Day: 16 April 2021

Royal College of Nursing Comes Out against Mandatory Vaccination for Health and Social Care Staff

Health and social care staff should not be “coerced” into having a Covid vaccine, says the Royal College of Nursing (RCN). The union, which boasts a membership of 450,000 registered nurses, has encouraged all staff to take a vaccine but says that those who decide not to should be supported. In some cases, however, it notes that it may be “appropriate for employers to consider redeploying [those who choose not to take the vaccine] to lower risk areas”. In a statement, the RNC said there are “serious concerns around mandating vaccines”.

Like the wider population, health and care staff are a diverse group and there are both physical and societal barriers for some on the take up for the vaccine. 

The RCN do not support staff being made or coerced into having the vaccine. Staff vaccination should not be used as part of staff contracts, it should not be a condition of employment or part of employment contracts, linked to terms and conditions of employment or to pay.

The RCN do not believe that this approach is effective in improving uptake of vaccination in staff. The RCN recommend that all organisations have a proactive approach and make sure their staff have easy access to the vaccine within the working day. Staff should also have access to support with the right information, encouragement and clear explanation of the benefit and value of the vaccine. These measures will help to achieve a high vaccine uptake.

In their supplementary guidance to the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002, the HSE say that employers should explain the advantages and disadvantages of immunisation versus non-immunisation. Immunisation should be seen only as a useful supplement to reinforce physical and procedural control measures, not as the sole protective measure. 

The HSE adds that employees may not wish to take up the offer of immunisation, or they may not respond to a vaccine and will, therefore, not be immune. If so, employers should consider the effectiveness of the other controls and consider whether any additional controls should be implemented to allow them to work safely.

If RCN members decide they do not want the vaccine the reasons should be explored. If they remain anxious about having the vaccine, the RCN would support their decision. It may be appropriate for employers to consider redeploying them to lower risk areas.

The Government is currently conducting a consultation on making Covid vaccinations mandatory for care home staff working with elderly residents. As it stands, the vaccine rates among staff at older adult care homes are below SAGE’s recommended level in more than half of England’s local authorities.

The RCN’s statement is worth reading in full.

Cost of Covid Tests for Holidaymakers Still Too High, Says Travel Firm

When overseas travel returns this summer, holidaymakers – including those travelling to countries on the Government’s “green list” – will have to take at least one Covid test. Unfortunately, these don’t come cheap, with the average cost sitting at around £120 per person, per test. This, clearly, is enough to price out many families from holidays abroad. Competition between the companies offering PCR test kits is bringing prices down, but slowly. Randox, a firm based in Northern Ireland, has halved the cost of its kit to £60. Even then, testing costs will still add almost £250 to the holiday bill for a family of four (returning from a “green list” country).

The Chief Operating Officer at Hays Travel says that £60 is still too high and that the Government should step in to help make the cost of testing more manageable. Sky News has the story.

The cost of Covid tests for holidaymakers should be cut to £30 to encourage people to start travelling again, a boss at one of Britain’s biggest travel chains has told Sky News.

Jonathan Woodall, chief operating officer at Hays Travel, said that the current price of up to £200 for PCR tests was too high and will be a “barrier for customers” as restrictions ease next month.

He said the Government should help bring the cost down…

Industry figures including easyJet boss Johan Lundgren have said that the rule [on testing] threatens to price ordinary travellers out of returning to the skies.

Speaking to Sky’s Ian King Live, Mr Woodall said the cost of the tests would “cause a barrier” – especially for families looking at total bills of around £600 for the tests.

“We are hoping that Government will help us get those tests reduced,” he added.

Jonathan Woodall said that Randox’s price reduction was a step in the right direction but that the figure should be lower still.

From our point of view, we would like to see that price to be around £30, we think that would be acceptable…

It’s important that we can get our industry back to some normality, it’s important the customers can start to travel.

Worth reading in full.

Matt Hancock Owns Shares in NHS Contract Firm

hancock.jpg

The Government has been accused of “cronyism” after it emerged that the Health Secretary owns shares in an NHS contract-winning firm which his sister is also connected to. BBC News has the story.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock owns shares in a company which was approved as a potential supplier for NHS trusts in England…

In March, [Matt Hancock] declared he had acquired more than 15% of Topwood Ltd, which was granted the approved status in 2019.

The firm, which specialises in the secure storage, shredding and scanning of documents, also won £300,000 of business from NHS Wales this year.

A Government spokesman said there had been no conflict of interest. …

Mr Hancock declared in the MPs’ register of interests that he had acquired more than 15% of the shares in Topwood, under a “delegated management arrangement”.

Public contract records show that the NHS in England awarded the company a place in its Shared Business Services framework as a potential supplier for local trusts in 2019, the year after Mr Hancock became Health Secretary.

The MPs’ register did not mention that his sister Emily Gilruth – involved in the firm since its foundation in 2002 – owns a larger portion of the shares and is a director, or that Topwood has links to the NHS – as first reported by the Guido Fawkes blog and Health Service Journal (HSJ).

University Students Increasingly Frustrated by Having to Pay Full Fees in Spite of No Face-to-Face Tuition For Best Part of a Year

University students should not be charged their full fees because of the level of disruption caused to learning by almost a year of heavy lockdown restrictions, according to a group of students who are calling for a “day of action” to highlight the matter. An online petition calling for tuition fees to be reduced has received almost 600,000 signatures. BBC News has the story.

A group of university students are calling for a day of action to demand fee refunds because of how Covid has affected their learning experience.

The Write Off, Right Now (WORN) group, led by three University of Bristol students, wants April 16th to be used to apply pressure to the Government.

