public health

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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

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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. 

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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).

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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.

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‘Racial Profiling’: Black People Disproportionately Targeted by Transport for London Fixed Penalty Notices

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 27/04/2022 - 8:37pm in

As the Prime Minister continues to be investigated for COVID law-breaking, Dimitris Dimitriadis explores the penalties heavily issued to minority ethnic groups

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As a group of MPs is set to investigate Boris Johnson over his ‘Partygate’ lockdown transgressions, new data has led campaigners to question whether COVID rules were fairly enforced on Transport for London (TfL) services, the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal. 

For the first seven months of 2021, at which point restrictions were eased in England, TfL issued some 2,764 fixed penalty notices (FPNs), according to data obtained through Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation. 

This was part of its attempt to clamp down on what it described as a “selfish minority” of passengers who did not wear a face covering without good reason. 

Of those FPNs – part of emergency legislation introduced at the start of the pandemic – over a quarter (25.5%) were issued to black people, even though only 13% of people in the capital identify as black. 

The disparity has raised concerns among campaigners. 

“Every new piece of data points to racial profiling in the enforcement of COVID regulations,” said Kevin Blowe, a coordinator for Netpol, a police monitoring group. 

This was echoed by Habib Kadiri, policy and research manager at StopWatch UK - which campaigns for fair policing, who said: “The Government was warned of the folly of trying to police their way out of the pandemic when the COVID-19 lockdown period began.”

He added that FPNs were used as “another means to profile and prosecute individuals” and questioned whether officers “were as willing to patrol the Waterloo and City line as their usual so-called hotspots, such as Seven Sisters station” – a much more diverse part of the city.

A spokesperson for TfL acknowledged that “people have valid concerns about rules being enforced fairly on the network” but said that its “enforcement approach was fair and consistent”. 

They added that the disparity was not the result of “discrimination or lack of training” on the part of enforcement officers. 

Last year, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, a cross-party group of MPs, said that FPNs are “muddled, discriminatory and unfair”, warning about the size of the penalties and the criminalisation of those who cannot afford to pay them. 

FPNs for face coverings were issued at £200 – or £100 for those paying within two weeks. But many of those who did not pay, or possibly could not afford to do so, faced prosecution and much heftier bills starting from £660 for those convicted of a first offence.

Of the 4,365 FPNs that were issued by TfL between 9 July 2020 and 16 July 2021, almost 30% (1,276) were “not paid and were subsequently prosecuted successfully”, according to an FOI response

Jun Pang, a policy and campaigns officer at Liberty, a campaign group that challenges injustice, said: “Those travelling on TfL services are likely to have been people who could not work from home, including frontline workers who we know are disproportionately likely to be people of colour.”

Pang also criticised the Government for creating expansive powers to enforce COVID rules, which were applied “inconsistently” and in “discriminatory ways”.

The problems identified by the Human Rights Joint Committee were “even more concerning when you take into account statistics that show that young people, those from certain ethnic minority backgrounds, men, and the most socially deprived are much more likely to be issued with FPNs than those from other groups,” according to its report

“This is why it is so important the imminent COVID-19 Public Inquiry examines the way restrictions were policed,” said Blowe, urging that the policing of the pandemic – currently not part of its terms of reference – be added to its remit. 

Meanwhile, dozens of Downing Street staff have been issued with FPNs – including the Prime Minister and the Chancellor – for breaches of COVID lockdown laws, after the Met Police initially said it did not typically investigate breaches of Coronavirus regulations “long after they are said to have taken place”.

Its investigations into the dozens of events held in Downing Street during the pandemic is still ongoing.

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.

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Crime and Punishment: Lived Reality is Now Divorced From Electoral Politics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 27/04/2022 - 12:46am in

Sam Bright considers why, after years of stagnating wealth and declining health in Britain, the Conservative Party hasn’t seen its support slump sooner?

An embattled Prime Minister, mass inflation, industrial strife and a stagnating economy. Labour had been in power for the majority of the period since 1964, but economic turbulence and a crisis of leadership – Harold Wilson having been replaced by his Foreign Secretary James Callaghan – brought Labour’s dominance to a halt in 1979, losing comfortably to Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party.

The tales of the ‘Winter of Discontent’ have been well rehearsed in popular political history. An economic-industrial crisis precipitated Labour’s demise as an electoral force in the late 1970s and created the conditions for small-state Thatcherism to thrive.

However, this political ritual – whereby the mistreatment of individuals converts to the poor performance of governments at the polling booth – is disappearing in the modern era of British politics.

