public health

Error message

Deprecated function: The each() function is deprecated. This message will be suppressed on further calls in _menu_load_objects() (line 579 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/menu.inc).

Constant COVID Presence in Cabinet Office During Party Periods

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 27/05/2022 - 7:47pm in

Sam Bright and Sascha Lavin reveal data showing the extent of COVID absences during Downing Street’s lockdown-breaking gatherings

The Byline Intelligence Team has obtained data on how many Cabinet Office staff were absent with COVID-19 during the periods when multiple parties were held in the department – showing that the virus was a constant presence among staff, particularly during the run-up to Christmas 2020.

Sue Gray this week released her full findings into the more than dozen parties held in Downing Street and the Cabinet Office during periods of lockdown restrictions in 2020 and 2021.

Condemning a “failure of leadership” in Downing Street, she described events than ran for several hours, involving “excessive” alcohol consumption in some instances, wine thrown over walls, cleaning staff mistreated, a swing broken in the Downing Street garden, and a drunken “altercation” at one party.

BBC's Panorama separately reported testimony from whistleblowers, who confessed that one of the events – held on 13 November 2020 to mark the departure of Johnson’s communications chief Lee Cain – involved “about 30 people, if not more, in a room. Everyone was stood shoulder to shoulder, some people on each other’s laps”.

The Prime Minister attempted to excuse the parties by suggesting that “hundreds of staff are entitled to work” in Downing Street and the Cabinet Office, which is “now the biggest it has been at any point in its 100-year history”.

Johnson added that these events were justified – many of which were held to thank departing members of staff – because, “these people were working extremely long hours, doing their very best to give this country the ability to fight the pandemic”.

However, equally, the number of people working in the Cabinet Office meant a higher likelihood of COVID-19 spreading between staff – encouraged by the parties.

The data shows that, in the last 12 days of November 2020 alone, there were 161 days of staff absences in the Cabinet Office due to individuals contracting COVID-19. The was a second event held in Downing Street on 13 November, alongside Lee Cain’s leaving party, a so-called ‘Abba Party’ during which several special advisors gathered in the Prime Minister’s Number 10 flat.

Sue Gray did not fully investigate this latter event, due to the onset of inquiries by the Metropolitan Police.

There were a further three parties held on 17 December 2020 and one the following day, more than two weeks after indoor gatherings of two or more people from different households were prohibited in London.

In the period from 18 to 21 December, 34 days of staff absences were recorded due to COVID-19 infections, rising to 70 days of absences from 28 to 31 December.

It is not known whether the parties in question contributed to these rising numbers, though COVID cases rose from 36,000 to 83,000 from 18 to 29 December, while daily deaths across the UK increased from 516 to 660.

It is also the case that more people may have been infected with COVID in the Cabinet Office than is shown in the data – either because individuals were asymptomatic or because the virus had not yet incubated.

Johnson said that he took “full responsibility” for the events, notably the gathering in the Cabinet room on 19 June 2020 for which he and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were fined.

Though, as lawyer David Allen Green has written about the Prime Minister’s response to the ‘Partygate’ saga, “in constitutional terms, a Prime Minister taking ‘full responsibility’ for a serious wrong is to perform an action, rather than to say a thing. The action the Prime Minister would perform is to resign”.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE BYLINE INTELLIGENCE TEAM

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

BECOME A PATRON OF BYLINE TV

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

The Ignored Long COVID Crisis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/05/2022 - 6:45pm in

The Bank of England has warned of COVID-related labour shortages in Britain, but why aren’t we taking its long-term effects more seriously? Sasha Baker investigates

It was September 2020. Lisa had been unable to work due to Long COVID for the entire summer. She was attempting to return to her job as an executive assistant but it was making her symptoms worse. She could often feel her heart racing. One day she collapsed on the kitchen floor, struggling to breathe.

“I was there for about an hour before I could get the strength to even find my phone and make a call,” she said. She was taken to hospital in an ambulance but returned home that evening without a clinical explanation for the day’s events.

The 40-year-old from London had always been career-driven – but now she could think of little but her health. “I went to bed for about a six-week period thinking I was going to die every night,” she told Byline Times.

Even the smallest tasks were insurmountable. One morning, a flat tyre meant that Lisa had to walk her youngest son to school. It was a short walk – scarcely a kilometre – but the nine-year-old raced ahead as she struggled to keep up. “He kept turning round and saying, 'mummy, I’m so sorry you have to walk’,” she recalled.

Quitting her job seemed to be the only option. A few months later, feeling slightly better, Lisa took a civil service role below her skill level. It meant a £10,000 pay cut but she found the job easy and it would ensure financial security if she needed to take time off. As it turned out, she was signed off for most of the following five months.

There are an estimated 1.8 million people in the UK living with Long COVID and the number is rising rapidly. The Bank of England warned last week that the condition is contributing to labour shortages, with an estimated 320,000 chronically ill people dropping out of the workforce before retirement age.

Some – known as ‘long-haulers’ – have been unwell since the early days of the Coronavirus pandemic with little to no respite from the debilitating exhaustion, brain fog, chronic pain and trouble breathing associated with the condition. Many are unable to work.

Throughout the crisis, the advice to people with COVID-19 has been to return to normal activities as soon as they are feeling better – but many Long COVID sufferers blame returning to work too quickly for the severity of their illness.

Dr Asad Khan, 46, is a respiratory consultant for the NHS in Manchester who went back to work for three days after a bout of acute COVID-19, which is when his Long COVID symptoms started.

Dr Khan has been unable to practice for the past 18 months because of severe illness. He used to love cycling and swimming but now says that he “can barely go to the corner shop”.

Dr Deepti Gurdasani, an epidemiologist and senior lecturer at Queen Mary, University of London, has been raising the alarm about Long COVID throughout the pandemic. According to her research, and the published research of other groups, “consistently what you find is that being able to rest when you have persistent [COVID] symptoms correlates with recovery”. She has also noted that the illness is occupational, with those in health, social care and teaching most likely to be unwell.

Long COVID patients also struggle to access disability benefits.

Dr Khan has applied for personal independence payments (PIP), a non-means-tested benefit to help disabled people with the extra costs of managing their condition, but was initially denied. He has asked the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to reconsider his case, but the process involves writing a “long, complicated letter, which with fatigue and cognitive issues is not easy.” While he is waiting to hear, he is relying on money from his parents.