It said online learning did not provide the same value for money and students should not be charged their full fees.

The Government has previously said fees must be paid in full for remote study…

WORN is encouraging students across the country to “take over” social media on April 16th to spread the message about what they say is an unfair decision to charge full fees for those studying remotely during lockdown, when in-person classes have been banned.

An online petition, calling for tuition fees to be cut from £9,250 to £3,000, has now received more than 580,000 signatures. 

And while the National Union of Students has not called for tuition fee rebates, or a reduction in fees, it is pressing for the creation of hardship funds to be large enough to meet demand.

Student and WORN campaign leader Lianna Denwood said it was time for the government to “take ownership” of the situation and recognise students “haven’t been provided with the education they were sold”.

One of WORN’s leading members, Scott Weavers, has said that it would be “morally unfair” for students to be forced to pay their tuition fees in full.

We were promised when we signed up for university that we would receive sufficient access to facilities, course equipment and social contact to help us achieve our degrees.

This year we have acquired anything but that standard, and yet we’re still expected to pay full price.

The onus, they say, is on the Government to “help students” since universities “do not have the financial ability to compensate their entire student population”.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The petition to reduce university student tuition fees from £9,250 to £3,000 has received a response from the Government. No prizes for those who guessed that this reduction is not under consideration!

Tuition fee levels must represent value for money and ensure that universities are properly funded. Government is not considering a reduction in maximum fee levels to £3,000.

Read the full response here.

Let’s Show Vaccine Passports For Football Games the Red Card

Yesterday, the Spectator published a piece by me setting out the case against linking the reopening of sports venues to vaccine passports, something I’m particularly concerned about because the one thing I’ve missed more than anything else in the past year is going to QPR games with my son Charlie. Today, I’ve composed a more detailed version of that case. Here’s an extract:

Would it be too much to ask the Government to monitor the risk of allowing sporting venues to reopen in other parts of the world without an accompanying Covid status certification scheme, such as in Texas and Florida?

Better yet, why not just look at the data from the NFL Super Bowl, which took place in Florida on February 7th, at the height of the ‘second wave’? 25,000 fans were admitted, along with 12,000 staff, and even though only a third of fans had been vaccinated at the time, health officials have only found three people who were infected as a result of attending the game. Three in 37,000. Why don’t the clubs tell that to the fans if they’re worried they’ll be too paranoid to come to games if they’re not asked to show vaccine passports at the gate? I reckon most of us will happily take those odds. Three in 37,000 sounds a lot like QPR’s win rate for the last few seasons.

Please do read it in full and forward to your MP.

News Round Up

Is the Government Levelling With Us About the Vaccines?

In an unfortunate piece of timing for the Prime Minister, who on Tuesday told the nation that vaccines aren’t helping cut infections (which is a funny way of encouraging people to get one), on Wednesday a new study appeared from NHS England and the University of Manchester that reassuringly confirmed the vaccines do in fact appear to be highly effective. The Telegraph summarised the findings.

New research from NHS England and the University of Manchester showed the stark difference in cases, admissions and deaths for elderly people who had been vaccinated compared to those who had not.

In a large study involving more than 170,000 people, researchers had scrupulously case-matched participants to make sure the results were not skewed by underlying conditions, sex or geographical location.

The results show that far from having little impact, the rate of Covid-related hospital admissions fell by 75% in vaccinated 80 to 83 year-olds within 35 to 41 days of their first dose of the Pfizer jab. The rate of people getting Covid dropped by 70%, with the number of positive tests falling from 15.3 per 100,000 people to 4.6. …

The figures also suggest the link between infections and admissions has also been broken by the vaccine programme.

While nearly 40% of unvaccinated people who were infected ended up in hospital, only 32% of the vaccinated cohort did.

This is encouraging, and with antibody levels in the country running at 55% at the end of March, and levels highest in older people, it is not surprising to hear this is having an impact on infections.

However, what I find frustrating about studies like this one is that there are some glaring problems that most people, including the authors, seem content just to gloss over. Look at those graphs above. Isn’t there something obviously wrong with them? Look at the left hand side. The lines don’t start from the same place. The unvaccinated control group starts (on day 4) with much higher incidence, even though that is way before the vaccine is supposed to have any effect (the researchers agree on this point – they keep vaccinated people in the unvaccinated control group until 14 days after the jab).

The researchers say they have checked that the two groups do not have different levels of exposure risk (and include a graph to prove it). But why then at the start do the unvaccinated appear to have twice the rate of positive cases? If we were to normalise both curves to start at the same point, the size of the “vaccine effect” would be considerably reduced. There is also the oddity of the vaccinated group appearing to be starting an upturn in cases after day 40.

A second noteworthy point is that there is a spike in Covid infections in the two weeks following the first jab. So pronounced is it in the hospitalisations graph that for several days the vaccinated are hospitalised at a greater rate than the unvaccinated, even though they start at a lower rate. This post-vaccination infection spike has been observed in almost all of the vaccine studies to date, particularly with the Pfizer vaccine, as Dr Clare Craig has noted in the BMJ. One unanswered question in this study is how this spike may have affected the incidence in the control group if people were being kept in that group until 14 days after being vaccinated – was it elevating it?

This is not the only recent study to have issues like these. Another one (which also shows the vaccines being highly effective) is the large population study in Israel that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine at the end of February. This one provides its full data tables so we can see exactly how Covid incidence changed over the study period. Below is the incidence of symptomatic Covid infections per 100,000 people by days since Pfizer vaccination (note that by the last few days of the study very few were left in it owing to most of the people in the control group having been vaccinated, making the data noisy).