Indeed, the Conservative Party is set for a battering at the local elections on 5 May, but largely due to the personal offences of the Prime Minister – breaking lockdown and lying about it – rather than the record of his Government. In fact, Johnson has been using the performance of successive Conservative regimes as a crutch. Attempting to focus political attention away from his Downing Street debauchery, the Prime Minister has repeatedly expressed his desire to “get on with the job” and to “deliver on the wishes of the British people”.

This should strike fear into most people – especially those at the bottom of the income scale. The Conservative Party has presided over 12 years of declining health outcomes, economic stagnation and raging inequality – compounded by thousands of mass, avoidable fatalities during the COVID-19. Yet its public support, until the ‘Partygate’ saga, has remained buoyant – winning four elections since 2010 and rarely trailing Labour in the polls.

Health and Wealth

The UK has suffered one of the worst health and economic responses to COVID in the Western world – second only to the United States in the fall in overall life expectancy during the pandemic, among 20 comparable countries.

The pandemic “further exposed” health inequalities in Britain and “amplified them,” according to public health expert Sir Michael Marmot, who has tracked differences in health outcomes between the richest and poorest regions and individuals for more than a decade.

In 2020, for example, Sir Michael released a new report, evaluating how the past decade of Conservative rule had impacted health inequalities. According to Sir Michael, since 2010, Government spending on the key social determinants of health had fallen, and the funding was allocated in a less equitable way.

In particular, Sir Michael ascribed declining health outcomes to the Government’s ‘austerity’ programme – which sought to radically curb state spending. “Austerity will cast a long shadow over the lives of the children born and growing up under its effects,” Marmot wrote – adding that “Austerity has taken its toll... From rising child poverty and the closure of children’s centres to declines in education funding, an increase in precarious work and zero hours contracts, to a housing affordability crisis and a rise in homelessness, to people with insufficient money to lead a healthy life and resorting to food banks in large numbers, to ignored communities with poor conditions and little reason for hope.”

The Northern Health Science Alliance confirms these findings – highlighting that from 2012-14 to 2016-18, almost half of local authorities in the north experienced a fall in life expectancy among men, women or both. Byline Times has further calculated that healthy life expectancy fell in 80% of ‘Red Wall’ areas for either men or women from 2009-11 to 2017-19. So, while men in some parts of Blackpool are expected to live for 68.3 years, the life expectancy for men in the wealthiest areas of Kensington and Chelsea in London is 95.3 years.

“Put simply, if health has stopped improving it is a sign that society has stopped improving,” Marmot wrote.

Yet, in 2019, many deprived communities voted for the Conservative Party – some for the first time in decades – effectively rewarding the Government for shortening their lives.

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Meanwhile, declining health has been accompanied by stagnating wealth. In the 15 years from 2007 to 2022, wages are expected to have risen by just 9% (the worst rate on record) – or basically nothing, if inflation is taken into account. During the previous 15 years, wages rose by 50%.

And while wages have risen notably during the early months of this year, high inflation is now consuming any growth in earnings enjoyed by workers.

This stagnation is a byproduct of sluggish increases in economic output and productivity in recent times. The UK logged “dreadful productivity performance” from 2008 to 2018, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Over that period, productivity per hour grew by just 0.3% a year against a historical trend of 2%.

A similar trend materialised during the Coronavirus pandemic. While Boris Johnson now claims that the UK has the fastest growth rate in the G7, he fails to note that we had the second weakest economic performance in the group during the pandemic. In effect, the UK economy is just making up lost ground.

The Importance of Accountability

Abuses of power – either through corruption, authoritarianism or mere incompetence – must be punished at the ballot box, or else abuse is embedded in the system. If political parties are able to avoid accountability for ruining lives, causing mass deprivation and poor health, there is nothing to prevent them from repeating their abuses.

This is especially the case in the UK, where democracy is underpinned by vague, unwritten conventions that concentrate power in Downing Street and demand a sense of duty and morality from those in charge – ideals that are not common among wrongdoers.

The separation between lived experience and political outcomes is also directly witnessed in the calibre and content of our current Government – or the lack of these qualities.

Parliament is coming to the end of its session with the Government failing to pass scores of new, planned legislation. More occupied with culture wars than the finer details of public policy, Johnson’s administration is effectively incapacitated – unable or unwilling to pass any legislation that doesn’t serve its divide-and-rule agenda.

Take ‘levelling up’ – the Government’s flagship domestic policy, that promises to rebalance the economy and erode entrenched inequalities between different parts of the country. The Government released its white paper on the subject in February – more than two years after the 2019 General Election – while only four of the 12 levelling up missions contained in the document will have a measurable impact on regional inequality, according to the Institute for Government.

While cabinets throughout history have been sculpted by political considerations – rewarding the loyal and satisfying internal party factions – Johnson’s Government does seem to be keenly suffering from a brain drain, with positions awarded to the dutiful over the deserving.

