Thursday 30 April 2020

"He Will Do The Lancet Proud"


Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of the medical journal, The Lancet, was interviewed on 24 April for the Financial Times by Anjana Ahuja. A friend sent me a copy knowing that my father had been a past editor.

He died seven years ago and was delighted when Richard visited him in his care home. After one visit I asked him how it had gone. In answer he smiled and said, “A solid chap. He will do the Lancet proud.”


He was right.

I first met Richard Horton on the ‘Peoples Train” to the Stop the War demonstration outside the 2006 Manchester Labour Party conference. A memorable journey. Richard travelling with his wife and daughter and there to address us about war mortalities in Iraq. Tony Benn was with us, joking that we had nationalised the railways for one day. Most memorable of all were Hettie Bower and Bernhard Herzberg.

Hettie was then aged 101 (she died age 108) and Bernhard 97. They sat opposite each other and didn’t exchange a word. I was told later that she, as a German Communist, couldn’t stand the sight of Bernhard, who was a German Trotskyist.

Whatever the orgins of their political loyalties it certainly gave them longevity.

The Lancet had published a report in 2004 from a group of American and Iraqi public-health scientists whose survey had found that about 650,000 Iraqi casualties had taken place after the 2003 occupation . With forthrightness Horton said, The best hope we can have from our terrible misadventure in Iraq is that a new political and social movement will grow to overturn this politics of humiliation. We are one human family. Let's act like it.”

Fourteen years later Horton told the BBC that the UK government response to the Covid-19 pandemic is a ‘national scandal’ accusing them of adopting a laissez-faire response by floating the idea of ‘herd immunity’. “We’ve had the biggest science policy failure in a generation,” he told the Guardian, adding these words to the FT. “I’m angry because I know how good the NHS can be. Politicians and policymakers and scientists let down the NHS and its staff. And that’s unforgiveable.”

Unafraid to speak out he said, “Some of the great advances, like the 19th century sanitary movement and the birth of the NHS, were not technical accomplishments, but political struggles.”

Health workers in the present crisis”, he told the FT, “have been bullied and forced to see patients who clealy have or are suspected of having Covid-19 without PPE. When they raise concerns, they are belittled or threatened. It’s horrifying to see the lack of concern by some NHS management.”

Two years ago Horton was diagnosed with advanced melanoma. I had no idea about this. When in contact with me he has enquired about my health problems and said not a word about his own.

I agree with him about his experiences as a NHS patient. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in an institution where people have been so genuinely kind and thoughtful. That’s why I’m so angry that we didn’t act sooner.”

And with this comment, “I wake up and think I’ve got to make the most of every day, because I don’t know how many I will have.”

I hoipe you will join with me and insist on many many more.

Tuesday 28 April 2020

BBC Panorama - Coronavirus crimes


BBC Panorama exposes government Coronavirus ‘crimes’. If you didn’t watch it you can find it on YouTube at link below.


The programme made the following allegations ….


Government ministers repeatedly claimed that the UK has delivered over one billion items of PPE since the crisis began. Panorama said it had received documents from “inside the supply chain” which show the government’s claim is a lie.


Firstly, over half the items are surgical gloves. These are not the items there is a shortage of and this number has been doubled by counting them per glove rather than per pair.


Secondly, the figure includes cleaning equipment, waste bags, detergent and paper towels.


Thirdly, the second-biggest item are plastic aprons. These have short sleeves and do not give same protection as medical gowns. 


One A&E doctor on described these aprons as “like something you would expect a dinner lady to wear. It’s like a pinny, it’s plastic, it’s flimsy. You put it round your neck. It does nothing.”


Out of date masks are being used. One nurse showed his box of masks were out of date. When he lifted up the date sticker, it showed that the original use-by-date was even longer ago than the update use-by-date. So they’d gone out of date twice.


The government didn’t stockpile any gowns.


Panorama said that successive governments had failed to buy any hospital gowns at all – despite their own advisers warning that gowns were needed in a stockpile.


