Category Archives: NHS

Covid-19 Lockdown – Week 1

While the new coronavirus was spreading across China and then Italy and Spain, the UK, under our Brexit-obsessed and otherwise dysfunctional government, went about it’s business as usual. When it did arrive on our shores the plan seems to have been to allow people – expected to reach 60% of the population – to get the disease so that a ‘herd’, and they actually used that word, immunity would emerge. It appeared that the vulnerable people in the herd would have to take their chances.

The one day someone did the sums. Not difficult. With a population of about seventy million and the overall mortality rate of 1-2% it means that the number expected to need hospital treatment far exceeds the capacity of the NHS. It’s even worse for older people, with a mortality rate of around 3% for 60-year olds up to 15% for those in their 80s. Hence the change of tack. At long last Johnson’s government faced up to the potential disaster and did what most other countries had already done. Clearly with reluctance, ‘suggested’ restrictions on movement were introduced until, finally, at the start of this week we entered the nearest thing to a lockdown that a Conservative government could conceive.

This is a nasty virus. Coughing and a fever are the initial symptoms and for the young and fit this can be very mild. But the older and more vulnerable the patient the more likely it is that shortness of breath will follow to the extent that a patient may require a ventilator to help them survive. But it emerged that, along with protective equipment for NHS staff, there is a significant shortage of ventilators, with only a few thousand available to the NHS where tens of thousands will be needed.

This is where the Tory government showed it’s true colours. When existing suppliers of ventilators offered to provide all the machines they had access to, the suggestion was not taken up. Nor did it the government agree to be part of a combined EU purchasing programme which would have speeded up delivery. Instead, Conservative-supporting manufacturers were enlisted to start producing ventilators from scratch. The worst example is the case of Dyson, the vacuum cleaner manufacturer, who’s founder, James Dyson, has been an avid Conservative fan. Dyson is a vocal supporter of Brexit, despite having moved his manufacturing base from Wiltshire to Singapore in 2002 and last year announced plans for his HQ to follow. His company is known for redesigning the wheel into something a lot more expensive. This ventilator redesign, funded by our government, will cause a delay and cost lives.

Now I’m seventy years old and more at risk of a bad outcome from coronavirus than the majority of the population. It’s not that I’m afraid of dying. I would prefer a few more years but I quite accept that there are many people that are more of a priority than me. But I don’t want to die gasping for breath because no ventilator is available, particularly if that’s due to many years of chronic underfunding of the NHS and putting business the way of your chums. If I die, the fault lies fairly and squarely with consecutive Conservative governments who have failed to give the NHS the funding it needs, seek every opportunity to favour their supporters and have cut corners on disaster planning ‘red tape’.

How did we end up like this? Why do people keep voting Tory?

NHS = No Health Secrets?

NHSSo there’s a plan afoot to upload all your NHS records to a central database. That’s not such a bad idea if it means that anyone who treats you has immediate access to your complete medical history.  In fact that was the idea behind the National Programme for IT, a multi-billion pound programme which was ignominiously abandoned a couple of years ago.

This time round it’s different because it’s not being done for clinical reasons. In a leaflet sent out with the junk mail you get through the post, the NHS says that the data will be used to see how well the organisation itself is doing and where improvements need to be made. It avoids spelling out exactly who will get access to the information, but does say that:

NHS organisations share information about the care you receive with those who plan health and social care services, as well as with approved researchers and organisations outside the NHS(my emphasis).

‘Approved researchers’ could include insurance companies, pharmaceutical corporations and the like.

The data uploaded will need to be able to identify you personally so that the information from various NHS sources can be brought together. But the leaflet tries to reassure readers:

Records are linked in a secure system so your identity is protected. Details that could identify you will be removed before your information is made available to others, such as those planning NHS services and approved researchers.

Even if the database itself is secure (and the Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden cases suggest that putting large amounts of data together in one place where lots of people can access it is an invitation to leak) it doesn’t mean that the information in it will stay private.

Mark Davies, the Public Assurance (sic) Director of the Health and Social Care Information Centre, which is running the project, even admitted to the Guardian newspaper that there was a “small risk” that patients could be “re-identified” because health sector companies had their own medical data that could be matched against the “pseudonymised” records. Who’s he kidding? By now we all know that there is much more information stored on each of us than anyone cares to admit and companies will soon be working flat out to match it all up with our medical histories.

The leaflet says you have to speak to your GP practice to opt out of your records being passed on in this way. But in fact all you need to do is fill in a form and deliver it to your surgery. There’s a web site – medConfidential – where you can download a form.

If you value your medical privacy you should fill it in.

What particularly galls me about all this is that the information has been sent out in junk mail.  If you’ve opted out of receiving these unaddressed Royal Mail deliveries then you may never have known what’s going on and of course your medical records will be uploaded by default. I only found out from John Naughton‘s weekly column in the Observer, which I would recommend for those that have an interest in how technology is impacting all our lives, whether we like it or not.