This is a symptom of our political climate, in which perception is far more important to election results than lived reality. As we have witnessed in recent years, politicians and their assets in the media are forced to concoct ever-more lurid ways to distract voters and distort the truth, in their efforts to cling on to power.

Public service has been supplanted by self-service, and the masses have toiled while the Tories continue to prosper.

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Drop in Life Expectancy Due to Poor Pandemic Management ‘Chilling’, Says Sir Michael Marmot

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/04/2022 - 6:45pm in

New research shows that England and Wales saw the biggest reduction in life expectancy after the US between 2019-21, while the life expectancy of the poorest continues to drop

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Overall life expectancy in England and Wales fell by 0.93 years during the height of the Coronavirus pandemic, research from the United States has found. 

The report comes as the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released its data on life expectancy inequality, with men from the most deprived areas in England living 9.7 years fewer than their wealthier peers. For women, the gap between the richest and poorest was 7.9 years.

The US research looked at the change in life expectancy between 2019 and 2021, or during the first two years of the pandemic, comparing the United States with 19 peer countries. 

While the US experienced much larger declines in life expectancy than its economic peers, England and Wales saw the second biggest decrease. Life expectancy dropped during the pandemic from 81.71 years in 2019 to 80.43 in 2020 and 80.78 in 2021.

In Northern Ireland, the drop was from 80.92 years in 2019 to 79.83 in 2020 and 79.99 in 2021. Scotland, which has the lowest life expectancy in the UK, saw a change from 79.29 years in 2019 to 78.29 in 2020 and 78.43 in 2021.

In contrast, Norway, South Korea and New Zealand saw life expectancy increase during the time period.

The authors explained that “estimates of life expectancy help one compare how different countries have experienced the COVID-19 pandemic”.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, author of both Fair Society, Healthy Lives (The Marmot Review) and Health Equity in England: the Marmot Review 10 Years On, told Byline Times that “prior to the pandemic, health in England was in a poor state, relative to other rich countries", but after 2010, "life expectancy improvement slowed markedly, health inequalities increased, and health of people living in the most deprived areas got worse". 

“The pandemic further exposed these health inequalities and amplified them," he said. "Poor management of the pandemic meant a bigger drop in life expectancy in England, in 2020, than was seen in other countries that managed the pandemic better.”

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Life Expectancy Inequality

While the US research reveals an overall decrease in life expectancy over the pandemic, the latest Office for National Statistics data shows that the health gap between rich and poor is growing.

A report on 'Health State Life Expectancies by National Deprivation Deciles in England' exposes how those living in the poorest regions of England die far younger than their wealthier peers – and have fewer healthy years. 

The ONS found that there have been “statistically significant increases” in the inequality in life expectancy, with men and women living in the most deprived areas of England seeing a significant decrease in life expectancy between 2015 to 2017 and 2018 to 2020. 

Those living in the most deprived areas saw the largest reduction in life expectancy. 

“These latest figures from ONS are a continuation of the trends”, said Sir Michael Marmot. “Between 2015-17 and 2018-20, life expectancy did not improve for men, overall, and actually declined for the most deprived 40% of the population. Among women, similarly, life expectancy declined for the most deprived 40% of the population, but there was some improvement for those living in less deprived areas.”

Men in the most deprived areas can now expect to live 9.7 years fewer than men in the least deprived regions – 73.5 years compared to 83.2 years. Women living in the most deprived areas have a life expectancy of 78.3 years, while wealthy women can expect to live until their mid-80s (86.3 years).

The gap between healthy life expectancy is even more concerning.

While women in wealthy regions on average enjoy good health until they are 70.7 years old; for women in the most deprived areas, healthy life expectancy is 51.9 years. This means that they endure poor health for an additional 20 years than their richer peers.

For men, the gap was 52.3 years to 70.5 years. Because people living in the most deprived areas die sooner, they spend a greater proportion of their life in poor health. 

​​As such, in 2018 to 2020, women living in the most deprived areas were expected to live less than two-thirds (66.3%) of their lives in good general health, compared with more than four-fifths (82.0%) in the least deprived areas.

Across all income groups there has been a decline in disability-free life expectancy – the time spent living without disability. 

Male disability-free life expectancy at birth in the most deprived areas was 17.6 years fewer than in the least deprived areas in 2018 to 2020. There were significant decreases in female disability-free life expectancy at birth in both deprived and less deprived areas between 2015 to 2017 and 2018 to 2020.

The data, Sir Michael Marmot said, is “chilling”.

Overall, he told Byline Times, “the figures are really shocking. They are telling us a great deal about how well society is functioning. If health is getting worse, then society’s needs are not being met”.

