, and there’s no ‘normal’ way to respond to a pandemic.

“If you notice changes to your thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are affecting your daily life, last longer than two weeks, or keep returning – talk to someone you trust, like your GP. A GP should be able to let you know if you might have a common mental health problem, like depression and anxiety, and signpost you to support.”

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Basildon University Hospital maternity unit rated ‘inadequate’


Basildon Hospital

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Basildon University Hospital in Essex has been told its maternity services were inadequate after a whistleblower’s fears sparked a surprise inspection

A hospital has been ordered to carry out urgent improvements to its maternity unit after a whistleblower voiced fears about patient safety.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) rated the unit at Basildon University Hospital as inadequate with “failings” found in six serious cases.

The CQC said lessons were not learnt from an inspection following the death of mother Gabriela Pintilie last year.

The hospital said it was “focused” on improving.

The unit was criticised following the deaths of baby Ennis Pecaku in September 2018 and Ms Pintilie, 36, in February 2019.

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Family handout

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Gabriela Pintilie died hours after giving birth by C-section to her second child at Basildon University Hospital in 2019

The CQC previously carried out an inspection of the department the month Ms Pintilie died and said the unit, which had once been rated outstanding, required improvement.

Inspectors returned for the surprise “focused” inspection after being contacted by an anonymous whistleblower.

The report found six babies were born in a poor condition and then transferred for cooling therapy, which can be offered for newborn babies with brain injury caused by oxygen shortage during birth.

During their visit, inspectors found:

  • High-risk women giving birth in a low-risk area
  • Not enough staff with the right skills and experience
  • “Dysfunctional” working between midwives, doctors and consultants, which had an impact on the “increased number of safety incidents reported”
  • Concerns over foetal heart monitoring
  • Women being referred to by room numbers instead of their names
  • A “lack of response by consultants to emergencies” resulting in delays

The CQC also referred to issues relating to the death of Ms Pintilie, who was not named in the report, and said five serious incidents “identified the same failings of care”.

“This demonstrated there had been a lack of learning from previous incidents and actions put in place were not embedded.”

Professor Ted Baker, CQC chief inspector of hospitals, said: “We have issued a warning notice requiring the trust to make urgent improvements to ensure mothers and babies are safe.”

‘Complete system failure’

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Solicitor Stephanie Prior, who represents the Pintilie family, said the unit was putting people’s lives at risk

Solicitor and former nurse Stephanie Prior represents Ms Pintilie’s family and said “nothing seems to change” and a robust system needed to be put in place.

“You would have thought following my client’s death that changes would have been made, but you’ve got a whistleblower in May 2020 raising safety concerns… again,” she said.

“In my client’s case… he is now left with a one-and-a-half-year-old daughter and a 16-year-old son he’s bringing up on his own.

“There is a complete system failure and there needs to be a complete overhaul of the unit to make sure it’s safe because service leaders do not have the skills to run the unit properly.”

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Hospital trust chief executive Clare Panniker said changes were already under way to its maternity services

Ms Panniker, chief executive of Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust which runs the hospital, said the serious cases were being investigated independently, £1.8m had been invested in staffing and a new clinical director was in post.

Nine midwives and two consultants had already started working and 20 more midwives would join in the autumn.

She also said its poor workplace culture was “unacceptable” and would not be tolerated.

“We’ve been really focused in the last few months in making the improvements that mean women can be confident to come and have their babies in the maternity department at Basildon and be very safe in the process,” she said.

‘There’s no communication between anyone’

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Lauren Beattie, who lost her son just after he was born, said promises were not kept to closely monitor her next pregnancy, when she miscarried

A woman, whose son died shortly after he was born in January after 22 weeks of pregnancy, has been critical of the care she received at Basildon.

Lauren Beattie said she was in the hospital for three weeks before his birth.

“Nearly every day I was having doctors come in encouraging me that I needed to terminate the pregnancy, even though there was nothing wrong with him,” she said.

“We ended up getting the midwife to write down ‘Do not offer [advice to terminate] any more’.

“Every time I’ve had to go up the hospital I’ve had to explain the whole situation from beginning to end to everyone – there’s no communication between anyone.

