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The End of Free COVID Testing Will Create a Two-Tier System of Pandemic Healthcare

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 22/02/2022 - 11:29pm in

The End of Free COVID Testing Will Create aTwo-Tier System of Pandemic Healthcare

Sam Bright and Sian Norris inspect how deprived communities will be saddled by the Government’s new testing policies


The Government yesterday announced the imminent end of most COVID-19 restrictions and safeguards in England.

Notably, free PCR and lateral flow tests will no longer be offered as standard to the public – instead reserved to the over 80s and the clinically vulnerable.

The requirement to self-isolate on testing positive will also be dropped. Although official public health advice will continue to state that people who test positive should isolate for five days, those on low incomes will no longer be able to claim £500 if they are hit by the virus and forced to stay at home.

Speaking to the House of Commons yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that “it is time to move from protecting people with Government interventions to vaccines and treatment as our first line of defence”. His announcements were well-received by hard-right members of the Conservative Party, who have repeatedly called for less interventionist COVID measures from the Government, contravening public health advice.

The UK’s COVID testing operation currently costs the taxpayer £2 billion a month, with the Government previously placing heavy emphasis on the daily testing of both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals.

Speaking in April 2021, former Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said that “regular rapid testing is going to be fundamental in helping us quickly spot positive cases and squash any outbreaks. The vaccine programme has been a shot in the arm for the whole country, but reclaiming our lost freedoms and getting back to normal hinges on us all getting tested regularly”.

There is considerable uncertainty about how the new testing system will operate. Individuals flying abroad have been forced to procure tests directly from private suppliers – a system that has been plagued by cowboy operators, profiteering and cronyism. It’s unclear how the Government will attempt to avoid similar problems with its new private system for general population testing.

However, it seems clear that the Government’s ‘living with COVID’ policy will create a two-tier system of pandemic healthcare.

On the one hand, there will be those who can afford to take regular tests – lateral flow tests are expected to cost around £20 for a pack of seven – and can afford to isolate, if they test positive. On the other, there will large groups of people who cannot afford this luxury – potentially resulting in the mass, hidden infection of people in deprived parts of the country, in marginalised and neglected communities.

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As Government advisors have previously, repeatedly stated: a high vaccination rate and high levels of infection are ideal conditions for new variants to emerge. Poorer communities will therefore potentially be breeding grounds for more potent strains of the virus.

Indeed, we already know that COVID-19 disproportionately affects people from certain socio-economic and demographic backgrounds.

In the first year of the pandemic, COVID-19 mortality rates for people younger than 65 were nearly four times higher in the most deprived areas than the least deprived areas of England. Local areas in England with the highest death rates tended to be those with high unemployment, more overcrowded housing, and greater rates of child poverty. 

According to the Marmot Review – a report on the impact of COVID-19 commissioned by the Health Foundation – “levels of deprivation and health within an area have an enormous impact on mortality rates from COVID-19 and deteriorating conditions in more deprived local areas in England in the years up to 2020 have meant that COVID-19 mortality has been higher than would [otherwise] have been the case”.

Because areas in the post-industrial north of England are more likely to be deprived, and because black and minority ethnic people are more likely to be living in poverty, death rates were higher in these populations.

During the first wave of COVID-19 cases in the UK, from March to July 2020, 17 of the 20 worst-hit areas were in the north and the Midlands – including relatively deprived, Red Wall areas such as Bolton, Sunderland, Wigan, Hartlepool and Rotherham.

Scientific studies have linked these deaths to the higher likelihood of pre-existing health conditions in deprived communities, a higher likelihood of households with multiple occupants – thus encouraging the spread of the virus – as well as poorer working conditions, a lack of access to sick pay, and a greater volume of people working in human-facing professions.

The pandemic also exacerbated existing poverty: black and ethnic minority households in the UK are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as their white peers, leaving them disproportionately exposed to job losses and pay cuts caused by the pandemic.

It’s important to remember too that the new charges are coming in during a cost of living crisis – with 1.8 million households now living in “very deep poverty”, meaning that their income cannot cover basic necessities. These are now being asked to make the choice between food, fuel, and health. 

When asked about those on low incomes, Johnson dismissed the suggestion that they may struggle to afford to test and self-isolate by saying this was “underestimating the willingness of people to do the right thing”.


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Workers’ Rights

One of the many criticisms levelled against the Government during the pandemic has been the lack of self-isolation support, including a failure to increase levels of statutory sick pay.

As a result, throughout the pandemic many low-paid workers felt they had little choice but to keep going to work – despite potentially being infected with the virus.

The old rules however, did give workers a legal right to refuse to go into work, helping to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The scrapping of self-isolation laws in England will mean that workers are only advised to self-isolate if they test positive – assuming they can afford a test in the first place. The emphasis in Johnson’s press conference statement was for workers to take personal responsibility and to stay home if they feel ill.

Johnson said that England needed to be “more like Germany” where workers are more likely to take time off when they are sick. But in Germany, statutory sick pay is 50% of full pay for 84 weeks. Here, it’s £96.35 per week for 28 weeks.

Unfortunately, personal responsibility may not be the priority of employers – nor will it pay the bills. This means unscrupulous employers may put pressure on their staff to come into the workplace, while people in insecure or precarious work may feel less able to take time off to self-isolate, having to choose between putting bread on the table and staying at home.

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The Clinically Vulnerable

The decision to charge for tests will also become a care tax for those who wish to visit vulnerable loved ones, or who are caring for family members with underlying health conditions. 

At the start of the pandemic, 2.2 million people were told to start shielding as they were considered clinically extremely vulnerable. Thanks to the vaccine rollout, more people are now protected – however, some groups were simply too vulnerable to have the vaccine, and those with severe health conditions remain vulnerable. 

Data from the autumn found that most people previously considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable were continuing to take precautions to protect themselves; 22% reported continuing to shield and 68% were no longer shielding but were taking extra precautions.

Those who wish to keep loved ones safe from the virus will now effectively have to pay a care tax whenever they visit family or friends, through private tests, to make sure they are not inadvertently bringing COVID-19 to their door. 

Considering people in deprived areas are more likely to have underlying health conditions, this again will disproportionately impact those on low incomes. 

And there are care workers themselves. One of the most shocking outcomes of the pandemic was the failure of the Government and its advisers to understand that care workers – many of whom are on low-paid, zero hour contracts – move from home to home, caring for individuals. This risked spreading the Coronavirus to vulnerable populations.