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High CO2 Levels and Poor Ventilation Raise Concerns for Children’s Health and COVID Risk

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 25/04/2022 - 7:15pm in

In Scotland, parents and politicians alike are calling for air filters to improve school ventilation – as classrooms show higher than recommended levels of CO2

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As children pack their schoolbags and head back to lessons after Easter, parents have expressed concern that pupils in Edinburgh are studying in classrooms where CO2 levels exceed recommended safety limits – and are therefore at risk of COVID-19 transmission, Byline Times can reveal. 

Scottish Government guidance states that CO2 concentrations in most classrooms should not exceed 1,500 parts per million (ppm) – reduced to 800ppm in music classrooms and gyms. 

The UK maximum is higher than other countries, some of which recommend 800ppm. The Lancet has published a study finding that schools are “chronically under-ventilated”, impacting children’s health and concentration.

A report commissioned by Edinburgh City Council, and undertaken by Edinburgh Napier University – titled 'COVID-19 Mitigation In Schools' – found that some classrooms had CO2 levels as high as 2,810ppm, while one music room had concentrations of 1,990ppm. 

The research took place between November 2020 and February 2021 across nine out of 123 primary schools. More widely, the Scottish Government asked local authorities across the country to assess CO2 concentrations in learning, teaching and play spaces. 

The report concluded that “from the data presented... most of the schools monitored demonstrated periods where the maximum recorded CO2 concentrations exceeded threshold values identified”, with the exception of two schools. 

All the rooms in one school had levels between 1,863 and 2,810ppm. In a second school, all but one room had levels between 1,560 and 1,862ppm, while a third school had three classrooms where the levels were 2,001ppm, 1,620ppm and 1,999ppm respectively.

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Edinburgh City Council confirmed that it has purchased portable CO2 monitors for all its schools and “is currently working on a programme to install fixed CO2 sensors across all learning and teaching spaces in schools”.

The concern is that while schools with CO2 monitors can now tell if levels are too high in the classroom, they have few options to reduce levels. The report noted that “leaving the window open all the time, even when no pupils are inside, helps keep the levels down, but is insufficient when the number of pupils in a classroom is too great”.

A local authority worker and trade union activist, who wished to remain anonymous, told Byline Times that there are “nowhere near enough CO2 monitors in schools” and the recommended responses to when levels are too high are not being followed. 

“We need to do more to protect people,” they said. “Local authorities are following the guidance, but we are still seeing outbreaks even when guidance is being followed, as it doesn’t go far enough.”

They confirmed that COVID-19 rates remain high in Edinburgh’s schools. A Freedom of Information request found that, between 21 October and 6 December last year, 3,097 pupils tested positive for the Coronavirus.

A council spokesperson told Byline Times: “The monitoring did identify the maximum CO2 levels in some classrooms exceeded the 1,500ppm upper limit and recommendations were made, including raising awareness of the importance of ventilations in classrooms, and giving guidance on the best strategies for ventilating spaces. Training and revised guidance was subsequently provided to school staff.”

The Fight for HEPA Air Filters

One Edinburgh parent, Sam Gajewski, has been advocating for schools to install HEPA Air Filters to reduce CO2 concentrations and therefore COVID-19 transmission.

More than one academic study has recommended a combination of “dilution methods” – such as opening windows – alongside “filtration methods” – such as air filters – to reduce COVID-19 transmission. A 2020 study found that “ventilation strategies associated with lower school incidence included dilution methods alone (35% lower incidence) or in combination with filtration methods (48% lower incidence)”. 

However, despite the growing body of evidence, Gajewski’s efforts have been met with resistance – with schools, local authorities and the Scottish and Westminster Governments promoting ventilation via open windows, instead of filters alongside open windows. 

In email correspondence seen by Byline Times, Gajewski's school assures him that the Scottish’s Government’s guidance is that air filters should only be used in “exceptional circumstances”. The Health and Safety Executive states that “air cleaning or filtration is not a substitute for good ventilation, but where poor ventilation cannot be improved, these systems can reduce airborne Coronavirus in a space”. 

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government told Byline Times that “expert advice is clear that air cleaning devices should not be used as a substitute for ventilation”. 

But Gajewski considers this a form of 'gaslighting' as it ignores that no one is calling for filters to replace natural ventilation. Instead, he and a range of MSPs are arguing for a combined approach.

Oliver Mundell, Conservative MSP for Dumfriesshire, told the Scottish Parliament: “There is scientific evidence for [filter's] efficacy and, therefore, we are talking about an addition to what is happening – it is a belt-and-braces approach.”