“With my most recent miscarriage [when she was pregnant again after her son died] I had four scans – one of which I did have a midwife come in for support which was lovely – but I had scans where I was all on my own to receive bad news. There are situations where people need support.”

‘Not a good report’

Lynsey McCarthy-Calvert, chair of the independent Mid and South Essex Maternity Voices Partnership which gathers feedback from patients, said she felt managers were “committed to turning” the unit around.

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Bramu Media

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Lynsey McCarthy-Calvert, chair of an independent Essex hospitals maternity group, said she felt senior managers were “committed to turning” the unit around

“It hasn’t stood out from the feedback that Basildon has been a particular concern recently,” she said.

“[But] it’s not a good report and it will be a concern to the women and families using maternity services there.

“I would say… your midwifery care will still be of a very high standard and every midwife you see will be committed to the safety of yourself and your baby.”

She said the hospital was implementing a new care model where women would be looked after by the same people during pregnancy and labour, which was known to improve “outcomes for safety and wellbeing”.

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New public health body ‘vigilant for viral threat’


Health Secretary Matt Hancock attending a remote press conference

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Image caption

The health secretary said there was huge global demand for protective equipment

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed Public Health England will be replaced by a new body focused on preparing for external threats like pandemics.

Baroness Dido Harding, who runs NHS Test and Trace in England, will be the interim chief of the new National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP).

PHE has come under intense scrutiny of its coronavirus response.

Ministers have been accused of using PHE as a scapegoat for failings.

Government has been criticised for the controversial decision in March to halt community testing and tracing of contacts.

The new institute will begin work with immediate effect and will bring together Public Health England and NHS Test and Trace, as well as the analytical capability of the Joint Biosecurity Centre under a single leadership team, to “strengthen” public health.

Matt Hancock said it would have a “single and relentless mission” of protecting people from external health threats including pandemics, biological weapons and infections diseases

“To give ourselves the best chance of beating this virus once and for all – and of spotting and being ready to respond to other health threats, now and in the future, we are creating a brand new organisation to provide a new approach to public health protection and resilience.

“My single biggest fear is a novel flu, or another major health alert, hitting us right now in the middle of this battle against coronavirus.

“Even once this crisis has passed – and it will pass – we need a disease control infrastructure that gives us the permanent, standing capacity to respond as a nation and the ability to scale up at pace.”

The new health protection agency for England will, we are told, be modelled on Germany’s Robert Koch Institute which combats infectious diseases.

Expertise from Public Health England and the Test and Trace network will be pooled to form an organisation focussed on tackling the coronavirus threat and future pandemics. And therein lies the historic problem.

PHE was formed as part of Government health reforms in 2012 with an ungainly merger of health protection and prevention initiatives such as obesity strategies. It was pulled in different directions and had to get by with successive annual budget cuts.

PHE has been blamed for the suspension of community testing and tracing in March but senior sources say it was not set up to run a mass diagnostic testing system and any decisions made then were in partnership with Government advisers.

The centrepiece of the reforms is the creation of the new agency but there are still big questions over what will happen to PHE’s vital work on prevention of ill health and tackling health inequalities.

The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) questioned the timing of an announcement on the scrapping of a national public health agency in the midst of a global pandemic.

RSPH chief executive Christina Marriott said: “We recognise that there have been some serious challenges in terms of our response to Covid-19, including the timing of the lockdown, the ongoing ineffectiveness of Tier 2 Track and Trace and postcode-level data previously not being available to directors of public health.”

But she said “multiple lessons” needed to be learned “before solutions can be in place in advance of the winter”, adding: “to do otherwise risks avoidable mistakes in subsequent waves of the pandemic which will only harm the public’s health further.”

Prof Richard Tedder, visiting professor in medical virology at Imperial College London, defended PHE as an “assembly of some of the wisest and most committed microbiologists and epidemiologists you could hope for anywhere”.

He criticised what he called the “persistent meddling from on-high”, which he said had “disenfranchised and fractured” staff “to the great detriment of the UK as a whole”.

Prof Tedder warned the plans to merge existing laboratory staff with NHS Test and Trace were “misplaced” and would “further dismantle” the “irreplaceable” expertise that exists within PHE.