The DWP has recorded only 1,600 PIP decisions relating to people with Long COVID, with half of that number being awarded payments. Figures for decisions before March 2021 are not recorded as COVID-related and some without a formal diagnosis may also not be counted.

The Government also does not collect figures on the number of people with Long COVID claiming Universal Credit.

Herd Immunity

Workplaces vary in how they treat people with Long COVID.

NHS workers are meant to be protected because COVID-related sickness absences are not subject to usual policies, but these are not applied consistently. 

Emma, 44, is a clinical coder for the NHS in Bristol, but has not been able to work since the start of the pandemic. “I haven’t been hit financially but I did really have to fight to get my illness recognised as COVID-related,” she said.

COVID tests were not yet in widespread circulation when she fell ill so there was no way to confirm her diagnosis. Her employer moved to dismiss her because of her illness.

“When they were talking about sacking me I’d only been off for like three months,” said Emma. “I’d had no referrals. I had no idea what was going on.”

She has been allowed to continue on full pay, though she worries that the NHS will one day stop paying COVID-19 long-haulers.

For those in the private sector, there are no such protections.

Sy, 44, is a former call-centre worker and DJ from Leeds who has experienced debilitating Long COVID symptoms for two years. He has been claiming Universal Credit for most of that time, after no longer being to claim statutory sick pay.

“My workplace actually tried to take me down the road to a disciplinary for not being at work” he said. He appealed the decision and won in May 2021 but when his workplace tried again that August, he “didn’t have anything left to give” and had to accept the disciplinary procedures.

For some, claiming benefits is simply not an option.

Wil, 23, is a Dutch student in Bristol who has been struggling to juggle her degree with the 10 hours of work she is legally allowed to undertake each week, while managing her Long COVID symptoms. “My student loan just covers my rent and my tuition so if I didn’t work I wouldn’t be able to eat,” she said.

For most of this year, Wil worked 10 hours a week in a pizzeria, which used up practically all of her energy. “My attendance was below 30% in the first semester because I just couldn’t bring myself to walk 15 minutes to campus,” she said.

She has learned to manage her energy well enough to complete her degree, spending an hour or two in the morning and evening writing her dissertation with a long nap in the middle of the day. Now she is about to graduate, Wil is ineligible for benefits, having not contributed enough national insurance in her three years as a student in the UK.

She is moving in with her partner, which will help with rent, but she is struggling to find full-time work that won’t worsen her illness. Anything physically demanding is out of the question but there are other considerations.

“I also can’t really do an office job because screens and reading aggravate my symptoms,” said Wil, whose Long COVID is currently manifesting as a months-long migraine. She needs to find ways to work, but without significant accommodations from future employers that will be a challenge.

The extent of the impact of Long COVID on the economy is still to be seen, but the country has not adapted to meet the needs of those suffering from the illness or taken steps to prevent hundreds of thousands more from becoming disabled.

According to Dr Gurdasani, the Government’s approach to the pandemic has made the spread of Long COVID inevitable.

“There’s never been a focus on reducing transmission, which is what’s needed to prevent Long COVID, and I suspect that’s very political,” she said. “I think the reasons for ignoring Long COVID and minimising it have been because doing so normalises the Government’s strategy.”

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE BYLINE INTELLIGENCE TEAM

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

BECOME A PATRON OF BYLINE TV

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Government Ignored High-Level Monkeypox Warnings as UK Health Security Agency Ranked Threat ‘Very Low’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 24/05/2022 - 10:23pm in

TJ Coles explores how the Government has reacted to months of alerts about the growing Monkeypox threat

In recent days, the World Health Organisation has warned that 80 cases of Monkeypox – a viral disease first discovered 60 years ago – was present in 11, non-endemic countries; meaning countries with populations who have no immunity to the virus.

At the time of writing, the most recent statement from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) puts the number of infected UK residents at 20.

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid recently confirmed that the Government has procured more doses of Smallpox vaccines in an effort to prepare against further Monkeypox spread.

But documents seen by Byline Times show that international health and security experts had anticipated an outbreak of the virus last November – even predicting the month (May) in which the virus was likely to spread.

Despite this, the UKHSA just last month rated the threat of Monkeypox as “very low”. 

The UKHSA – launched in April 2021 – got off to a bumpy start, with professional papers decrying the agency’s lack of structural clarity and clear chain of responsibility.

More recently, as it underestimated the Monkeypox threat, industry publications noted that the UKHSA announced plans to cut 40% of its workforce – some 800 staff. Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) officer, Jawad Raza, tweeted: “Staff morale is indeed very low and this process isn’t being handled well, experienced staff are now looking to move elsewhere.”

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Monkeypox belongs to the Orthopoxvirus genus of the Poxviridae family, which includes variola virus; the same that causes Smallpox. It was first discovered in 1958 in caged, lab animals, which are often a reservoir for diseases.

The first human cases were reported in 1970 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since then, the virus has spread to neighbouring African countries and is endemic. Human travel and animal importation have, historically, been two factors that have spread the virus to the West, which lacks immunisation.

Generally less severe than Smallpox but apparently deadlier than COVID-19, according to the CDC, symptoms can last up to one month and include rashes, swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache, and exhaustion.

Animal-to-human transmission can occur from bites and scratches, while human-to-human transmission can result from close contact with infected persons via the respiratory tract, mucous membranes, and open skin. 

The Nuclear Threat Initiative is a think tank that deals with the eponymous issue of biological events, as well as disarmament and proliferation studies for biological and chemical weapons and agents. Its members include former US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, the media giant Ted Turner, and former US Food and Drug Administration commissioner Margaret Hamburg. Britain’s own former Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind is also on the board of directors.

In a speculative exercise by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a Monkeypox outbreak begins on 15 May 2022 in a fictional country, infecting more than 1,400 people and killing four. There were “no international warnings or advisories”. By the following January, 1.3 million are dead as the virus becomes vaccine-resistant. The Monkeypox “was caused by a terrorist attack using a pathogen engineered in a laboratory with inadequate biosafety and biosecurity provisions and weak oversight”. Three billion are infected and 270 million die.

The fictional disaster highlighted the need for better detection systems, closure of national preparedness gaps, and more financing for biosecurity.