Byline Times has also seen correspondence between Gajewski and Edinburgh City Council and the Scottish Government’s curriculum unit. In response to an email to the local authority about introducing HEPA air filters into schools, Gajewski was told that the council’s “current approach is to prioritise natural ventilation” and that “there is currently limited evidence that air cleaners are an effective control measure to prevent COVID-19 spread”. 

This is disputed by Gajewski and by Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie who, in a debate on school ventilation, said: “Irish Government’s expert group on ventilation said that stand-alone high-efficiency particulate air filter devices might be useful in reducing airborne transmission in spaces with insufficient ventilation". Rennie also cited recommendations from Canada and Australia, questioning why filters are "discouraged in this country”.

The letter from the curriculum unit simply pointed to ​​the guidance for schools which “contains a range of mitigations, such as use of face coverings, ventilation and distancing requirements”.

Labour MSPs have raised the issue of air filters in Holyrood, with Michael Marra calling the area of school ventilation “a serious policy failure by the Scottish Government to date” and calling on the Government to “to ensure that local authorities have funding available to install at least two HEPA filters in each classroom in Scotland”. 

Marra pointed out that, in the summer of 2021, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon “announced there was to be a ventilation inspection programme, backed by £10 million of funding for remedial action”. However, Marra argued that “what happened next was not a ventilation programme but CO2 monitors being installed in some – but far from all – classrooms”.

The local authority worker told Byline Times that they have been campaigning to install HEPA air filters for 18 months, to no avail. “The Government says filters are not efficient but they are used in healthcare settings and they have long-term health benefits when it comes to respiratory disease," they said. "Opposition MPs and trade unions should be campaigning to bring these in.”

The World Health Organisation has said that HEPA air filters “can be effective in reducing/lowering concentrations of infectious aerosols in a single space” but should not replace natural ventilation. 

A spokesperson from Edinburgh City Council told this newspaper: “The outcomes from the monitoring and subsequent recommendations from Edinburgh Napier University helped inform the council’s ongoing approach to ventilation including highlighting areas for further investigation/action.

"As a direct outcome of this work, the council purchased portable CO2 monitors for all schools to support the return of schools in April 2021. This was in advance of any Scottish Government requirement for CO2 monitoring in schools.”

The monitors, the council explained, are smart and linked to a central cloud-based platform so its teams can monitor the data produced.

A Scottish Government spokesperson told Byline Times: “We have made an additional £5 million available to local authorities to improve ventilation in schools and early years settings. This funding is helping councils to work towards having a CO2 monitor in every learning, teaching and play space. Monitors are either already in place or are awaiting delivery for almost 95% of those spaces and all 32 local authorities have confirmed they will move to a 1:1 ratio before the summer holidays.

"Only a very small percentage of problematic spaces have to date been identified by local authorities as being problematic and remedial action has been, or is being, undertaken by councils.”

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‘Another Shocking Example of Waste’: UK Spends At Least £23.4 Million to Dispose of Unused PPE

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/04/2022 - 9:37pm in

The Government has spent billions on PPE from the private sector – and is now spending tens of millions recycling the equipment it doesn’t need

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Two contracts have been published by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) worth at least £11.7 million each for services to dispose of unused personal protective equipment (PPE) bought during the Coronavirus pandemic, the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal.

The contracts, awarded to Veolia and Suez Recycling and Recovery, were published on 1 April and run for two years. Both companies are large French multinationals headquartered in Paris.

The National Audit Office (NAO) recently reported that 14 billion items of PPE bought by the UK Government remained in storage – nearly half of the total procured during the pandemic. These items had a purchase price of £8.6 billion, out of a total PPE spend of some £13 billion. For context, the Treasury’s recent National Insurance hike is set to produce £12 billion a year in revenues for the Government.

In a Public Accounts Committee hearing in Parliament on 7 March, Labour MP Nick Smith questioned Sir Chris Wormald, Permanent Secretary to the DHSC, about the amount of waste in PPE procurement, saying: “Your PPE spending for the period was £12 billion. The figures show that £4 billion of the PPE you purchased cannot be used by the NHS. That is a third of the budget.”

Wormald replied that “we bought some masks that were not up to the usual standard of the NHS in case we ran out of the ones that were”. These were meant to be "back ups" and the strategy was felt to be “perfectly sensible risk management”, he added.

Jonathan Marron, director-general of the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities at the DHSC clarified that, out of the Government’s total PPE spending, £673 million could not be used at all. These items included “masks… that we think are counterfeit. There are some gowns that failed various tests – they are not water-repellent”.

£360 million worth of these unusable items were provided by companies channelled through the Government’s controversial ‘VIP’ lane for firms with links to ministers, advisors and officials, Byline Times has revealed.