Questions now need to be asked about whether care workers will be provided with free tests from those in charge of their contracts, or whether they will be expected to pay for their own. If the latter, this again will mean that the Government’s new testing regime will disproportionately impact on the lowest paid, essential workers. 




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The Concerning New Powers in Healthcare

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 21/02/2022 - 11:04pm in

The Concerning New Powers in Healthcare

The Health and Care Bill is returning to the Lords – as campaigners express concern that non-statutory, public/private bodies will soon have more power when it comes to commissioning healthcare across England


A day of action to fight the Health and Care Bill, which will reach its report stage in the House of Lords on 2 March, is planned by the Unite trade union this weekend.

Declaring the bill the “wrong prescription for the NHS”, the union is targeting voters in former ‘Red Wall’ constituencies that voted Conservative in 2019 General Election. 

The bill has been presented to the public and politicians with positive buzzwords around integration, collaboration and choice. But campaigners warn that the new proposals are a form of privatisation by stealth.

“The bill is a thorough break with the Beveridge model and the Bevan model,” principle research associate at Newcastle University Peter Roderick told Byline Times.

Roderick is the co-author, along with Professor Allyson Pollock, of the NHS Reinstatement Bill.

“It will lead to private companies having a chance to get more involved with the NHS, to services falling out of the NHS and having to be paid for, and to more inequality when it comes to access to treatment for patients,” he said.

Campaigner and retired doctor Alex Scott-Samuel agreed. He told Byline Times that the proposals risk “ending the NHS as designed in 1948”.

Where Will Real Power Lie?

According to Lord Andrew Lansley, Health Secretary when the controversial 2012 Health and Social Care Act was introduced, power in the NHS will soon lie with ‘provider collaboratives’ – non-statutory bodies designed to bring together NHS trusts and foundation trusts to work more closely with each other. 

Lord Lansley told the House of Lords that the bill makes “no provision for them in terms of transparency, openness or accountability”. 

Campaigners have raised concerns that the increased influence of provider collaboratives will mean, for the first time since the creation of the NHS, that the state will continue to fund healthcare in England but largely abstain from being involved in its organisation. Instead, most of the power and decision-making will be handed over to these joint public/private bodies. 

The NHS in England is being organised into 42 integrated care systems (ICS) which are only partially or minimally statutory. Within each system will be new Integrated Care Boards (ICB) – the flagship policy in the bill. ICBs will have statutory footing and be responsible for commissioning most health services in the area they cover. They will be able to delegate their own functions to provider collaboratives, including budget decisions. 

In the Health Services Journal, Alastair McLellan explained how “in the minds of most acute trust chiefs, it is provider collaboratives and groups, and not integrated care boards that will wield the greatest influence” in the new structure. 

“These provider collaboratives are not directly accountable to the public or to the Government,” Roderick told Byline Times. “When, where and how we receive healthcare is therefore going to be at the behest of these entities.”

According to Richard Murray, writing for the Kings Fund, “it would be hard to imagine a less ‘market’-like approach than expecting all NHS providers to come together and co-operate in the new provider collaboratives.”

In the Health Services Journal, chief executive lead for provider collaboration across the north of England, Louise Robson, expressed her belief that “providers are embracing the possibilities afforded by collaboration and are enthusiastic about the opportunity to combine resources where necessary to ensure that services are integrated and we make best possible use of our staff and other assets”.

Three further entities are set to be increasingly involved in healthcare in England: place-based partnerships; primary care networks; and the ‘health system support framework’. The latter is an accredited list of suppliers to the NHS that includes IT companies, consultancy firms and private healthcare providers.


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Where Does Responsibility Lie?

Campaigners have argued that the focus on flexibility in the bill is to distract from the absence of statutory duties that could in turn lead to the dilution of the right to publicly funded healthcare. 

This is particularly prevalent when it comes to ideas about “core responsibility” and who will have it for what patients. 

The 2012 Act created Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), each of which was responsible for commissioning healthcare for people on the lists of the GP practices that belong to that CCG. The people on the lists did not have to be local residents and Parliament determined who CCGs would be responsible for. 

With CCGs now set to be replaced with ICBs, it is up to NHS England, not Parliament, to decide who each ICB will be responsible for. 

“We don’t know how the new allocation of responsibility will be made,” said Roderick. “Because the allocation to the ICBs is going to be decided by NHS England’s rules, for which there will be no Parliamentary process.”

The explanatory notes to the bill state that “it is expected that the basis of NHS England’s general rule for ICB responsibility will continue to be in relation to GP registration to ensure operational continuity”. But an expectation is not a rule.

“It’s too complacent,” said Roderick. “You’ve got to know. You’re passing a law, you’re setting the framework up for it. It is possible that ICBs might be able to challenge allocations and thereby in effect to select patients”. This could lead to some people falling through the cracks, or that new groups of people will be excluded from free NHS care – as certain migrant people currently are. 

Further, the 2012 Act contained a clause that if an individual needed emergency treatment when outside of their CCG area – for example while on holiday in a different part of the country – then they could access that treatment. No such clause is included in the new act. This risks meaning an ICB will not be required to arrange provision of emergency services for a person outside its responsibility, but who happened to get ill or injured in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

In response to this absence, Roderick and Pollock drafted an amendment to be debated at the House of Lords insisting that an ICB has a responsibility to provide emergency treatment to any person present in its area. 

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Whose Choice?

All of these changes follow more than a decade of underfunding for the NHS. The annual increases to Government spending on health fell to less than 1% under the Coalition Government, before creeping up to just under 2% before 2019 – compared to 6% annual increases under Labour. 

This lack of funding has led to record waiting lists, which in turn can lead to more people with the means to feel they have little choice but to go private. Some treatments are increasingly rationed, while private healthcare providers are being contracted out to deliver more and more services within the system. 

Campaigners like Alex Scott-Samuel believe the new bill will lead to “more rationing, and care will be a postcode lottery. It will become much harder to see a GP. The NHS will become a kitemark for private providers. These providers will get taxpayer money to deliver procedures, and then that taxpayer money goes to their shareholders, instead of being reinvested in the NHS”.

Speaking of the bill’s proposals, Roderick told Byline Times that “in the end you are going to have more inequality”.

This is in part because while wealthier patients will have the “choice” to go private, those without means will be more and more dependent on decision-making of the provider collaboratives when it comes to access to care. 