Institutional Inaction

Despite the high-profile nature of the organisations involved in planning and publishing the report, the Government appears to have taken no action beyond existing, under-funded monitoring programmes.

As it stands, just 19 results are returned when typing “Monkeypox” into the gov.uk website. The earliest mention of it is from September 2018, when Public Health England (PHE) identified and isolated three individuals diagnosed with the virus. Also in that year, Porton Down research laboratories reported their apparent success in developing at least one Monkeypox vaccine candidate and three therapeutics. What is not confirmed, however, is how much money the Government spent perfecting the vaccine to obtain a license or if the vaccine is already licensed.

In January 2019, PHE also listed Monkeypox as present in the UK, spread by rats, along with dozens of other zoonotic diseases. After SARS-CoV-2 struck, PHE later reported its new infectious disease strategy to tackle, among other things, Monkeypox.

But within a year, then Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock announced plans to scrap PHE and merge it into a new body called National Institute for Health Protection. The Government’s November 2020 policy paper, ‘UK Pandemic Preparedness’, merely lists Monkeypox in the context of the Government boasting about previous success stories.

FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES. CLICK HERE TO FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

Help to expose the big scandals of our era.

A March 2021 statement on the new UK Health Security Agency doesn’t mention the body’s role in detecting and combating Monkeypox, but rather that the director, Dr Jenny Harries, has prior experience tackling the virus.

Back in 2008, New Labour’s UK National Security Strategy (NSS) warned of an inevitable pandemic. It said “the highest risk is an influenza-type pandemic, like the outbreak in 1918 which killed 228,000 people in the UK and an estimated 20-40 million worldwide".

It added that “experts agree that there is a high probability of a pandemic occurring – and that, as the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak [in 2003] showed, the speed at which it could spread has increased with globalisation”.

The NSS concluded that “a pandemic could cause fatalities in the UK in the range 50,000 to 750,000, although both the timing and the impact are impossible to predict exactly”.

Instead of taking the warnings seriously, successive Conservative governments have undermined public health organisations.

The Health and Social Care Act 2012 further fragmented and privatised the NHS. In 2013, the British Medical Association (BMA) provided evidence to the House of Commons that “the fragmented nature of the new health system will require that each organisation... [is] aware of the plans in place to deal with potential outbreaks of ill health, such as pandemic flu or legionnaires disease”.

The BMA warned that “the Health and Social Care Act 2012 is not clear on these lines of responsibility. As such, it is possible that different areas of the country will develop different ways of dealing with outbreaks”.

It concluded that this will be "problematic for those organisations that have a national role and who will therefore have to tailor their responses to local plans. This could lead to inefficiency, duplication of effort and ultimately put lives at risk”.

This is exactly what happened when COVID-19 struck – and it could yet happen again.

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

BECOME A PATRON OF BYLINE TV

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Cummings Exposes More Details of Boris Johnson’s Pact With Right-Wing Press Proprietors

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/05/2022 - 12:20am in

As the Prime Minister’s former chief aide reveals the direct line between Johnson and billionaire media moguls, Sam Bright explores how they may have shaped Government COVID policies

Fresh revelations have emerged about Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s cosy, corrupting relationship with the right-wing media, via his former chief aide Dominic Cummings.

Following last week’s allegation that Johnson negotiated COVID relief “bungs” directly with newspaper proprietors, without officials present, Cummings today claims that Johnson “gets direct repeated calls” from press proprietors and editors, telling him that working from home norms are “killing” the newspaper industry – and urging him to “get commuters back”.

The Daily Mail’s front page on Wednesday suggested that the Bank of England is struggling to address inflation because some staff are still working from home, while a number of other right-wing outlets have splashed on Jacob Rees-Mogg’s insistence that civil servants should return to the office full-time.

This has been a consistent campaign of Conservative-affiliated newspapers during the Coronavirus crisis. Faced with declining sales as fewer people pick up a copy on their way to work, they have regularly lobbied the Government to prematurely relax restrictions.

This has operated in public – as their front pages attest – and in private, if Cummings is to be believed.

The Government doesn’t release the minutes of meetings held between ministers and external individuals, but we do know that Johnson and his acolytes have regularly played host to senior right-wing media figures in recent years.

Indeed, the autumn of 2020 is instructive – the period when COVID case rates were rising rapidly, and the Government’s scientific advisors were urging Johnson to implement a ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown.

Below is a list of all the meetings that the Prime Minister held with the representatives of right-wing media outlets from the beginning of July to the end of September 2020. As Byline Times has previously revealed, Johnson’s media meetings are overwhelmingly held with right-wing journalists, and the period outlined below is no exception.

Boris Johnson’s meetings with right-wing journalists, July to September 2020

2 July – Gary Jones and Mick Booker, the Express and the Sunday Express
7 July – Tony Gallagher, the Times
9 July – Geordie Greig, Daily Mail
13 July – Victoria Newton, the Sun
22 July – Charles Moore, the Telegraph
18 September – Rupert Murdoch, News Corp
18 September – Rebekah Brooks, News Corp
21 September – Aidan and Howard Barclay, the Telegraph
21 September – Lord Rothermere, Daily Mail
21 September – Victoria Newton, the Sun
21 September – Geordie Grieg, Daily Mail
21 September – Tony Gallagher, the Times
21 September – Chris Evans, the Telegraph
23 September – Fraser Nelson, the Spectator

Johnson also met with Tim Davie and Fran Unsworth, two senior BBC executives, on 21 September, which suggests that he was doing the media rounds. However, the fact remains that he met pretty much exclusively with right-wing publications on this date.

Alongside these meetings, we know that senior Cabinet ministers Michael Gove, Priti Patel, Rishi Sunak and Jacob Rees-Mogg all held summits with Rupert Murdoch during this period, while Gove also rubbed shoulders with Daily Mail owner Lord Rothermere.

Murdoch – who owns the Sun, the Times and TalkTV – formerly employed Gove as a journalist at the Times.

Indeed, the Government’s accord with the right-wing press goes back a number of years. Johnson himself was a former journalist at the Times, editor of the Spectator and columnist at the Telegraph – holding the latter two positions even after entering Parliament.