Public health expert Professor John Ashton commented: “It’s breathtaking that there were no gowns at all in stock. Breathtaking!”


20 million respirator masks have gone missing.


According to Panorama, 33 million respirator masks were on the government’s original stockpile procurement list in 2009 but only 12 million have since been handed out.


The government refuses to explain what happened to the other 20 million, but said that there was “limited demand which is one reason why they haven’t all been distributed”.


UK-made PPE is being exported abroad because the UK has failed to make adequate orders.


The boss of a company who makes the special fabric needed for a lot of PPE said he wanted to supply the NHS. He’d been writing to ministers, MPs and Public Health England but had not heard back. So was exporting his fabric to the USA.


In January, the government put coronavirus into the category of a “high consequence infectious disease”. For this category of disease, the Health and Safety Executive recommends all staff wear a full face visor, a respirator face mask and a gown.


The government had a legal requirement to ensure staff have all this. In mid-March, the government downgraded coronavirus. As it was no longer a “high consequence infections disease”, the government could then legally get away with providing less kit to staff in all but the most dangerous situations.


Instead of a gown, they just have to provide a plastic apron. Instead of a respirator face mask and a full face visor, they only have to provide a surgical mask.


According to Professor John Ashton, coronavirus was downgraded for political reasons: “This must have been done because they realised that they weren’t going to have enough equipment and they needed somehow to have a story that stacked up with being caught out on supplies.”


The comment that follows is from Dr Irial Eno who was interviewed for the programme …


"I’ve just finished a shift and heard the news and I’m fuming. Are you SERIOUS?? Is Matt Hancock seriously still talking about the amazing hard work (“herculean effort” in his words) the government are doing to try to secure us with PPE? Why are we still having these conversations??!! This should have been sorted WEEKS ago!


I’ve used the same (disposable) mask for 3 days. We’re still sharing a limited supply of visors. Last night a nurse from another department turned up in mine and begged me with tears in her eyes for a FFP3 mask as she didn’t have access to any, despite caring for respiratory patients. (We’d also ran out, so I couldn’t give her one).


We’ve had multiple staff members coming in as patients (many healthy and young), and three of them die. All of us at work are talking about which of us is going to be the next one to fall ill.


NONE of us have been tested yet, despite all this chat about testing being prioritised for healthcare staff. We’ve all had (or have) mild coughs, colds, sore throats etc and are constantly paranoid about these being the onset of Covid symptoms.


When we’re exposed to so many Covid positive patients, it feels cruel not to offer us testing. We need to know if we’ve had it and are immune, or if we’re still at risk. Not having access to PPE and tests is causing us real psychological distress.


I know healthcare workers are getting in trouble for speaking out about this but bloody hell, our colleagues are dying and we are STILL not protected and I am terrified, so it feels important. This government is a shambles.”



London is Strange & Sad

Amelia Gentleman has written a powerful article about London’s new homeless in today’s Guardian. (“London is So Strange and Sad”). The full piece is here. I was struck by its similarity to George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. They were written 87 years apart, but sadly they share dystopias. Orwell wrote about destitute hotel and restaurant workers. Amelia has returned to the same people.

Here is a condensed version from the Guardian interspersed with short quotes from Orwell. I hope Ms Gentleman will forgive my interference with her work!


The mass of the rich and the poor are differentiated by their incomes and nothing else, and the average millionaire is only the average dishwasher dressed in a new suit.” George Orwell

All the normal sounds and smells are absent – the salty, greasy smells from fast food restaurants, the wafts of coffee from snack bars, stale beer odours rising up from sticky pavements, the stench of rotting food seeping out from kitchen dustbins, even the trails of diesel fumes, have all gone.


There is no noise of people laughing or shouting, no sounds of plates clattering at pavement cafes. Bins are not overflowing with coffee cups and discarded newspapers. Even the pigeons seem hungrier, rushing to peck at food scraps.

You can hear the wind rushing through the streets. It feels so eerie, like waking up in a post-apocalypse movie.