Marron said that another £2.5 billion worth of items had passed technical specifications, but DHSC had chosen not to use them in the NHS, because better quality masks were available, for example.

Marron said that DHSC had “managed to donate or sell a billion items” of PPE. However, a report in The Times today suggests that PPE bought for hundreds of thousands of pounds is being auctioned off online for a fraction of its cost.

It appears that the contracts published on 1 April are aimed at either turning the PPE into new products or burning the equipment to make electricity. Byline Times obtained an email from Suez in December 2021, in which it approached firms about assisting with the recycling of PPE.

“We could either deliver the containers full of boxes for you to separate, or break them down into the recyclable parts,” the email said. “This is a massive contract that will continue for a couple of years.”

A DHSC spokesperson told Byline Times: “Having too much PPE was preferable to having too little in the face of an unpredictable and dangerous virus, given this was essential to keep our NHS open and protect as many people as possible. Now we are confident we have sufficient PPE to cover any future COVID demands, we are taking decisive action to save up to £93 million of taxpayers’ money per year by reducing storage costs for excess stock.”

The NAO report revealed that it had cost the DHSC £737 million to store PPE before November 2021, which included £436 million of penalty charges due to the department being unable to remove items from shipping containers on time. The DHSC is currently spending an estimated £7 million a month storing the items it does not need.

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Climate Hypocrisy?

In the Public Accounts Committee hearing, Marron said that some unused visors could be turned into food trays, aprons could be turned into bin bags, while the Government would also be “using some of the product to drive power generation”.

“We are also exploring… using the waste to provide power,” he said. “We are looking at those items and we think we can move up to about 15,000 pallets a month when we get these contracts in place.”

The contracts for Veolia and Suez therefore seem to be aimed, at least in part, at burning unused pallets of PPE to make electricity.

One NHS Procurement veteran who spoke to Byline Times anonymously said: “We were shocked to hear at the Public Accounts Committee how they were planning to burn 15,000 pallets a month – transported by the equivalent of 576 trucks. And now we know it’s going to cost £23.4 million just to burn it. It’s just another shocking example of waste.” 

The procurement expert added that “the hypocrisy is also killing me – [the Government has] just mandated net zero in the procurement of all supply contracts.”

Veolia operates a number of energy recovery facilities (ERFs) in the UK. The website for the firm’s Hampshire facility states: “Energy recovery makes an important contribution to reducing the UK’s long-term energy gap and helps to increase landfill diversion as part of an integrated waste management strategy.”

According to Utility Week, “these facilities are said to generate around 1.4TWh of electricity through non-recyclables per year and have helped tackle pandemic medical waste”.

Veolia’s Donald Macphail told the website: “As more baseload generators such as nuclear, coal and CCGTs retire, ERFs are set to play an increasingly important role in keeping the lights on during winter evenings and during days where wind generation is low.”

Clearly, the Government and companies like Veolia want to promote their ETFs as an environmentally friendly source of energy. However, burning unused PPE is clearly not environmentally friendly and should never have been required in the first place.

There is also an ongoing question about why the Government procured so much surplus PPE – and how long the public will continue to pay for its misjudgements.

Veolia and Suez did not respond to requests for comment.

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.

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Probe of ‘Criminal’ Health Worker Deaths from Airborne COVID Transmission Blocked by Government

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/04/2022 - 12:50am in

Nafeez Ahmed reveals how the UK has been failing to fully protect frontline staff from the pandemic and is now trying to deny its culpability

The Government’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is refusing to investigate a formal complaint from one of its own advisors alleging that healthcare workers have died due to flawed personal protective equipment (PPE) guidance on the airborne transmission of COVID-19, documents seen exclusively by Byline Times reveal.

A letter from HSE chief executive Sarah Albon to HSE advisor David Osborn has rejected the need for an investigation, on the grounds that infection protection and control (IPC) guidance was “consistent with the [World Health Organisation] guidance on the use of masks in healthcare”. But the suggestion in Albon’s letter that current PPE guidance is in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) advice is misleading.

“A criminal investigation of those involved in producing guidance that was in accordance with the world authority in a global pandemic is therefore inappropriate,” Albon wrote in response to a formal complaint by Osborn, a 27-year chartered health and safety consultant who is a ‘consultee member’ of the HSE’s Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Essentials Working Group, where he has helped HSE to prepare guidance for employers and employees.

In his complaint in February, Osborn accused the agency of failing to use its statutory authority to correct “seriously flawed” IPC guidance imperilling “the health and safety of healthcare workers by failing to provide for suitable respiratory protection”.

He described it as “the largest single health and safety disaster to befall the United Kingdom workforce since the introduction of asbestos products”.