According to Cummings, the Prime Minister has referred to the Telegraph as his “real boss” – a fact that was seemingly confirmed when Johnson flew back from the COP26 summit in Glasgow in November, a crucial event in deciding the world’s climate change priorities, in order to attend a reunion party of Telegraph journalists at London’s prestigious Garrick Club.

“He sees his job as just to babble to the media every day,” Cummings has previously claimed.

Real Consequences

But this liaison with the billionaire press barons is not an abstract concern – it has seemingly influenced Government decisions and therefore the lives of millions of Brits.

Whereas on 31 August there were 1,406 new cases of COVID-19 logged in the UK, this figure had climbed steeply to 4,422 on Saturday 19 September. The Government’s official experts – the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) – recommended on 21 September a rapid, time-limited ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown to restrain the growth of the virus.

It said that “not acting now” would result in a “very large epidemic with catastrophic consequences”. SAGE warned that “a package of interventions will need to be adopted to prevent this exponential rise in cases” and “single interventions are unlikely to be able to reduce incidence”. At the top of its shortlist of “non-pharmaceutical interventions that should be considered for immediate introduction” was a “circuit-breaker”.

However, Johnson and his ministers failed to apply this recommendation.

Instead, the Prime Minister and his Chancellor held a meeting with three lockdown-sceptic scientists on 21 September. On the same day, two of these scientists – Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Carl Heneghan – had co-authored a letter, published by the Spectator, calling on the Prime Minister to “urgently rethink” his Coronavirus strategy. The letter said that Johnson’s approach, of suppressing the virus until a vaccine became available, was both “unfeasible” and would lead to “significant harm across all age groups”.

This matched the lobbying campaign mounted by the right-wing tabloids, that explicitly urged the Government against implementing another lockdown.

The Daily Express, 17 September 2020 The Daily Mail, 18 September 2020

Rather than favouring a short, sharp lockdown, Johnson spoke to the nation on 22 September and announced peripheral alterations to the Government’s rules – banning more than six people from meeting and announcing a 10 pm curfew on pubs and restaurants.

Even still, however, the right-wing press accused Johnson of going too far.

The Daily Mail, 22 September 2020 The Daily Mail, 24 September The Daily Mail, 25 September 2020

A month later, by 21 October, the number of new COVID-19 cases in the UK had reached 26,687 – compared to barely 4,400 a month earlier. A new variant of the disease also emerged during this period, in mid-September, pushing daily deaths up to more than 1,000 a day by early January and forcing the country into a full-fat lockdown.

Some 180,000 people have now died in the UK within 28 days of a positive COVID test, while the period from November 2020 to February 2021 proved to be the deadliest phase of the pandemic.

Speaking last year to a parliamentary committee investigating the Government’s actions during the pandemic, Cummings said that he heard Boris Johnson say that he would rather “let the bodies pile high” than hit the economy again, when he was ramping up COVID restrictions in the autumn of 2020. MPs asked Cummings to prove this assertion, though no tangible evidence has yet been produced.

“He was cross with me and for others into what he regarded as basically pushing him into the first lockdown,” Cummings claimed. “His argument after that happened was literally, quote, ‘I should have been the mayor of Jaws and kept the beaches open’. That's that’s what he said on many, many occasions.”

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

BECOME A PATRON OF BYLINE TV

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

New Report Challenges Media Mockery of NHS Translation Services

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/05/2022 - 11:41pm in

Public spending on translation and interpreter services was reviled by the anti-migrant media. But new figures show the real extent of spending and need, reports Sian Norris

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES NOW

Spend on translation and interpretation makes up an average of 0.057% of an NHS Trust’s total expenses, Byline Times and the Byline Intelligence Team can exclusively reveal, challenging a media narrative which has previously accused the NHS of wasting money on translation services.

A new report, published by Inbox Translation and shared with this paper, found that total NHS spending on translation and interpreting services for Trusts and Health Boards in the UK was £65,962,418 in 2019/2020 – this included British Sign Language, braille and Welsh language materials.

The report authors understand there was a 20.1% drop in spending in 2020/21, based on a small set of sample data. This may be linked to the pandemic.

The Inbox Translation report was designed to put right misconceptions about translation and interpretation services in the NHS, updating data released a decade ago in the 20/20 Health Report. 

That first report was greeted with shock and horror by a British media that criticised “ridiculous” sums of money being spent on “helping immigrants who can’t speak English”.

The new report’s authors sought to challenge the media narrative that expressed outrage at money being spent on making healthcare accessible to people for whom English is not their first language. It did this by breaking down the spend on interpreters, braille and British Sign Language interpreters, and written translated materials. 

Of the money spent, they found the vast majority went on interpretation services, which made up 84.8% of the total spend. 13% of spending went on British Sign Language interpreters. In contrast, only 2.2% of the total was spent on translated materials. 

Despite this low percentage, the 20/20 Health Report had recommended that Trusts could save money on translation services by using Google Translate instead of professional services. However, this new data reveals that such a move would fail to make savings, seeing as written translations only make up a small fraction of money spent to make medical services accessible. 

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE BYLINE INTELLIGENCE TEAM

Challenging the Media

The 2012 report failed to separate out spending on interpreters and translated materials, leading to problems with understanding exactly what was being spent on what when it came to making healthcare accessible. Instead, the right-wing press complained that a “staggering £59,000 a day” was spent on translations across the public sector – rather than recognising that much of this money was likely used to pay interpreters.

Outraged media reports claimed money was being wasted on translating written materials for patients for whom English is not a first language. 

The Daily Express called it “ridiculous” to spend “£100 million on translators for 128 languages in six years”; while the Daily Mail referred to “shock figures”. The £100 million referred to translation spends from police, hospitals and councils. The paper led with the message: “how you pay £100 million a year to aid immigrants who can’t speak English”. 

“This is despite repeated Government attempts to save money and improve social cohesion by making new arrivals take English tests, and by telling councils not to waste money on translating leaflets”. The Government cut ESOL services – designed to teach English to migrant people – by 60% between 2010-16, reducing funding from £203 million to £90 million

The Daily Mail continued: “critics said that, at a time when budgets are being slashed by the Government, key public services can ill afford to spend millions of pounds to help immigrants who have not learned English”.

The narrative suggested that migrant people who struggled with English should somehow be penalised by the public sector.

