Good afternoon and welcome to my regular South West Surrey email update No. 71. As of today, we have a total of 394,257 positive cases of COVID-19 with sadly 41,777 confirmed deaths in the UK. There have been 5,656confirmed cases in Surrey, 558 confirmed cases in Waverley and currently an estimated 93 active cases in Waverley. All data is accurate as of 11am this morning.
Going in the wrong direction? This morning the Chief Medical and Chief Scientific Officers, Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, outlined the latest statistics on the increased transmission of COVID-19. No new restrictions were announced but what they did say was that we are entering a critical moment. Graphs showing what happened in France and Spain were used to show the risks. The message was if we do not ‘change direction’ we could be seeing 50,000 cases a day by mid-October and 200 plus deaths per day in November (the slides with all the data can be found here). The Prime Minister is expected to address the nation tomorrow and set out what that change in direction will be - most people think everything will be on the table except stopping people going to schools and offices. In better news Sir Patrick sounded reasonably confident of getting a vaccine into circulation by the end of the year (in ‘limited quantities’). Part of the purpose of the briefing was to stress the importance of the social distancing guidelines including the new ‘rule of 6’ with draconian £10k fines for breaches being floated in the Sunday papers. Overall I thought it was a pretty impressive and convincing performance.
Test, Track and Trace While the pandemic is growing in the UK at an alarming rate Britain’s Test, Track and Trace system continues to creak at the seams, with the number of people receiving their test results within 24 hours falling further behind. Local schools are finding it particularly hard - one I know of has had a COVID case and is desperately trying to get more tests but will only be allocated more in 3 weeks’ time. I am on the case with all of these issues but as we see cases rise locally these kinds of delays are immensely frustrating. In some better news, the NHS Test and Trace app is due to be launched on Thursday. The app will help support the test and trace programme and provide medical advice to people who may be suffering from the virus. I gave my verdict on the testing issues in a broad ranging interview with Laura Kuenssberg last week. You can listen to the full interview here or hear a one minute clip here.
Lone Births In yesterday’s Mail of Sunday, I wrote about the traumatic fact that thousands of women face having to give birth alone because of COVID-19 restrictions - at the same time up to 6 people are allowed to go to the pub. The government released guidance earlier this month to try to address this but not all hospitals are complying. There are genuine patient safety issues here - keeping higher risk BAME mothers safe for example - but surely this can be solved? On the theme of maternity safety I also wrote for the Daily Mail on Friday about the ridiculous situation where we pay more in compensation bills for mistakes in maternity care than the entire cost of every maternity doctor and nurse in the country - it followed Thursday’s World Patient Safety Day. As I mentioned then, anyone who would like to sign up to my weekly patient safety email can do so here.
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WHAT’S GOING ON IN WESTMINSTER
Last Thursday Baroness Harding (Dido Harding is in charge of NHS Track and Trace) updated the Science and Technology Select Committee on the challenges facing NHS Test and Trace. There are a mixture of issues facing the current system, including a finite number of tests, miss-calculations in the number of tests required and general teething problems. In fairness Baroness Harding did lay out pretty clearly the steps she and her team are taking to fix these growing number of issues and how they plan to get a grip on the situation. Steps being taken include daily testing reports so the government and management can identify specific areas and labs that are underperforming. But the root issue is demand outstripping the undoubted increases in capacity that are taking place - and the worry in parts of the country like ours that see infections rising but testing capacity still concentrated in the North.
WHAT’S GOING ON IN SOUTH WEST SURREY
New planning laws being considered by the government continue to cause worry. I have spoken recently to Cllr Carole Cockburn and Cllr John Ward, Waverley leader and today caught up with David Howell, Chairman of the Planning Committee of the Farnham Society. The principal concerns are about the potential loss of localism after the huge effort put in by Carole and others to the Neighbourhood Plan. But there are other issues including the risk that it will not address the need for affordable housing nor deal with landbanking by developers. The price of new houses is set by the price of current houses and these proposals will do little to bring in the lower price starter homes we need. Another real concern is the pressure on the Green Belt/AONBs if Waverley has to increase its housing permissions by potentially 40%. I am not the only Surrey or South Eastern MP with these concerns and will be taking them to Robert Jenrick. I fully support the need to do more to help younger people get onto the housing ladder, but this seems a set of reforms full of unintended consequences.
Spelthorpe on warning list While not directly effecting any local residents nearby Spelthorne Borough has now been placed on the government’s Covid-19 watchlist and is officially an ‘area of concern’. Being an ‘area of concern’ does not mean there will be a local lockdown or closures at this stage, but it does mean that residents must be extra vigilant and follow government guidelines to stop the spread of coronavirus. So don’t forget if you have Coronavirus symptoms – a persistent cough, high fever, or a change in smell or taste – then you should book a test by calling 119 or by visiting www.nhs.co.uk/coronavirus. Slots are made available the evening before for morning appointments, and in the morning for afternoon appointments.
Climate Change Service It was great to hear that so many people attended the ‘virtual’ Climate Sunday service at Parish of Badshot Lea and Hale. If you couldn’t join the event live, you can re-watch the whole service here.
I have been compiling a list of local groups working to support vulnerable residents. You can view them on this link.
THE ECONOMY AND JOBS
Choo choo…The Transport Secretary today announced that emergency contracts signed at the start of the pandemic would be extended for another 18 months in a multi-billion-pound investment. This is needed because passenger numbers dropped to just 4 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in April before recovering to between 30 and 40% now - still a massive hole in train operating company finances. But it is making it delightfully easy to find a seat for anyone who is venturing onto the railway.
Support for those isolating. Very sensibly the government has announced additional financial support for people who cannot work because they are required to self-isolate. From this week you will be able to claim a £500 lump sum from the government if you can prove that you are unable to work. To be eligible, individuals will need to be employed or self-employed; unable to work from home and will lose income as a result, and; currently in receipt of Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit, income-based Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit and/or Pension Credit.
WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON
Sasha Swire’s diary’s The Westminster village has been gripped by the serialisation of former Conservative Minister Sir Hugo Swire’s wife, Sasha’s diaries. Filled to the brim with gossip from the Cameron years, I think it is safe to say the Swire’s may be receiving fewer Christmas cards this year. I am rather relieved I did not know her - but do not escape totally unscathed. You can hear me talking about the diaries on the BBC Newscast here.
And finally, an amazing bit of history from the archives. The first ever video recording of Parliament in action from 1968. Taking place in the House of Lords we learn all about the proposed construction of Stansted airport.