Professor Allyson Pollock explained this to the Socialist Health Association earlier this month, using the example of how mental health patients are increasingly being treated out of area. Mental health is a service already working with provider collaboratives.

She said: “If you have a severe acute mental health problem in the UK, and you need hospitalisation, you are not going to ever find a local hospital, you have to go on the provider websites, and they will tell you in which area of the country there are some beds available and people will have to travel. So this isn’t about patient choice, it’s much more about patients having less and less choice.”




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Why We Should be Worried About Boris Johnson’s Civil Service Promotion of Gisela Stuart

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 17/02/2022 - 1:28am in

Why We Should be Worried About Boris Johnson’s Civil Service Promotion of Gisela Stuart

Baroness Stuart’s crucial role in EU Referendum controversies should rule her out of a top position demanding impartiality and integrity, says former Labour MP Ian Lucas


Civil servants have rarely been so prominent in public life. ‘Partygate’ has led to backroom staff becoming front page news. The British tradition of an independent Civil Service, serving governments of any colour, is one of the fundamental pillars of our democracy. Like so much under Boris Johnson, it is under threat.

The Civil Service Commission is established “to ensure that civil service appointments are made on the basis of merit, through fair and open competition and to protect civil service impartiality”.

The First Civil Service Commissioner is “the public face of the Commission” and is required, according to the application pack for the job, to “uphold the values of the civil service – honesty, integrity, objectivity and impartiality – and the principles of selection on merit on the basis of fair and open competition”.

Why, then, does Johnson want Gisela Stuart in the job?

Baroness Stuart, as she has come to be known since Johnson installed her in the House of Lords in 2020, is one of the Prime Minister’s closest allies. A former Labour MP, she was an essential prop in the Vote Leave team, providing support to a mainly Conservative operation.

It is this seeming lack of objectivity and impartiality – her closeness to the man at the top of government – which has raised eyebrows.

In an inadequate report approving Baroness Stuart’s proposed appointment as First Civil Service Commissioner, Parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee was compelled to observe that “reservations were expressed about her suitability for the role and, in particular, her perceived impartiality”.

Labour Leader Keir Starmer has subsequently written to the Cabinet Office, raising “questions over whether [Baroness Stuart] is in a position to provide advice that is independent, impartial and objective”. 

“She is closely connected to the current Government and has campaigned with many of them on important political matters that are still relevant to the challenges faced by departments,” he said.

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While Starmer focused on Stuart’s lack of impartiality, Electoral Commission documents referred to publicly in my book, Digital Gangsters, for the first time disclose evidence suggesting that Baroness Stuart personally approved the £400,000 payment by Vote Leave to (its offshoot campaign group) BeLeave during the 2016 EU Referendum – breaching spending limits put in place to maintain fairness in the campaign.

Baroness Stuart was a key member of Vote Leave, with Electoral Commission documents showing that she was a member of its finance committee. She was one of just a few individuals to be consulted on whether the payment should be made by Vote Leave.

She is recorded in minutes as attending a Vote Leave finance meeting on 14 June 2016, which include the statement: “It was agreed that an initial amount be given to BeLeave of £400,000 and that subsequent amounts might be given subject to the discretion of the executive with supervision”.

As Dominic Cummings, Vote Leave’s campaign director, wrote to the Electoral Commission in response to the watchdog’s enquiries into the BeLeave payment: “Gisela Stuart is the only MP that was involved in this decision as far as I can remember or I can see in the documents I have.”

As a result of its investigations, the Electoral Commission concluded that Vote Leave’s referendum spending was £7,449,079 – above the statutory spending limit of £7 million. It found on 17 July 2018: “We are satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Vote Leave exceeded the spending limit for a designated lead campaigner.”

As a former MP, who accepted the result of the referendum in good faith and voted for Article 50 in March 2017, commencing the process of withdrawal, I am still angry about this breach of the law.

It was disclosed only in July 2018, two years after the referendum, and I believe it calls into question the honesty and integrity of those individuals who approved the payment. It is therefore astonishing that Baroness Stuart is being put forward for a crucial Civil Service position, despite her role in approving a payment that breached spending limits in the most important vote in modern UK history.

Aside from anything else, her appointment is simply one more example of Boris Johnson promoting fellow travellers to positions of influence whenever he can, whatever their past actions, in order to buttress his own self-interest.

Ian Lucas was Labour MP for Wrexham from 2001 to 2019, and a member of Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee from 2017 to 2019, during its inquiry into disinformation and fake news

DIGITAL GANGSTERSThe new book from former Labour MP Ian Lucas, lifting the lid on how data and electoral corruption warped democracy with Brexit and beyond…

Out this winter through Byline Books: CLICK HERE to get your copy




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Private Consultancy Set to Receive More ‘Towns Fund’ Spending than Mansfield

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 15/02/2022 - 1:03am in

Private Consultancy Set to Receive More ‘Towns Fund’ Spending than Mansfield

Sam Bright explores how private firms are making money from the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda


A multi-national consultancy firm based in London is set to receive £13.7 million in Government ‘Towns Fund’ spending – more than the town of Mansfield in the east midlands.

The Government last week announced that the value of a contract awarded to Ove Arup and Partners would be extended to July 2022 and raised by £2.5 million – to a total of £13.7 million.

In exchange, the firm – which posts annual revenues of some £1.8 billion – will continue to provide “strategic consultancy support to local areas” that have been developing proposals for the Government’s Towns Fund, part of its ‘levelling up’ programme.

The contract says that local areas “will face capacity and capability gaps that hinder them from developing and delivering good proposals and interventions under the Towns Fund” – which seeks to facilitate economic regeneration and higher productivity in more deprived parts of the country.

Therefore, Arup will be expected to “provide access to expertise across a range of areas relevant for the turnaround and regeneration in struggling towns”, including “urban planning”, “strategy development”, “community engagement” and “business innovation”.

The first £2.3 billion provided to 101 Towns Fund recipients was announced by the Government in July 2021, out of an overall budget of £3.6 billion, with most areas receiving between £20 million and £30 million. Mansfield, however, was allocated the least amount of money, £12.3 million, less than the value of the consultancy contract awarded to Arup.

Represented by Conservative MP Ben Bradley, Mansfield was ranked in 2019 as the most deprived district in Nottinghamshire, while the Mirror concluded in 2020 that Mansfield was the 25th most deprived area of the country. Bradley did not respond to Byline Times’ request for comment.