“There were three main reasons for doing this research: lack of recent, reliable data on the topic, biased reporting from the media – which always use words like shocking, wasteful, staggering when talking about the amounts spent on translation and interpreting – and personal interest in the area of medical translation and interpreting, though all the work we do is for private companies or individuals,” said Alina Cincan, who authored the report. 

Fair and Inclusive

Despite press accusations that spending money on translation and interpretation services is “ridiculous”, ensuring people have access to healthcare is a human rights issue.

Translations and interpreters help to create fair and accessible public services so that everyone can get the information and treatment they need when they are sick. 

Research published in the Oman Medical Health Journal into language barriers and healthcare found that “language barriers are responsible for reducing the satisfaction of medical providers and patients, as well as the quality of healthcare delivery and patient safety”. This causes health disparities in patient outcomes.

Little wonder then that 2015 data from the Office for National Statistics found that poor levels of English led to poor health – only two-thirds (65%) of people who could not speak English well or at all were in good health, compared with nearly nine in 10 (88%) who could speak English very well or well. The researchers suggested this “may be due to lower proficiency in English making it difficult for people to access suitable healthcare, which may have a longer term impact on health”.

As such, making healthcare accessible to non-English speakers is vital to ensuring equity in health outcomes, no matter what someone’s first language is. 

“A person's health should never be put at risk by asking someone untrained to interpret,” Cincan said. “Family and friends may not understand or know the correct terminology, and they also may be tempted to gloss over or even omit some unpleasant details in order not to cause upset. Having professionals handle this is, plain and simple, vital, nothing more and nothing less. When people's lives are at stake, no risk is worth taking”.

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

BECOME A PATRON OF BYLINE TV

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Hancock Meeting with Tech Giants That Won £1.3 Billion in COVID Contracts Declared 21 Months Late

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 11/05/2022 - 9:13pm in

Sascha Lavin reports on a very belated update to the Department of Health and Social Care’s record of meetings held during the pandemic

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) failed to declare a meeting between technology firms and the then Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock at the outset of the Coronavirus pandemic, Byline Intelligence Team can reveal. 

The tech giants at the roundtable – which included representatives from controversial firms Babylon and Palantir – went on to acquire public sector contracts worth £1.3 billion during the pandemic.

This comes as the Government continues to face criticism for dodging scrutiny. Boris Johnson and his Cabinet were slammed for failing to tackle a worrying “slide away from transparency” in a recent parliamentary report. The report criticised the so-called ‘Clearing House’ – the secretive Cabinet Office unit which blocks the release of politically sensitive information to certain journalists – and urged officials to stop using private WhatsApp messages to circumvent information laws. 

Now, Byline Intelligence Team can reveal that a crucial meeting held 12 days before the first lockdown was only declared last week when the DHSC updated its records for the ministerial meetings held with external individuals and organisations during the period January to March 2020.  

The original publication was released on 30 July 2020 – meaning that this previously undeclared meeting was published 21 months late, and 25 months after it took place. 

The almost two year delay in declaring the meeting  was due to “an administrative error”, Byline Times understands.

The Big Tech Network

This is not the first time that the DHSC has failed to declare meetings with firms that went on to acquire lucrative public sector contracts during the pandemic. 

Byline Times previously revealed that 27 meetings held in April 2020 with companies that went on to win £1.14 billion in Government contracts were omitted from DHSC’s original records.

According to reports at the time, the purpose of the March 2020 meeting was to identify how each firm could help the Government to grapple with the COVID-19 crisis – and this assistance ultimately proved to be quite lucrative.

Almost half of the firms at the meeting went on to win contracts, with 10 of the 22 companies delivering COVID-related products and services.

The biggest winner – the data collection firm IQVIA – has secured more than £1 billion in pandemic-related public sector contracts since the meeting.

Palantir, a US-based artificial intelligence (AI) firm founded by Donald Trump-donor Peter Thiel, has also acquired £25 million-worth of public sector contracts since the March 2020 meeting. As Byline Times has previously reported, Palantir came under fire for its lack of transparency over its COVID-19 datastore and restrictions on NHS staff access to the datasets. It has also been scrutinised heavily for its work in the US, in assisting with the identification and deportation of immigrants.

Two of the companies at the DHSC roundtable also have links to Johnson’s inner circle.

Artificial intelligence firm Faculty worked on the Vote Leave campaign, while its former commercial principal, Ben Warner, joined Johnson’s Number 10 operation, working closely with Johnson’s now former chief advisor Dominic Cummings, in December 2019.

Representatives from Babylon, an AI firm working within the NHS, also attended the DHSC meeting. 

Although Babylon has secured public sector contracts with Birmingham and Royal Berkshire NHS Trusts since the March 2020 meeting, how much taxpayer money has been awarded to the firm is unknown because the deals have not been registered on the UK contracting website. 

The host of the March 2020 meeting, then Health Secretary Matt Hancock, is linked to Babylon. In 2018, Hancock was accused of breaking the Ministerial Code by promoting the private healthcare firm in a paid-for newspaper supplement in the Evening Standard

Cummings, has also been linked to the company: he was an advisor to Babylon until September 2018, advising on its communications strategy and its senior recruitment. Following his departure from Downing Street, Cummings has also seemingly tried to resume his work for Babylon.

There is no tangible evidence to suggest that attendees used this meeting with the Government to secure public sector contracts, or that certain firms used their political links to gain access to the meeting.

Moreover, despite the DHSC now declaring the meeting after two years, there is still confusion over its attendees. 

According to the DHSC’s recent declaration, the roundtable was hosted by Hancock and the only attendees listed were representatives from tech firms. However, at the time, Wired and BuzzFeed reported details of an 11 March 2020 meeting chaired by Dominic Cummings with “40 technology leaders”. The Cabinet Office has not declared any such meeting held by Boris Johnson’s then chief advisor. 

A Downing Street press release also contradicts the DHSC’s version: published on the day of the meeting, it states that major technology companies met with NHS Chief Executive Simon Stevens and Number 10 officials – which could have included Cummings – yet there is no mention of Hancock.  

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE BYLINE INTELLIGENCE TEAM

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

BECOME A PATRON OF BYLINE TV

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Prescription Spend on Heart Disease Increases by Half a Billion in Four Years

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 10/05/2022 - 9:05pm in

The amount spent on prescriptions for atrial fibrillation conditions has increased by 129.6% since 2016

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES NOW

The NHS spend on drugs used to treat some cardiovascular illnesses has risen by nearly half a billion pounds since 2016. 