Trafalgar Square is silent. Clusters of homeless people wait on the steps of the National Gallery for food to be distributed. Central London is seeing a surge of newly unemployed restaurant and pub workers forced to sleep on the streets because they can no longer afford to pay rent.

“You have thought so much about poverty—it is the thing you have feared all your life, the thing you knew would happen to you sooner or later; and it is all so utterly and prosaically different. You thought it would be quite simple; it is extraordinarily complicated. You thought it would be terrible; it is merely squalid and boring." George Orwell

Martin, a recently-sacked chef is finding life increasingly difficult and dangerous. “London has become so strange and sad. The only people who are out look like they are looking for drugs. There are a lot of crazy people with knives.”

It is fatal to look hungry. It makes people want to kick you.” George Orwell

In the capital, there are hundreds of tents and cardboard box encampments and conditions are getting much harsher.

The city’s day centres have been closed leaving the homeless with no place to shower or wash their clothes, no toilets and nowhere to access regular food supplies.

No one is offering money to the destitute, at a time when most soup kitchens and food banks are not operating, and when the closure of cafes has meant the homeless no longer receive unsold sandwiches at the end of the day.

Martin worked his way up through London’s kitchens, starting as a porter to his most recent job as chef de partie at a fashionable restaurant. He has been sleeping on a bit of pavement near Charing Cross station for six weeks.

Brian, a volunteer comments, “One of the really distressing things is the hospitality homeless. We’re seeing so many people who were working in kitchens, hotels and pubs until a few weeks ago. They’re so obviously ill-equipped to be out there. The long-term rough sleepers know how it works, but for them it’s very new. They look shell-shocked."

Katarina, a recently-sacked waitress was preparing to sleep again in the doorway of a cocktail bar. “She wants to be helped. I don’t understand why she hasn’t been picked up,” says Brian.

A welder sleeping in the park behind the Savoy, wanted information about where he could wash; he said he had been unable to have a shower for the past five weeks since arriving in London to look for work.

Dirt is a great respecter of persons; it lets you alone when you are well dressed, but as soon as your collar is gone, it flies towards you from all directions.” George Orwell

Alexander, who worked as a cleaner and caretaker at a pizza chain until he says he was sacked was experienced at sleeping rough since he was already unable to afford to rent a room on his minimum wage earnings even when he was in work, and has been living on the streets near Leicester Square for 18 months. 


But finding enough cardboard to build himself a sheltered space to sleep in has become much more problematic since all the businesses closed down and stopped throwing away packaging.

Adrian was working as a night cleaner for a bank and found himself unable to continue paying for his room­. He was finding his first exposure to homelessness very difficult. “It’s a really tough time. I don’t feel safe.”

There are now large parts of central London where the only people you see are homeless people, drug dealers and police. There is a growing sense of desperation.

Some look close to death. About 10 people are sheltering beneath a shop front near Charing Cross station, where the underpasses that used to shelter dozens of homeless have been closed off.  


"Hunger is so constant for a poverty-stricken man that it actually robs him of his humanity, for he can think of nothing but his empty stomach. Hunger, therefore, dehumanises the poor. The pitiful handouts of bread and margarine do not assuage, or alleviate  hunger and so keep him in a painful and dehumanised state." George Orwell

Sunday 26 April 2020

Butterflies and tornadoes


I have always liked the story about the butterfly in Brazil flapping its wings and setting off a tornado in Texas. It suggests that tiny actions can produce massive changes.

Anne and I live in a one-bedroom flat. As high-risk I stare out at our neighbours and wonder what life is like for people living in multi-storey flats. A few minutes on the internet gives me the answer.

In Tower Hamlets an outbreak of Covid-19 hit Barnardo Gardens which houses 200 people. “No one feels safe,” said one resident on the fifteenth floor and trying to cope in this situation with two young children, “At least ten people on my landing are ill and there’s no one to help. We feel abandoned.”


Residents have access to just two lifts which are someimes out of use. One wheelchair-bound asthmatic woman says she feels like she’s in prison. "I just sit and look out the window all day. And that's really annoying me because I want to go out."