Alex Norris MP, Labour’s Shadow Levelling Up Minister, told Byline Times: “For a decade, the Tories have hollowed out local government with cuts to their budget. 

“Now communities face the double-insult of losing the very cash that’s supposed to help them rebuild to firms based in London. Those who know our communities best are those who live and work there, so they should be trusted to make the decisions that are right for their areas and given the power and resources needed to allow this to happen.”

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Pork Barrel Politics

The allocation of Towns Fund cash has been plagued by controversy. The Institute for Government has calculated that, strangely, ‘low priority’ towns have been allocated more funding per head of population than ‘high priority’ towns – with the Government assessing each bid based on regeneration and investment opportunities, levels of income deprivation, transport links (or lack of them), and ensuring that a spread of towns receive funds across each region.

Meanwhile, the Government has been accused of funnelling money towards Conservative constituencies, with reports showing that Conservative MPs represented 39 of the first 45 Towns Fund recipients.

Bury South MP Christian Wakeford – who dramatically defected from the Conservatives to Labour in January – accused senior ministers of threatening to withhold local funding if he voted against the Government, while he was a Conservative MP.

It has also been suggested that the Government’s levelling up schemes – including the Towns Fund – are insufficient, given the regional inequalities that currently afflict the UK.

Byline Times calculated, for example, that the Government’s ‘Levelling Up Fund’ allocated just £1.25 billion to areas that lost £25.5 billion in spending power after 2010 due to the Conservative Party’s austerity agenda. The Levelling Up Fund is an extension of the Towns Fund, dedicated to “town centre and high street regeneration, local transport projects, and cultural and heritage assets”.


A fortnight ago, the Government released its long-awaited levelling up white paper, spelling out exactly how it plans to address the structural inequalities that exist between the UK’s different nations and regions. It was criticised for pointing firmly at the problem but not dedicating enough funds to solve it.

“Regional inequalities [in the UK] have been established over decades, and the only way to tackle them has to be through long-term, sustainable plans which we are yet to see any detail of”, Erica Roscoe, senior research fellow at the IPPR North think tank, said after the paper’s release.

It has also previously been revealed that local authorities have spent millions on employing private consultants in an effort to win levelling up funds from the Government. The Yorkshire Post reported in November that councils in the county had spent £3 million in this manner – with different councils using the same consultancy firms to bid for the same pots of funding.

In January 2021, meanwhile, Arup’s Global Transport Leader, Isabel Dedring, was appointed to the Government’s ‘Build Back Better Council’ – an alliance of 30 business leaders who advise officials and ministers on how to “unlock private sector investment, boost job creation, launch a green industrial revolution and level up the UK economy to reduce regional inequalities”.

A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson said: “Councils applying for funding from the Towns Fund have asked us for help with developing their proposals and projects.

“Support is made available to all 101 towns in the scheme through the Towns Fund Delivery Partner, led by Arup, and we anticipate this support will result in markedly better outcomes from the Towns Fund. This contract was awarded through the usual open procurement process and passed all value for money assessments.”

Arup did not respond to Byline Times’ request for comment.




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The NHS Whistleblowing Crisis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 08/02/2022 - 9:03pm in

The NHS Whistleblowing Crisis

Tommy Greene and David Hencke report on a number of worrying NHS dismissal cases


Whistleblower doctors are being stifled by health trusts from revealing patient safety concerns, either by being dismissed or silenced by chief executives and medical directors.

The employment tribunal system is being overloaded with cases involving NHS whistleblowers and unfair dismissal claims, which are taking years to progress through the system. A number of cases are taking two or three years before they can be heard.

Trusts are able to use taxpayers’ money to employ barristers to fight the cases over years and doctors are finding that trusts are trawling through NHS records to find evidence that can be used against former employees.

Most doctors are appearing as a ‘litigant in person’ because they do not have the money to employ a lawyer. Many face selling their home or taking on debt in order to clear their name.

The most prominent recent case was that of Dr Chris Day, then a junior doctor in an intensive care unit in a hospital in Woolwich, who reported staff shortages as long ago as 2013 and whose case was covered by the Guardian in 2018.

After a series of tribunal and high court hearings, his case will not be heard until June. Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust has spent nearly £1 million pursuing him.

Cases drag on even after doctors have won their tribunals.

In 2016, consultant urologist Peter Duffy left Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust following alleged retaliation after he flagged multiple failings in the trust’s urology department. A subsequent investigation of the unit revealed that 520 patients there had suffered “actual or potential harm”. He won a case for constructive dismissal in 2018, with a judge ordering all relevant documents held by the trust to be released.

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Then, two emails appeared in 2020 suggesting that Mr Duffy was partially responsible for the death of a 76-year-old patient in 2014. Mr Duffy has said that these emails must have been falsified because neither he nor other people in the trust can recall ever seeing them.

However, the trust and NHS England are insisting that they are genuine – after employing a private company to conduct a fresh review two years after losing the case. The company said that the emails were discovered after the trust upgraded its computer system, enabling it to search for more emails.

Concern among doctors is rising, and and an informal organisation – Doctors and Patients for Justice – has been established to provide mutual help and support in forthcoming tribunal cases.

One case currently awaiting a result involves Dr Usha Prasad, the sole woman cardiologist at Epsom and St Helier University Health Trust. She was dismissed after raising whistleblowing and discrimination issues. The trust’s medical director commissioned an investigation alleging that she had made errors in 41 previous operations. The General Medical Council threw out the dossier and decided to revalidate Dr Prasad to practice.

An internal inquiry at the trust later ruled that Dr Prasad was “unfit” to work as a doctor and upheld her dismissal.

It has been now been revealed at an employment tribunal that she was working on an internal investigation into the “avoidable death” of an elderly cardiology patient, and was pressurised to alter the report that the death was avoidable and a recommendation that this should have been reported to the coroner and the Care Quality Commission watchdog.

Now, three years after the event, the trust’s former head of cardiology, Dr Richard Bogle, admitted that it should have informed the coroner and the Care Quality Commission about the case. A ruling on the hearing is pending. Despite this, Dr Prasad recently lost her tribunal case.

None of the NHS trusts responded to Byline Times’ request for comment.




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Expert Raises Concerns as 11 Police Forces Issue 144 Non-Disclosure Agreements

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 08/02/2022 - 2:59am in

Expert Raises Concerns as11 Police Forces Issue144 Non-Disclosure Agreements

As police misconduct once again creates headlines, Sascha Lavin uncovers the regular use of secrecy agreements among local forces


Police forces in England and Wales are using non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to potentially hide wrongdoing, analysis by the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal.  