The continued failure to protect healthcare workers from the airborne transmission of COVID-19 through appropriate PPE, the letter, said, has led to more than 100,000 avoidable illnesses and deaths.

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Well Established Facts

In several letters responding to Albon, Osborn points out that WHO guidance published on 22 December 2021 “confirms that a respirator (such as FFP3) should be worn by health workers before entering a room where there is a patient with suspected or confirmed COVID-19. I note that this concurs exactly with HSE’s own guidance for healthcare workers entering a room in which there is a patient known or suspected to have a SARS disease.”

The documents confirm that the HSE and the IPC Cell – the NHS authority responsible for formulating PPE guidance – are both in contravention of WHO guidelines on the need for healthcare workers to protect themselves from COVID-19 airborne transmission.

On 15 March 2022, the IPC Cell issued updated guidance advising that respirators designed for airborne protections must only be worn by staff when “caring for patients with a suspected or confirmed infection spread predominantly by the airborne route (during the infectious period)” – i.e. not in the full set of circumstances proscribed by the WHO.

If complying with WHO guidelines is a litmus test, the question is why the HSE is not currently advocating compliance with the WHO’s guidelines. Either Albon’s claim concerning the need to comply with WHO guidelines is correct, in which case HSE is now contradicting its own position on compliance with the WHO – or it is false, in which case citing WHO guidelines as a justification for the failure to ensure adequate airborne protections is spurious.

However, Osborn points out that, in any case, the WHO’s guidance is designed to be compatible with varying standards of healthcare provision around the world in both rich and poor countries, and that airborne transmission was recognised by the UK Government early during the pandemic – long before the WHO caught up with the science.

He notes in one letter responding to Albon that HSE “did know, in the early months of 2020 that the virus presented an airborne risk (viz the paper published by your Chief Scientific Advisor/EMG in April 2020 confirming it).”

This contradicts Albon’s suggestion that HSE did not know of airborne transmission until recently. “Care needs to be taken, therefore, not to see decisions made in the early months of 2020 through the lens of what we know today about the airborne transmission of COVID-19,” she says.

Osborn’s letters repeatedly point out that HSE, the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and numerous other officials and relevant health agencies were fully aware of the risk of COVID-19 airborne transmission as early as April 2020.

Yet none of Albon’s responses to Osborn admit or acknowledge this early recognition of airborne transmission; nor do they therefore provide any explanation for the gap between this recognition and the failure to ensure healthcare workers are protected from airborne transmission.

The implication of the IPC Cell guidance is that airborne protections are unnecessary for COVID-19 because airborne transmission is not predominant.

But in fact it is now widely recognised that COVID-19 is predominantly airborne. “Airborne transmission arises through the inhalation of aerosol droplets exhaled by an infected person and is now thought to be the primary transmission route of COVID-19”, concluded one peer-reviewed research paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in April 2021 authored by two top Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scientists.

As Osborn argues in his letter to Albon regarding the updated IPC guidance, no hard scientific evidence is available which supports a definition of “predominantly”. Not only is there no evidence that ‘droplet’ transmission is predominant, Osborn writes, “If a disease is airborne IN ANY PROPORTION then it is still a risk that must be controlled where a lethal virus is concerned. The ability of a disease to transmit by fomite or droplet does not negate the airborne route in any shape or form.”

Institutional Misconduct?

Osborn goes on to accuse the IPC Cell of scientific misconduct, and concludes that HSE’s refusal to intervene is evidence of its support for a policy contravening statutory health and safety regulations – the breach of which is a crime.

In one damning passage, Osborn writes:

“If the physicians and scientists comprising the UK IPC Cell seriously believe (and try to get others to believe) that the ‘droplet’ and ‘fomite’ routes of disease transmission in some way negate the ‘airborne’ route, then this is such a ridiculous notion that (a) you really need to desist from referring to them as ‘eminent’ and (b) there is a prima facie case that they should be investigated for scientific misconduct and be dealt with accordingly by their professional institutions.

Meanwhile, as regards HSE’s position, you have made it very clear in your letter that you do not believe that the IPC guidance has been, and continues to be ‘flawed’. The only interpretation which can be drawn from this opinion, together with your refusal to intervene, is that you clearly do support a policy which contravenes the COSHH Regulations which you are supposed to enforce.”

This batch of correspondence also suggests that the HSE has stalled for six months Osborn’s Freedom of Information requests to obtain copies of the “technical input” provided by HSE to those responsible for the IPC guidance.

The latest ONS data published on 10 March reveals that a total of 2,129 health and social care works have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. Figures from early 2021 showed that around 122,000 UK healthcare workers are suffering from ‘Long COVID’.

Even despite changes in WHO guidance in December 2021, the UK has failed to translate this into adequate airborne protections for healthcare workers today.