The increase follows an update in the National Institute for Clinical Excellence for Atrial Fibrillation Diagnosis and Management (NICE AF) in 2014 which recommended healthcare workers use a wider range of novel oral anticoagulants to treat heart disease. 

Data from the British National Formulary, which offers information and advice on medical prescriptions and treatments, and analysed by the Byline Intelligence Team, has revealed that the spend on anticoagulants and protamine treatments for cardiovascular disease increased to more than £742 million in 2020 from £299 million in 2016 – or by 129.6%.

Already, the 2016 figures represented an increase from £84 million in 2014, when the NICE AF guidelines were updated. 

Pre-2014, the NICE AF guidance encouraged doctors to prescribe warfarin for atrial fibrillation conditions. The guidance then switched to recommending healthcare professionals use alternatives to warfarin when treating cardiovascular disorders. NICE AF pointed to a range of novel oral anticoagulants (NOACs) such as apixaban, dabigatran etexilate and rivaroxaban as suitable options. 

Patients experiencing cardiovascular issues who take warfarin require regular monitoring, which can of course put pressure on primary care services. In contrast, the NOACs recommended in the updated NICE guidance do not require patients to have regular monitoring. It was also suggested that the updated list of drugs could be a better option for patients who struggled with dosage control.

The increase in spending on prescriptions for medicines treating cardiovascular disease is, in part, down to greater awareness of protecting patients living with atrial fibrillation. However, the NOACs listed in the guidance can cost up to three times the amount of warfarin, which also accounts for the rise in spend. 

Since the switch, the pharmaceutical companies manufacturing the new drugs have seen a significant uptick in their profits. Bayer, one of the main producers of rivaroxaban, declared a loss of £54 million in 2016. However, by 2019 its fortunes had turned around, with a profit of £60 million. In 2020 it declared a profit of £33 million.

Deaths from heart disease have decreased significantly in the past decade, although they still cause a quarter of all deaths in the UK.

At the start of the century, heart disease accounted for 503 deaths in every 100,000. By 2014, when the NICE AF guidance changed, it had nearly halved to 263 per 100,000. Since the guidance changed, death rates have remained relatively static: in 2020 heart disease made up 259 of every 100,000 deaths. 

FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES. CLICK HERE TO FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

Help to expose the big scandals of our era.

Although anticoagulant and protamine prescriptions saw the biggest price rises, other drug treatments have also seen above-inflation cost rises since 2016 – including treatments for hypertension and heart failure, which had risen by 39.59%. 

Antisecretory drug and mucosal protectants used to treat the gastro-intestinal system have increased in cost by 39.07% since 2016 to £180 million in 2020. Antisecretory drugs treat gastroesophageal reflux disease, which affects around five in 1,000 people in the UK. The costs of drugs used to treat diabetes increased by 12.09% between 2016 and 2020 – again, an above inflation rise.

The largest drop in NHS spending on prescriptions was for epilepsy, which went down by 46.54% between 2016-20, despite the number of people with a known diagnosis increasing over the past 14 years. 402,000 people with a known diagnosis of epilepsy in the UK in 2008/09, today it is over 600,000. Death rates have remained fairly stable: in 2014, 747 people died from causes related to epilepsy – a number that dropped to 743 in 2019. 

Pressures on Prescription Budgets 

Already in 2016, alarm bells were ringing that the rising spend on atrial fibrillation treatment was putting pressure on GP budgets.

GP Online reported how the move to prescribe NOACs as the first choice for patients diagnosed in hospitals was putting pressure on GPs’ prescribing budgets once the patient moved back into primary care.

Each GP practice is set a prescription budget by the clinical commissioning group (CCG) it sits under. CCGs are set to be replaced by new integrated care boards (ICBs), following the passing of the Health and Social Care Act last month. These boards will take over all commissioning responsibilities from the CCGs, including setting GP budgets. 

ICBs have faced criticism from NHS campaigners who have expressed concern that representatives from private healthcare interests can be invited to join the board and influence commissioning and budget decisions. 

The Byline Intelligence Team’s analysis comes at a time when GP surgeries and primary care services are already feeling the pressure when it comes to budgets. 

A £550 million cut to councils' public health grants between 2015/16 and 2019/20 left local authorities and GP practices struggling to meet demand and in 2019 it was reported that GP services were facing large funding deficits due to real-term cuts to NHS spending since 2010.

In 2020, the British Medical Association raised how GP services had endured a decade of under-investment and called for 11% of the NHS budget to be allocated to GPs – an additional £3.6 billion. In 2017, GPs received 8.1% of the NHS budget, excluding the reimbursement of drugs. This was a decrease from in 2005/06, when they received 9.6%. The Chancellor failed to pledge additional funding for GP services in his 2022 Spring Budget.

Additional reporting by Iain Overton

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE BYLINE INTELLIGENCE TEAM

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

BECOME A PATRON OF BYLINE TV

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Prescriptions for Antidepressants Have Increased by 30% Since 2016

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 10/05/2022 - 12:41am in

While NHS spending on antidepressants increased above inflation over four years, mental health care in England remains in crisis. Sian Norris reports with the Byline Intelligence Team

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES NOW

The prescription spend on antidepressants has risen from £266 million in 2016 to £374 million in 2020 – an inflation-busting 30.06% in a four year period. 

The data analysed by the Byline Intelligence Team, revealed during Mental Health Awareness Week, is based on the NHS Prescription Cost Analysis report for England. It shows that, alongside the rising prices of heart disease treatments and diabetes drugs, some medicines are seeing above inflation cost increases that are putting pressure on NHS budgets and GP budgets in particular. 

Between January and March 2021, a total of 20.2 million antidepressant drugs were prescribed in England: a 3% increase from 19.6 million items for the same quarter in 2019/20. The majority of those prescriptions were for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) medicines.

The mental health impacts of lockdowns meant that more people were seeking antidepressant prescriptions than had initially been forecast. Between March 2020 and March 2021, there were 803,000 more antidepressant prescription items issued than expected based on historical trends. The NHS Business Services Authority noted that while this was higher than expected, it was not a “significant increase for the period”. 