As a damning report last week revealed further evidence of a culture of misogyny in the Metropolitan Police, new data suggests that police forces are using NDAs to bury their heads in the sand at a time when institutional learning is critical. 

Almost three-quarters (73%) of the 15 police forces that responded to the Byline Intelligence Team’s Freedom of Information request had issued an NDA over a five-year period since 2016. Of the 11 police forces that used these restrictive confidentiality contracts, 144 were signed. 

NDAs were designed in the 1980s to protect trade secrets, legally gagging people from sharing information with anyone – from therapists to future employers – for the rest of their lives, raising the question: why are police forces attempting to silence so many people? 

Canadian law professor and NDA whistleblower Dr Julie Macfarlane is aware of many cases in which public institutions have asked an individuals who has committed misconduct to sign a confidentiality clause. 

Dr Macfarlane warns that the implications are far reaching, because “the next institution, the next police force, that hires that wrongdoer won’t know why they left the previous one, which means that they can be a harm to others in the new workplace”.

Gagging orders can also be a condition of a settlement agreement. When firearms officer Rhona Malone reported sexism at work, Police Scotland offered her a payout as long as she signed an NDA. 

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Other confidentiality agreements could be used for legitimate reasons, such as ensuring that police officers do not share sensitive information about vulnerable people with members of the public when they leave the force. 

Despite being the fifth-smallest force in England and Wales, employing less than 1,200 staff, Gloucestershire Constabulary issued 32 NDAs between 2016 and 2020. 

A spokesperson for the force said: “We treat any agreements that contain a confidentiality clause as a ‘non-disclosure agreement’. This includes employment contracts where the protection of information, for example, is required.”

However, no NDAs were issued for this purpose in the time period. Gloucestershire Constabulary also signed NDAs “when an agreement is reached in the process of termination of employment and/or in settlement of legal proceedings”. 

Public Secrecy

“We don’t know exactly how often the police or any other organisation are using what we would say is the inappropriate misuse of NDAs,” Dr Macfarlane told Byline Times.

A Derbyshire Constabulary spokesperson said that the 28 NDAs the force had issued over a five-year period “relate to those in which a member of staff has accepted voluntary redundancy”. However, it is not possible to determine whether they were legitimately used in all cases. 

Dr Macfarlane is concerned about the one-size-fits-all way in which many police forces record NDA use.

“I suspect that there are probably a lot more NDAs signed over misconduct, but I don’t have data to prove this, then there are over trade secrets,” he said. “But, if you lump the two together, then somehow you can always say, well, most of those are for trade secrets, so it’s really important to parse those things out.”

That almost two-thirds of police forces in England and Wales did not respond to Byline Intelligence Team’s Freedom of Information request, raises further transparency concerns. Many, like the Metropolitan Police, argued that it would be too costly to answer, while others, including Hertfordshire Constabulary, refused to respond as doing so could “identify an individual or compromise any civil claim”. 

Police forces are not the only public institutions that spend taxpayers’ money on gagging orders to potentially bury misconduct and silence victims. Nearly a-third of universities between 2016 and 2020 asked students who raised grievances to sign an NDA. But, universities are beginning to clean-up their act: 13 universities recently pledged to stop using NDAs to silence sexual assault victims. 

Politics is also riddled with over-reliance on secrecy agreements: between 2014 and 2019, at least 359,000 people signed confidentiality contracts with councils. Additionally, the House of Commons spent £2.4 million on settlements – with gagging clauses attached – to silence 53 former members of staff. 

This is why Dr Macfarlane, together with Zelda Perkins – the first person to break a confidentiality contract with Harvey Weinstein – has launched ‘Can’t Buy My Silence’, a global campaign to end the misuse of NDAs. It hopes that Parliament will finally pass a law to ban NDAs, proposed by former Prime Minister Theresa May in March 2019, and stop covering-up misconduct. 

The Police Federation did not respond to Byline Times’ request to 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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Polluters Left to Mark their Own Homework Due to Environment Agency Cuts, Warns Whistleblower

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 08/02/2022 - 2:31am in

Polluters Left to Mark Their Own Homework Due to Environment Agency CutsWarns Whistleblower

Andrew Kersley speaks to an insider about how austerity is damaging the regulator, as it battles against unprecedented sewage dumps


An Environment Agency whistleblower has warned that the agency’s “self-destructing” budget cuts and staff shortages have left it unable to scrutinise polluting companies.

The whistleblower told Byline Times that the number of inspectors in his region has dropped by between half and two-thirds – meaning that large companies have been left to self-report their own pollution rates, with the agency unable to verify if they are telling the truth.

The inside source at the Environment Agency, the regulatory body tasked with stopping pollution and protecting the natural environment in England and Wales, spoke exclusively to Byline Times under the condition of anonymity.

Since 2010, the Environment Agency has seen its budget slashed by two-thirds, from £120 million to just £40 million, one of the biggest cuts for any Government body. Its chief executive recently said that staff are now only able to make 9,000 inspections each year across its various responsibilities – while the country has some 15,000 combined sewage overflows (CSOs) alone.

In recent months, CSOs – which are sewage overflows into rivers during periods of unprecedented rainfall – have become a source of controversy as the UK’s privatised water companies used the outlets on an increasingly regular basis. There were 403,171 sewage dumps into England’s rivers and seas in 2020 – representing more than three million hours of spillages.

But, while sewage dumping is hitting record levels, the situation at the Environment Agency is only getting worse. Our insider explained that their operation – responsible for waste in the entirety of one of 12 UK regions – at full strength would comprise 33 people across three teams. Following initial budget cuts, this fell to 19 people in one team, and now he only has 13 inspectors.

Yet budget cutbacks are not the only cause of the staff exodus. Starting salaries for inspectors can also be pretty low (sometimes barely above the minimum wage), while subsidised vehicles to help inspectors visit sites are currently at risk of being cut back, saddling the inspectors with even more costs.

The impact of the lack of staff has been dire. The whistleblower explained that because of the lack of on-the-ground inspectors, the Environment Agency is not able to respond to most low-level incidents. In particular, events reported by the public, that may end up being far more serious than initially suspected, are frequently ignored, with those who made the report being sent generic letters.