Byline Times asked HSE to confirm exactly when it became known to the agency that airborne transmission is a risk for COVID-19, and why this has not translated into adequate respiratory protections for workers even now. At first, a spokesperson for HSE promised to “provide our answers to the outlined questions”. However, they later declined to comment, referring instead to Sarah Albon’s correspondence with Osborn – in which she respectfully declined “to engage in further correspondence on this subject”.

Altogether, the letters seen by Byline Times between Osborn and the HSE raise urgent questions about the ongoing failure of UK authorities to provide adequate PPE to healthcare workers.

They also underscore that the UK’s systems of accountability are broken. If airborne transmission plays a significant role in COVID-19 infection – and all the data has shown, since April 2020, that it does – it means that the very Government authority tasked with enforcing the law on health and safety in the UK, is inexplicably refusing to do so.

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Our Future is Being Gambled On by a Government in Blissful Ignorance

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 01/04/2022 - 2:51am in

‘A’ Level students Thomas Heath and Tom Marshall expose the Department for Education’s data-free approach to the impact of COVID-19 on learning

As two students facing our ‘A’ Level exams this year, we were worried about the advance information provided to us by exam boards, designed to help us to prepare for this year’s tests.

We have been trying to understand how the Department for Education (DfE) is seeking to ensure that the exams are fair for all – with experts predicting fewer top grades, despite exam boards being urged to be more lenient, taking into account the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the performance of students.

In the process of getting more information, we have discovered evidence suggesting that the DfE has been unable to properly assess the impact of Coronavirus and subsequent lockdown measures on students’ learning.

We received responses to several Freedom of Information (FOI) requests indicating that the department does not have data on the number of students who have used online learning during the crisis, and the effect of school closures on student attendance.

The department only seemingly tracked classroom absences – “the total number of sessions of absence from school” – and officials are therefore unaware of the extent of online learning.

The DfE says that students suffering from COVID-19 “should have had access to remote learning, if they were well enough to learn”, though it does not know exactly how many students had access to online learning and for how long.

In other words, it is unaware of how much learning took place over the past two academic years and therefore cannot assess how much of it has been lost. To us, this shows that the Government is unable to fairly evaluate and set the criteria for this year’s exams, because it does not have the data to justify its assumptions. 

Moreover, the department cannot assess the impact of school closures because, according to the FOI responses, “school closures are not separately identified in the census [of pupil absence] data”.

Schools had to close during the pandemic, not least during the peaks of the virus in March 2020 and January 2021. Yet the impact of these closures on education has not been properly recorded. This shows an alarmingly laissez-faire attitude towards our exams and qualifications. Remember: for every day you’re unable to learn, this is a day of content not able to be covered. 

“Full academic year data is not available for 2019-20”, the department says – a year during which schools were closed for roughly four months. The loss of almost half an academic year can’t be fully taken into account without this data, which the DfE says it does not have.

This lost learning has inevitably produced knock-on effects for students over the past two years – yet the department seemingly doesn’t know exactly how. This is a negligent attitude. A failure to collect data in the context of a pandemic is a dereliction of duty.

Poor Planning

In terms of the advance information provided by exam boards to students – in order to guide our revision ahead of this year’s exams – the regulator Ofqual has not even conducted an impact assessment on the effectiveness of the information.

In response to one of our FOI requests, we were told that “we do not hold analysis on the effect of advanced information on attainment”.

The failure to do basic assessments of the impact of advanced information suggests that it was a slapdash, ill-considered plan. The fate of our qualifications hangs in the balance, and we find it extremely worrying that the ‘solution’ to the last few years of pandemic learning seems to have been so rushed.

This throws the fairness of the advance information – and the exams themselves – into question. If the DfE does not know the extent to which COVID impacted learning and does not know the extent to which advance information will compensate for that lost learning, it risks being completely blind to the ways in which our performance will suffer.

Indeed, we find it shocking that our qualifications are in the hands of those who failed to track such key data. If they were examined for their performance, they almost certainly would have failed.

These past few years have been hard for many students, teachers and their families. Dozens of our teachers have been forced to stay at home due to COVID. Our friends and our family members have fallen ill. It’s impossible to precisely measure the amount of time and learning that has been lost over the last three academic years, but we’d hope that Ofqual and the DfE would have at least tried.

These exams will matter. We will carry our qualifications with us forever – they will affect where we study, and where we work, long into the future.

The sloppy data collation of the DfE puts us, as students, at risk. It does not “make exams less daunting”, as claimed by Ofqual. Instead, it makes them even more worrying.

The Department for Education does not know how much education occurred over the past three years. How can it know that we will all be given an opportunity to succeed?

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