In 2021, 5,203 suicides were registered in England: equivalent to a provisional rate of 10.5 suicide deaths per 100,000 people. The Office for National Statistics noted that this was a small increase from 2020, but one that most likely reflected the resumption of coroner’s inquests following the initial COVID-19 lockdown periods in 2020, as opposed to a genuine increase in suicide. In 2016, the suicide rate in England was 9.5 per 100,000 people. 

Although the data analysed by the Byline Intelligence Team represents a significant rise in prescription cost of antidepressants since 2016, it’s important to note that this may not indicate a rise in the number of people diagnosed with depression. SSRIs can be offered to people living with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and even menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes.

Other reasons why prescription costs may have increased is due to doctors prescribing more frequent prescriptions for the same number of patients (e.g. providing a packet of pills that cover two weeks, rather than one month – this can be a safety measure for vulnerable patients); and could be linked to a small increase in the same number of patients needing treatment for a longer period of time. 

FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES. CLICK HERE TO FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

Help to expose the big scandals of our era.

Mental Health Crisis

While there may be numerous explanations for why the spending on antidepressants has increased, it remains the case that mental health care is in crisis in the UK.

People with severe mental illness are far more likely to die prematurely (before the age of 75) than their peers – and the number of people dying early has increased. 

Data for 2016 to 2018 for England showed that over the three year period, 95 people with severe mental illness died per 100,000 adults. Based on the same data set, in England people with severe mental illness are 4.5 times more likely to die prematurely than those who do not have a similar diagnosis. The inequality in life expectancy is the same for men but greater for women, who are 4.7 times more likely to die prematurely than their female peers.

Worryingly, the inequality for excess premature mortality has increased over time. For all people with severe mental illness, the increase in the excess premature mortality was 355% to 365% – or 10% – when comparing data for the periods 2015 to 2017 and 2016 to 2018. For men it was a 9% increase; for women 10%. 

Beyond prescriptions for antidepressants, people struggling with severe mental illness are facing barriers to accessing appropriate treatment.

As previously reported in this paper, the number of mental health patients receiving treatment out of area is concerningly high. The latest data for January 2022 shows that in England, 700 of 770 placements are considered to be “inappropriate”, or where “patients are sent out of area because no bed is available for them locally, which can delay their recovery”. 

The highest rate of inappropriate placements is in the North West, where 100% (215 out of 215) of placements were found to be “inappropriate”. 

There are limitations to the data, for example, only 79% of organisations providing acute mental health care participated in the collection for January 2022. The data only includes out of area placements that have started since the beginning of the collection: 17 October 2016.  

Of the patients placed out of area, 60 in England were being treated more than 300km from their homes. The majority (235 patients) were being treated 50-100km away. 

While there are some examples where treatment out of area could conceivably be helpful – for example moving people away from toxic situations – overwhelmingly it’s agreed that going through treatment away out of area creates barriers to recovery. It can be harder for loved ones to visit a patient, patients are treated away from their support networks such as family and friends, and away from local specialist services which they may have previously engaged with.

There has been a 14% fall in the number of mental health beds from 2014/15 to 2018/19. Reducing the number of mental health beds has formed part of strategic commitment to support people in the community, however as the growth in out of area care shows, not all treatment can be provided in a community setting. 

Increasingly, what mental health beds are left in the NHS are being run by private providers: it is estimated 30% of mental health hospital capacity is now in the private sector – with 98% of private facilities’ earnings coming from the health service. In Bristol, North Somerset and Gloucestershire, 95% of mental healthcare beds are owned by private providers, and three-fifths are owned by US companies. 100% of patients in the South West (65) were being treated in out of area placements in January 2022. 

Additional reporting by Iain Overton

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE BYLINE INTELLIGENCE TEAM

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

BECOME A PATRON OF BYLINE TV

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Why Porn in the House of Commons Is No Laughing Matter

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/04/2022 - 8:36pm in

Tags 

Law, public health

Barrister Gareth Roberts explains why an addiction to pornography should be taken as seriously as those dangerously reliant on alcohol or drugs

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES NOW

There are occasions when a story breaks that, though superficially appearing relatively inconsequential, actually masks more profound matters affecting society, law and public policy. The story of the Conservative MP watching pornography in the House of Commons is one such moment.

Initially I, like many others, chortled to myself at the prospect of another humiliation for the Government. But the story of one man who felt the need to watch porn at work should make us all stop and think about the issue. The prevalence of free porn sites on the internet has without doubt had a massive impact upon the lives of many people. 

One can assume that, to all intents and purpose, the MP in question is intelligent, articulate and seemingly well-adjusted enough to become an elected member of our legislature – which makes the idea of him concluding that it is perfectly acceptable to access porn in the House of Commons absolutely baffling. 

David Baddiel perhaps summed it up best when he tweeted that he couldn’t understand the attraction of watching porn at work, as "watching porn is surely a pointless exercise without its interactive element". He then mused as to whether the MP was watching the content for its plot and acting.

The answer to Baddiel’s mischievous question is that this MP very likely believed that putting on porn during a parliemtnary debate was not unusual – because for him, it had become a normal way of life. In short, he was displaying all the signs of addiction. 

Porn addiction is a modern phenomenon; something that has crept perniciously upon us with the advent of the internet and super-fast broadband. And, like all forms of addiction, it is not a harmless or victimless pursuit. 

In my work as a criminal lawyer, I have encountered many people who have seen their lives decimated as they became submerged into a world of pornography; a world that has gripped them, taking away their time, destroying their relationships and, in many instances, leading to the commission of horrific crimes. 

Unlike addictions to drink or drugs, it is much more difficult to spot someone who spends hours on their phone or laptop looking at sexual imagery. But the effect upon them can be just as significant.

An American 2020 study concluded that pornography had played a direct role in 195,509 divorces in the US in 2018. Professor Samuel Perry, of Oklahoma University's sociology department, has made the link between a downturn in ‘normal’ sexual activity and attitudes once an individual had started to regularly access porn. 

Many of those who commit sexual offences cite an addiction to porn as the starting point for their errant behaviour. As a criminal barrister, I regularly hear the excuse that what started off as an interest in ‘normal porn’ became an uncontrollable desire to seek more illicit and harmful images including images of children and other extreme forms of sexual activity. 

There is, without doubt, a link between watching porn and the commission of sexual assault and rape. 