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Tom Burke

That inability to inspect incidents means that in many cases, according to the agency insider, staff are reliant on the self-reporting of incidents by the companies themselves.

“The typical category three incident now would be like Southern Water ringing to say we’ve got a sewage spill but we can solve it ourselves and it’s all fine,” the whistleblower explained. “But there’s got to be a time where you go ‘hang on a minute how do you know if it’s not a category two or category one’, which is a genuine big environmentally disastrous type spill.”

Byline Times has previously uncovered that the UK’s water companies have paid a total of £405 million in fines for environmental, water service, workplace health and safety, and labour violations since 2010.

The budget cuts have also affected cases after misdeeds had been proven, with the whistleblower telling Byline Times that many legal cases into polluters have been dropped by the agency’s legal team, not because of a lack of evidence, but a lack of money to go to court against the well-funded lawyers of water companies.

“I worry that we’re almost designing to fail – either self-destructing, or someone’s doing a really good job of making our job really hard,” the insider said.

Commenting on the allegations, an Environment Agency spokesperson said: “The Environment Agency delivers a massive amount for the country – like the rest of the public sector we operate within a tight budget and must prioritise to ensure we are doing the best we can, with the money we have, for the people and places we serve.

“Last year we completed our latest flood defence building programme, better protecting over 300,000 homes alongside responding to hundreds of environmental incidents. We improved air quality by regulating down emissions; enhanced water quality in over 4,500 km of our rivers by tackling pollution, unsustainable abstraction and invasive species; and cut the number of illegal waste sites that blight communities.”

The spokesperson also stressed that the agency targets regulatory and investigative interventions on events that pose the greatest threat to the environment and that every incident was recorded and assessed.



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A Culture of Silence

However, data from the Environment Agency’s National Incident Recording System states that, while 116,000 suspected incidents were reported in 2021, just 8,000 were actually attended – or roughly 6.8%.

“After a decade of Conservative rule, vital services continue to be stripped back thanks to cuts, while the pockets of shareholders are cushioned from any blow and working families made to pay the price,” Shadow Environment Secretary Jim McMahon told Byline Times.

“The system is clearly broken and the Government is refusing to listen to Labour’s calls for higher fines for water companies, proper annual parliamentary scrutiny of [the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs], Ofwat and the Environment Agency, as well as a proper plan for reducing raw sewage being discharged.”

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas added: “The Government is effectively leaving polluters to mark their own homework and send it in to the Environment Agency, a system which clearly isn’t working – which is why so many of our rivers are polluted with sewage and slurry.

“More broadly, there is a deeply worrying pattern of regulators being weakened by underfunding or legal changes, leaving them unable to do their job… A regulatory system which is not independent nor adequately funded is almost as bad as no regulation at all.”

Lucas also told Byline Times that a whistleblower had previously been in touch with her. Indeed, other concerned staff at the Environment Agency have come forward in recent weeks, leading to the regulator’s chief executive, Sir James Bevan, sending a message warning staff against speaking to the media.

Sir James told staff not to “openly criticise or discredit the organisation in the media or on social media” or “disclose any confidential information in connection with the Environment Agency to anyone who is not authorised to received it”. All breaches could lead to disciplinary action or, in serious cases, dismissal.

This warning came after news that the regulator had formally told its inspectors in January to “shut down” and ignore reports of low-impact pollution events as it did not have enough money to properly investigate them.




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Government Releases Private Messages Between Owen Paterson and Matt Hancock Over Randox Contracts

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 04/02/2022 - 10:03am in

Government Releases Private Messages Between Owen Paterson and Matt Hancock Over Randox Contracts

The Government has released correspondence revealing how the former Environment Secretary lobbied ministers


The Government has today been forced to release a tranche of documents revealing for the first time how Owen Paterson lobbied Matt Hancock in relation to contracts awarded to Randox for the supply of COVID-19 tests.

These documents were requested by opposition MPs, after public scrutiny grew over the role of Owen Paterson MP as a paid consultant for the firm.

Paterson stood down as an MP last year after facing suspension from the House of Commons for breaking rules on lobbying.

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson had attempted to rip up the standards system in a bid to overturn Paterson’s suspension, triggering a wave of public anger and an eventual U-turn.

The messages reveal that Paterson corresponded directly with then Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock in January 2020 about the services that Randox could potentially offer in developing COVID-19 tests.

Peter Fitzgerald, referred to below, is the founder and owner of Randox.

After being contacted by Paterson at 9:23pm on 26 January, it appears that Hancock then contacted Fitzgerald just minutes later by email at 9:33pm.

The documents show Paterson again contacting Hancock on 25 February, complaining that “it is now 19 days since [Public Health England] contacted Randox at your request” – calling the attitude of PHE “incomprehensible”.

Hancock then appears to forward Paterson’s concerns to officials, noting that he was “very worried” about the matter and adding that: “If we are treating other companies like this we are failing”.

Paterson repeatedly notes in his messages that he is a paid consultant to Randox.

Information was then provided to Hancock on 1 March about PHE’s approach – noting that NHS-developed tests were being prioritised.

Contracts with Randox were ultimately signed on 30 March, and renewed on 30 September. However, Chief Operating Officer for the Civil Service and Permanent Secretary for the Cabinet Office Alex Chisholm noted that he was “disappointed” that a competitive tendering process had not been established in the meantime, and that directly renewing the Randox contract was the “only viable option”.

The documents provide further details on concerns within government about the voided tests provided by Randox, which reported in the summer of 2020.

The documents also include several messages discussing future potential dealings between Randox and the department, with names redacted.

In one WhatsApp message from the 22 October 2020, an individual asks for help to “kill…once and for all” claims that “you only gave Randox the testing contract because I am a paid consultant.”

The request references a Guardian piece published the day before. An article by the paper’s columnist George Monbiot appeared on that day questioning whether the former Paterson’s role with Randox had helped secure the deal. The individual insists in the message that “I know absolutely nothing about the contract.”

Randox has won a total of £619.7 million in Government contracts since the start of 2020.



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The Department of Health and Social Care said: “As the public would expect, at the start of the pandemic we took every possible step to build the largest diagnostic industry in UK history rapidly and from scratch – which has helped to stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep people safe.

“Building the scale of testing needed at an unprecedented speed required extensive collaboration with businesses, universities, and others, to get the right skills, equipment and logistics in place as quickly as possible. 