Liberal Democrat Health spokesperson Munira Wilson told the BBC News Channel it was “quite clear” that ministers were trying to deflect responsibility from some of the “terrible decisions” taken, “from the provision of protective equipment, test and trace and the tracing app being botched and a whole series of other blunders through this crisis” then trying to scapegoat PHE as a result.

She said they should be going forward with an independent inquiry so lessons learned could be used in any second wave of the pandemic.

Labour’s shadow health minister Justin Madders said in a tweet that there had been “no transparency or accountability” in Baroness Harding’s appointment.


Categories
Covid 19

Leicester lockdown: Beauty salons and nail bars to reopen


Humberstone Gate

Image copyright
PA Media

Image caption

The lockdown in Leicester was announced on 29 June

Beauty salons and nail bars are among businesses in Leicester allowed to reopen from Wednesday in a further easing of lockdown restrictions.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the rate of infections “has now dropped to a safe enough level” for some businesses to reopen.

However, restrictions on gatherings in private homes and gardens remain.

Leicester became the first area in the UK to be subject to a local lockdown on 29 June.

As well as salons and nail bars, spas, massage and tattoo parlours and body piercing services are also able to reopen from Wednesday.

Shielding for the most vulnerable will continue, but it will be eased in Leicester to allow individuals to meet in a group of up to six if they are outdoors and maintaining social distancing.

Though the relaxed restrictions allow outdoor swimming pools to reopen, the only one in Leicestershire is in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, is not in the lockdown area and already open.

The move will bring the city into line with the easing of restrictions introduced for much of England on 11 and 13 July.

“My gratitude goes out to the people of Leicester who have all made sacrifices to keep the virus at bay and protect their local communities,” Mr Hancock said.

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PA Media

Image caption

Leicester and some neighbouring areas were told to observe strict measures from 29 June

Government figures released on Tuesday evening show there were 204 cases recorded in the week to 14 August.

This compares with 226 recorded in the previous week and is down by more than half compared with when the city was first told it would face tighter restrictions than the rest of England at the end of June.

The city still has one of the highest rates of new cases in England, with almost 58 per 100,000 of population in the week to 14 August.

Sir Peter Soulsby, mayor of Leicester, said the announcement was “more or less what we expected”, adding the relaxation some of the rules for people shielding “will greatly benefit their mental health”.

“We had planned to continue our neighbourhood testing programme throughout August and the restrictions around households will help in our efforts to track down the virus and contain it,” he said.

“What we really don’t want is to see numbers increase which could result in more severe restrictions being put in place once again in parts, or all, of the city.”

Salons in the city said they were looking forward to reopening.

“I’m super-excited because we have been closed since March and obviously lost lots of business throughout,” said Minal Parmar, who owns The Beauty Refinery on London Road.

“Everyone has been affected financially – but I just can’t wait to be open.”

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Your Beauty At The Cutting Room

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Krishna Devaliya said she hopes customers will feel comfortable to return

Krishna Devaliya, owner of Your Beauty At The Cutting Room, said: “I’m excited but also a little bit nervous – Leicester still isn’t fully recovered, will people come back or not?

“But I do feel happy to be going back to work and seeing our clients again.”

Aleksandrs Cibulskis, who owns Route 66 tattoo studio, said he was “very happy” to be able to reopen, describing the past few months as “horrible” for business.

“I understand [it] has been nobody’s fault with the virus and everything,” he said.

“For the whole time I have had to pay for rent and bills – I was given a grant but it was not enough.”

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Vivian’s Nail Bar

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Rose Feng said the lockdown rules “have been very confusing”, but is looking forward to seeing customers again

Rose Feng, who runs Vivian’s Nail Bar on Narborough Road, welcomed the opportunity to bring back customers.

“The whole situation has been difficult,” she said.

“The rules and guidance have been very confusing.

“We didn’t understand why we couldn’t open but barber shops could, but if we can open tomorrow then that is really good news.”

At Femi Health and Beauty, the phone has “not stopped ringing” since the announcement, according to owner Femi Latif.

“It’s a relief to know we can reopen, such a relief,” she said.

“How long can a business go on surviving with no income? At last we can open.”

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