The 2020 study carried out for the Government's Equalities Office made the connection between those who access porn regularly and an increase in the objectivation of women, and aggressive and sexually inappropriate behaviour by men who have become desensitised and incapable of acting properly around the opposite sex. 

It also pointed out the impact that porn has had on girls who see the models and behaviour of those in porn films as normal and believe it is expected of them in their own relationships. An increasing number of young girls have been suffering with mental health issues and anxiety, citing a feeling of sexual and physical inadequacy as a cause of their problems. 

But what can be done? Can the MP in question, and others like him, be charged with a criminal offence for looking at porn in public? 

The answer is potentially yes – putting offensive images in any way into the public domain may amount to an offence of gross indecency, particularly if the individual concerned knew that others might be able to see what he was watching. 

But, like other addictions, it may be that the criminal justice system isn’t the most effective way to deal with the problems caused by those who are physically and mentally dependent upon the consumption of a particular commodity.

ENJOYING THIS ARTICLE?
HELP US TO PRODUCE MORE

Receive the monthly Byline Times newspaper and help to support fearless, independent journalism that breaks stories, shapes the agenda and holds power to account.

PAY ANNUALLY - £39 A YEAR

PAY MONTHLY - £3.50 A MONTH

MORE OPTIONS

We’re not funded by a billionaire oligarch or an offshore hedge-fund. We rely on our readers to fund our journalism. If you like what we do, please subscribe.

The MP, like others in the same boat as him, clearly needs help – he needs to be educated to understand the impact that porn can have on his own life, the life of those who love him, and also the lives of others who are affected by the porn industry. 

It may be that the politician in question will refute the notion that he has a problem with pornography; ‘it’s just a little bit of porn, I can handle it’ may be the familiar refrain. This shame and embarrassment will prevent many people from seeking help for this addiction – and so steps must be taken to help people come to terms with their addiction, and realise that it is a serious condition; in many ways just as serious as an addiction to cocaine or alcohol.

And, of course, the companies who provide the free-porn sites must also be brought under greater scrutiny. Proper protection must be put into place to prevent children from accessing the porn sites, and proper punishments must be meted out to those who fall foul of these regulations – paltry fines and slaps on the wrist will not suffice. 

The Government, to its credit, is introducing legislation to regulate the internet through the Online Safety Bill, but any legislation must be accompanied by proper funding for the organisations given the task of regulating and policing the internet – Ofcom, for instance, must be given the tools to do the job effectively, because the multi-billion-dollar porn industry won’t be easily brought to heel. 

It's easy to laugh at the porn-watching MP. It’s easy to shake our heads in a bemused way. But the reality is that porn is – literally – everywhere, and if we allow it continue to grow and populate every area of our lives, we will live to rue the consequences. 

Gareth Roberts is a barrister

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

BECOME A PATRON OF BYLINE TV

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Crime and Coronavirus: PPE Fraud Now Subject of Investigation

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/04/2022 - 1:57am in

The Byline Times team reports on the ever-mounting investigations into the Government’s actions during the COVID-19 crisis

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES NOW

Another element of the Government’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic is now caught up in criminal investigation, after the National Crime Agency (NCA) raided homes and offices in London and the Isle of Man, investigating potential fraud in relation to personal protective equipment (PPE) contracts awarded during the pandemic.

Isle of Man Police told Sky News: “The Isle of Man Constabulary, in support of an ongoing NCA investigation, executed search warrants at four addresses in the Isle of Man. No arrests were made.”

This comes just a day after the High Court concluded that the Government acted unlawfully in discharging untested hospital patients into care homes during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The case was brought by Dr Cathy Gardner and Fay Harris whose fathers, Michael Gibson and Donald Harris, died after testing positive for Coronavirus.

It has also been judged in previous cases that former Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock, who served in the role during the majority of the pandemic before resigning in June 2021, acted unlawfully in failing to publish details of multi-billion-pound Government COVID contracts within the 30-day period required by law. Justice Chamberlain ruled that the failures of Hancock and his department had breached the “vital public function” of transparency over how “vast quantities” of taxpayers’ money was spent.

In January, the High Court also ruled that the Government’s ‘VIP lane’ – which awarded personal protective equipment contracts to firms with links to ministers, MPs and officials – was unlawful.

Most prominently perhaps, dozens of fixed penalty notices have been handed out to Downing Street staff members – including the Prime Minister and the Chancellor – for their lockdown-breaking parties during the pandemic. The Metropolitan Police’s investigation is ongoing into the litany of events – dubbed 'Partygate' – held in Downing Street during periods of COVID regulations.

The Great Procurement Scandal

Byline Times has extensively covered the awarding of PPE contracts to private firms during the Coronavirus pandemic.

The National Audit Office (NAO) – the Government’s independent spending watchdog – recently released a report, revealing the full scale of waste involved in these contracts.

Indeed, the NAO reported that 3.6 billion PPE items are not currently suitable for front-line services, equivalent to 11% of all the PPE the Government has received. These unsuitable items were purchased at a cost of £2.9 billion – out of a total outlay of some £13 billion by the Government on PPE.

In evidence uncovered by Byline Times, of the £670 million of PPE procured by the Government that cannot be used at all – not just in front-line services – half (£360 million) was purchased through the VIP lane.

There are 176 contracts where the Government believes it may not achieve full value for money, with an estimated £2.7 billion at risk. Some 57 of these 176 contracts were awarded through the VIP lane, with an estimated £1.4 billion at risk (37% of the total value of all VIP lane contracts).

SUBSCRIBE TO FEARLESS, INDEPENDENT JOURNALISM FOR AS LITTLE AS £3 A MONTH

In the haste to procure equipment during the early stages of the crisis, the Department of Health and Social Care eschewed normal competition rules, awarding contracts worth billions of pounds to prospective suppliers – many of which seemingly had little or no experience in supplying medical equipment.

The NCA investigation, however, has escalated the severity of this scandal – raising the prospect of fraud in the supply of some contracts.

The Government has so far defended its actions during the pandemic, and no minister has resigned as a result of unlawful behaviour or the ongoing criminal investigations. Voters are therefore rightly questioning the logic of our democratic system, whereby criminality at the top of government can go systematically unpunished.

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

LIMITED TICKETS AVAILABLE HERE

BECOME A PATRON OF BYLINE TV

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Pages