“There are robust rules and processes in place to ensure that conflicts of interest do not occur and all contracts are awarded in line with procurement regulations and transparency guidelines. Decisions on whether to award contracts are taken by officials and approved by ministers. The documents given to the House show no evidence of any breach of these principles”.

A Randox spokesperson said: “It is clear from these papers that Randox contracts were awarded in full compliance with Government procedures and protocols in place at a time of the emerging pandemic.   

“The awarding of the contracts reflected Randox’s extensive diagnostics capabilities within the UK and 40 years of experience in that field… Randox’s laboratories expanded rapidly in order to operate at scale and were the first laboratory to report over 100,000 PCR results in a day. It is clear from these papers that the company has delivered a vital and core part of the UK’s testing capacity. Randox remains proud of its performance and delivery of COVID-19 testing throughout the pandemic”.

A spokesperson for Matt Hancock said: “The extensive transparency publication proves Matt did nothing wrong… Matt cannot control who contacts him, but he followed protocol and Owen Paterson’s lobbying was flagged to officials.

“To suggest Matt should have ignored the UK’s biggest existing testing capacity because he was being contacted by Owen Paterson is absurd and would have been a dereliction of duty. Matt is incredibly grateful to Randox for the enormous part they have played in the national effort to combat COVID”.

Owen Paterson has been approached for comment.




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Firms Employing MPs Won £1.1 Billion in Contracts During Pandemic

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 27/01/2022 - 8:00pm in

Firms Employing MPsWon £1.1 Billion in Contracts During Pandemic

Andrew Kersley tracks the public sector deals awarded to companies that have MPs on their payroll


Ten companies received more than £1.1 billion in Government contracts during the Coronavirus pandemic while employing Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs as advisors or non-executive directors, Byline Times can reveal.

This includes one company that was awarded hundreds of millions in contracts despite the Government previously being advised to put a three year hold on awarding it any contracts due to allegations of “recurring professional misconduct”.

The data, sourced by Tussell, covers the period from January 2020 to December 2021 and gives an insight into the public contracts awarded to firms that are advised by MPs.

Responding to the investigation, opposition figures warned that the data was further evidence of a “cash-for-access culture” in Government.

The second-largest beneficiary was ‘big four’ accountancy firm Ernst & Young (EY), awarded £378.6 million in Government contracts between January 2020 and December 2021. During this period, the company was employing Conservative backbench MP and former chief whip Andrew Mitchell, who was paid £30,000 as a consultant in return for up to five days of work each year.

Allpay, a payment solution company, received £79.9 million in Government contracts. It employs backbench Conservative MP Bill Wiggin as a non-executive director, paying him £4,000 a year for only 10 hours of work.

Transport company Abellio (which is wholly owned by the Dutch Government) received £18 million for contracts, while employing former Cabinet Minister Damian Green as a consultant. Abellio paid the Conservative MP £40,000 for 24 hours of work a month.

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Former Conservative Leader and Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith received £20,000 annually until November 2021 for 30 hours of work a year as an advisory board member to healthcare digital healthcare giant Tunstall Healthcare. Between January 2020 and his departure, the company received £14 million in Government contracts.

HR software and outscoring service MHR received £9.5 million between May 2021 and December 2021, while it was paying Conservative MP Ruth Edwards £5,000 a month for 16 hours of work.

Law firm Weightmans LLP received £2.5 million in Government contracts between January 2020 and January 2021, during which time backbench Conservative MP Robert Neill served as a consultant, earning £15,000 a year for six hours of work a month.

Sigma Pharmaceuticals, taxi company Veezu, and law firm Herbert Smith Freehills all received less than £1 million in Government contracts during the pandemic, while employing Conservative MPs Steve Brine and Alun Cairns and Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey as paid advisors.

A spokesperson for Veezu said: “Veezu is awarded public sector contracts through a standard and regulated procurement process. Many of the contracts in the private hire operator sector are invariably ‘framework’ agreements of which Veezu will be one of a number of suppliers.” 

The total figure also includes £619 million in contracts awarded to the healthcare firm Randox since the start of 2020, formerly and controversially advised by ex-Conservative MP Owen Paterson.

Randox has insisted that Paterson had no role to play in these contracts, though the Government ‘lost’ the minutes of a meeting held between Paterson, Randox and then-Health Minister Lord James Bethell at the outset of the pandemic. Paterson resigned from Parliament in November over the scandal surrounding his private sector lobbying.

Seven of the MPs employed by these companies had previously served in government. Overall, the 10 companies received £1.1 billion in Government contracts during the pandemic while being advised by MPs.



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Power and Impropriety

Despite receiving such a bounty in contracts, EY has a chequered history. The company is currently reportedly facing a £1 billion lawsuit for its alleged failures during audits of UAE healthcare company NMC Health, as well as an investigation over its audit of UK hedge fund London Capital Finance.

Prominent campaign group Spotlight on Corruption called on EY to be banned from bidding on public contracts for three years in November 2020 due to “recurring professional misconduct”.

Just last summer, EY was fined £3.5 million for failures in its audit of transport firm Stagecoach’s East Coast Rail franchise in 2017, which would go on to collapse and be forced to be renationalised the next year.

His job with EY was also far from the only consultancy role taken on by Andrew Mitchell. The Conservative MP for Sutton Coldfield, who lost his role in Government as Chief Whip in 2012, earned £155,600 from consultancy jobs last year. He has since left two of the roles, including the one at EY, after his multiple extra jobs became a subject of controversy in November.

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Indeed, the second jobs of MPs have been in the spotlight after former MP Owen Paterson was found to have breached parliamentary rules by lobbying ministers on behalf of two private firms. A public backlash occurred after the Government attempted to defend Paterson – leading to his resignation from Parliament.

There is no evidence that any of the companies mentioned have won Government contracts as a direct result of lobbying on behalf of individual MPs. However, it does show the intermingling of the private and public realms, of the sort that caused such an outcry in the Paterson case.

Fleur Anderson, Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Office Minister, said Byline Times’ findings were “a further reminder of the cash-for-access culture the Tories have established at the heart of Government”.

“Labour would ban MPs having paid consultancy and directorship roles and set up an independent integrity and ethics commission to ensure government always works in the interests of the British public,” she added.

Aside from Veezu, none of the other MPs or companies responded to Byline Times’ requests for comment.




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The post Firms Employing MPs Won £1.1 Billion in Contracts During Pandemic appeared first on Byline Times.