Have you ever received a letter from HM Revenue & Customs Tax Inspector, written personally to you and containing these words ...  "You must make payment in full by DATE. If you do not, I will start distraint action against you. This means that I will seize your possessions and later arrange to have them sold at public auction. The proceeds from the sale will be set against the debt and the costs of the action."

Not if your name is Richard Branson, Theresa May’s husband, Phillip May, or at the head of five of the UKs biggest companies who pay not one penny in tax.

Of the top 10 countries allowing billions in tax avoidance, four are British overseas territories. Branson’s island Necker in the British Virgin Isles is, of course, one of them.

When challenged Government claims that tackling tax avoidance is a priority for them, but Tax Justice Network found that the UK has “single-handedly” weakened the global corporate tax system which loses an estimated £395 billion per annum to avoidance.

This is more than three times the NHS budget. There would be funds to put an end to the suffering taking place at Barnardo Gardens.

Alex Cobham, Tax Justice Network CEOI, has said, “A handful of the richest countries have waged a world tax war so corrosive, they’ve broken down the global corporate tax system beyond repair …. The ability of governments across the world to tax multinational corporations in order to pay teachers’ wages, build hospitals and ensure a level playing field for local businesses has been deliberately and ruthlessly undermined.”

John McDonnell, ( remember him?) and speaking under the words, ‘For the Many not the Few’, during what was supposed to have been a General Election, said, “The Tories’ record on tax avoidance is embarrassing and shameful … The only way the UK stands out internationally on tax is in leading a race to the bottom in creating tax loopholes … A Labour government will implement the most comprehensive plan ever seen in the UK to tackle tax avoidance and evasion.”


The sun shines, I can hear children’s laughter in the gardens below, and we are grateful to have kind neighbours and a police cadet we have yet to meet, who braves the long supermarket queues to do our weekly shop. He then drops it off here by bicycle. 


We have bought two folding chairs so we can sit outside at the front of the house and another stranger stopped by (two meters distance of course) and offered to add our food order to her delivery.

We are lucky, but my sadness and anger continues at the prolonged fate of those residents at Barnardo Gardens.

Some people are saying they hope things will return to normal once the epidemic is over. I hope not. We have to start living in recognition that ‘an injury to one is an injury to all.’ We have to behave like Brazilian butterflies and set off social and political tornados.

Saturday 25 April 2020

Care home murders

"Special adviser” to Boris Johnson, eminent Professor of Eugenics, population control and culling, Dominic Cummings, has been sitting in on SAGE meetings, the scientific group advising the government on the Covid-19 pandemic.

Amongst his academic pronouncements is this - "a child's performance has more to do with genetic makeup than the standard of his or her education." Adding we should “identify the top 2% in IQ and give this 2% a specialist education as per Eton.”

In one sentence the eugenic association of genes with intelligence, intelligence with class, class with worth, and worth with the right to rule.

Unite Against Fascism’s Weyman Bennett said that "These people give a nod and a wink to the politics and ideology that led to the Holocaust,” and went on to say that the 75 years since the enforced end of the genocidal eugenics programme of the Nazis was seemingly not enough to end the conversation for good.

Writing in The Guardian, Dr Anna Down, an Ealing GP talks about the high Covid-19 death rate in West London care homes. “I am really angry about this … One home had 23 deaths, another lost 19, and another 13 ... In two units 50% of residents died in the space of 10 days.” In a normal month, she might expect to lose around 28 people. In the last month she has lost 125.

I have information on a North London care home where the Covid-19 death rate is now at 25%.

Dr Down concludes with this, “From the moment this started we highlighted where the problems were going to be and said we can get on top of this now ...Yet no definitive and timely action was taken across the health and social care system.”

Sadly I think she is wrong. Action was taken. The action that is part and parcel of the Johnson / Cummings pursuit of herd immunity.

The police should attend the next SAGE meeting and make arrests for wilful murder.