Experts Raise Alarm Over Prison Overcrowding as Government Pursues Draconian Crime Bill

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 26/01/2022 - 4:40am in

Experts Raise Alarm Over Prison Overcrowdingas Government Pursues Draconian Crime Bill

Sascha Lavin explores the ticking time-bomb at the heart of the criminal justice system


Overcrowding has persisted in prisons despite COVID-19 measures to reduce inmate populations, new analysis by the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal, as experts warn that these figures “raise serious questions as to what happens next”.

The issue continues as the Government’s Police, Sentencing and Courts Bill aims to introduce longer prison sentences for non-violent crimes such as vandalising statues.

Analysis of Ministry of Justice data found that, despite efforts to reduce the number of prisoners sharing cells in England and Wales in order to stop the spread of the Coronavirus, by November 2021 there was only a 7% decrease in the percentage of prisoners held in crowded accommodation compared to pre-pandemic levels. 

Even as the country entered the second wave of the pandemic, 18,672 prisoners continued to share cells designed for fewer people.

Experts have expressed concerns about the future of prisons in England and Wales. Overcrowding in cells has been linked to an increase in poor mental health as thousands of prisoners must eat, sleep and use the toilet in one shared space. Overcrowding has also been linked to increased rates of violence, suicide and self-harm. 

COVID Inaction

Public Health England urged the Government in April 2020 to reduce it by 15,000 prisoners. Healthcare officials advised that an end to sharing cells was the most effective protection against the virus. 

Within six months of the warning, however, there were only 4,005 fewer people in prison, falling more than 10,000 short of the recommended reduction.

Research by Nuffield Trust subsequently found that COVID-19 case rates were higher in prison than in the general population. Between the start of the pandemic and the end of December 2021, there was an average of 75 cases per 1,000 population in prison, compared to 46 cases per 1,000 in England and Wales overall. By the end of 2021, 177 prisoners had died either having tested positive for COVID-19 or where there was a clinical assessment that the virus was a contributory factor in their deaths. 

Despite these high case rates, the Ministry of Justice only released 275 prisoners under its early release scheme. The scheme, which ran from April to August 2020, promised to avoid high COVID infection rates in the prison estate by temporarily releasing prisoners.

As a result, some prisoners were forced to spend up to 23 hours a day in cramped conditions, leading the Independent Monitoring Board to question whether the policy was “fair or humane”. Its report on HMP Bullingdon highlighted that, for 23 hours a day, more than 500 prisoners were eating meals and using the toilet in shared cells designed for one. 

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Hardeep Matharu

Compounding a Crisis

Before the Coronavirus pandemic, overcrowding has been an increasingly serious issue in the prison system. In 2018, 71 prisons in England and Wales were operating at overcrowded levels, and 20,695 prisoners were found to be living in crowded conditions. 

The pandemic presented a chance to help relieve the pressure on the system with early release schemes. But, according to Dr Nasrul Ismail, a lecturer in criminology at the University of Bristol, the Government’s inaction was “a missed opportunity to lessen the overcrowding issues in prisons”. 

“While it was claimed there was a duty to maintain public confidence in the criminal justice system, this consideration was peculiar, especially since the decision endangered prisoners, prison staff, and the public,” Dr Ismail told Byline Times

Now, with a backlog in the criminal justice system, plans to increase the number of prison places and a bill that seeks longer custodial sentences for some non-violent crimes, there are concerns that not only was overcrowding not addressed during the pandemic, it is on course to become a greater issue in the future.  

Of the statistics revealed by the Byline Intelligence Team, Andrew Neilson, campaigns director at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “These figures not only show that many prisons are still bedevilled by overcrowding but raise serious questions as to what happens next.”

The prison population of England and Wales was 79,086 as of 7 January 2022 and is projected to increase by a quarter to 98,500 by 2027, figures released by the Ministry of Justice show. This marks a dramatic jump from pre-pandemic trends: in August 2018, the MoJ predicted a 4% rise in prisoner numbers over five years. 

The Government has promised to tackle overcrowding in prisons by creating 20,000 new prison places. However, experts contest the logic of this, arguing that this risks exacerbating the issue. 

“Building new prisons leads to more imprisonment, which does nothing to address the existing overcrowding issue,” Dr Ismail told Byline Times. “Given the previous political announcements of additional police resourcing, the extension of stop and search, and increased sentences for serious offenders, overcrowding will continue to persist.”

The Private-Public Divide

Data analysed by the Byline Intelligence Team also suggests that, as of November 2021, 77% of private prisons were overcrowded, while only 56% of their public counterparts were. Private prisons were also found to be slower at reducing overcrowding during the pandemic, according to MoJ data. 

Although there was a small improvement in overcrowding in all prisons between November 2019 and November 2021, the number of overcrowded public prisons reduced by 25%, whereas overcrowding reduced by just 10% in the private sector. 

In the year to March 2021, rates of overcrowding were highest in male local prisons, which are more likely to be run privately, with 45.6% of these prisoners held in crowded accommodation.

A 2020 report by Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee also warned that overcrowding can contribute to high levels of violence in prisons. 

During the pandemic, violence in prisons was significantly reduced, as restrictive measures meant that prisoners were in their cells for up to 23 hours a day. But further analysis by the Byline Intelligence Team reveals that private prisons have proven more violent than public jails.

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In 2020, there were 70 more prisoner-on-prisoner assaults per 10,000 prisoners in private adult prisons in England and Wales compared to their publicly run counterparts. 

In 104 publicly-run adult jails, there was an average population of 68,327 with 10,868 assaults: 1,590 per 10,000 prisoners. In contrast, in the 13 privately-run adult prisons, there was an average of 1,660 assaults per 10,000 prisoners. 

The Byline Intelligence Team also found that over the past decade, four out of five most dangerous prisons in England and Wales – based on the number of serious violent assaults – were privately run. Over the 10-year period from 2010, Forest Bank, Doncaster, Parc, and Altcourse prisons recorded 3,251 serious assaults. 

The latest HMIP report of Doncaster prison, for instance, concluded that the Serco-run jail was “badly overcrowded” and “overall levels of violence were higher than in similar prisons”. 

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We carefully monitor the prison population and adjust our plans when necessary to ensure that we will always have sufficient capacity. Our £4 billion prison building programme is the largest in more than a century and will deliver an additional 20,000 by the mid-2020s. Our spending review settlement included an extra £250 million to fund up to 2,000 temporary places while new prisons are built.”

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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