It’s Decision Time
So far the Government has dealt with this crisis by responding to events rather than presenting its own strategy.
Concern that the NHS would be overrun led to an impressive focus on expanding intensive care capacity. But NHS staff rightly complained they lacked PPE. Testing went on the back burner. The care sector – residents, workers and homes – was not prioritised.
Now ministers are trying to play catch up with varying degrees of success. Overall, we are not in a good place. With identified Covid-19 deaths nearing 30,000 we are on course to have the worst mortality rates outside the USA. The true number of victims of the virus is likely to be much greater given the lack of testing thus far.
I am surprised that there has not been more reaction to this level of fatalities. Lurid stories appeared in the media here when first China then Italy then Spain were seen hubs of the pandemic. There is a fascination in reporting the Science v Trump drama being played out in the US, like a re-run of the Scopes trial a century on.
But the catastrophe that is happening in many streets and every town in the UK is under-reported or at least understated. Perhaps this is the Blitz spirit reasserting itself 80 years on, but it feels like a return to the D-notice.
I have three main concerns. The first is that we haven’t got the virus under control. The second – which follows from the first – is that we don’t have an exit strategy from lockdown. And the third is that we are not going to learn the lessons from this crisis and thereby will perpetuate it.
We are very good at emergency care, but one in three people who go into hospital with the virus dies. We have to control it and we can’t do that forever by lockdown or the economy will collapse and people will suffer in a hundred different ways. Testing, tracing and isolating has worked elsewhere, but there is little sign of it operating on a viable scale here.
More leadership is needed. To make sure everyone who needs PPE gets it. To devise and publish a way forward and to identify those who are suffering most and who need support most.
I don’t think the Prime Minister’s most recent statement meets these tests. He said that in a week’s time we will get a ’roadmap, a menu of options’. That sounds like more buying time and hedging of bets.
He says he wants to ‘suppress the disease and at the same time restart the economy’. So do we all, but where are the concrete steps needed to resolve the tension between those two contradictory goals?
Convoluted metaphors about mountains (or sombreros) don’t help. Advocating use of face masks as ‘useful’ days after Cabinet colleagues and medical advisers said there was ‘weak evidence’ for them is confusing.
I hope he will listen to constructive criticism and proposals including those coming from Keir Starmer. We need him to stop commentating from the sidelines and start leading from the front.
The front line
This is a very unequal virus. It strikes down the old and the vulnerable. But it also disproportionately puts at risk those on low incomes, those who can’t achieve social distancing and people from minority and marginalised groups.
This week the Sutton Trust showed how the effects of schools being closed could set back what progress has been made on helping poorer children by 20 years.
We know the risks to NHS staff, but these are shared by care workers, some on minimum wage or zero hours contracts. They are part of a substantial part of the workforce who feel they must go to work to keep essential services running or have to go to work because they have no money coming in despite the various government schemes.
What good is it giving advice on self-isolating at home to families where four or five people share one bedroom, or worse share communal facilities in hostels with several other families?
Sadly, we have lost more good people to the virus. I have just heard Jermaine Wright, senior pharmacy technician at Hammersmith Hospital, died in hospital earlier this week. Jermaine joined the Trust’s pharmacy team in March 2015, after many years working at the Royal Brompton and, prior to that, Great Ormond Street Hospital. He was well known to staff across the Trust for his expertise, precision, kindness and pride in his work.
Walter Harris, who with his wife Suzanna were stalwart supporters of the Save our Hospitals campaign, also died last week in Charing Cross Hospital. Walter was a charming and funny man with a passion for the NHS. Suzanna writes ‘he was diagnosed as having the virus ‘mildly’ but then went downhill quickly. He was looked after very kindly and made comfortable. Thank goodness for Charing Cross’.
To which I add thank goodness for all the frontline staff whether at the NHS, the council, shops and supermarkets, collecting our bins and providing homecare.
This pandemic has exposed both the inequality and the ramshackle services that the UK now endures after ten years of austerity and considerably more of fracturing and fraying the welfare state.
We were not in a position to respond to the crisis. We will be left with a deeply divided society at the end of it. We will need an effort on the scale of the New Deal, or the Marshall Plan to get out of it. I hope we have the politicians we need to deliver that.
Let’s have some good news. The human spirit always triumphs, but it relies on the competent and dedicated actions of those who make public services work. I am in regular contact with those who are doing the heavy lifting locally. We have a wonderful local NHS, but we also have great people in the town hall organising social care – making sure there is enough PPE, that testing is happening in our homes for staff and residents and trying their best to keep people safe and well.
600 people have tested positive in H&F, roughly 200 are in Imperial hospitals, 85 of them in intensive care. There is a noticeable decline in serious cases in recent days.
Hammersmith United is the major fundraising organisation for local charities. They have raised almost £100,000 since the crisis started and are distributing this quickly to local groups
Refugees and asylum seekers, already living in straitened circumstances, are particularly hard hit. West London Welcome has an emergency hardship appeal.
London Rainbow. Do you have an old tablet or phone lying around unused? If so, you can help patients in hospital communicate with their loved ones.
Hospitals have had to prohibit family visits and many patients arrive at hospital without a phone or tablet to stay in touch with their families. In some cases, doctors and nurses have resorted to lending patients their own phones to call home during their last moments.
London Rainbow is a small group of volunteers working with doctors and nurses to collect, repurpose, and deliver devices for London area hospitals, including in Hammersmith. You can arrange drop-off or collection using the link here. To learn more or make a donation to cover running expenses, visit
Home Iftar is a new service to help vulnerable people get enough food. Almost 100 residents are getting daily deliveries – more if their fundraising works.
The Upper Room is running its silent auction until 3 May to raise money to help local homeless people www.wpwebprojects.uk
H&F Foodbank is seeing unprecedented demand for its services. You can donate here:
Imperial Health Charity is still collecting donations to help support our local hospitals and the brilliant staff who work in them.
The Friends of Charing Cross Hospital are providing emergency funds to help hospital staff cope with the extreme pressures they are under in helping to fight this virus.
Hammersmith & Fulham Council run the community aid network H&F CAN for anyone struggling in the current crisis. If you need help, call freephone 0800 145 6095. The lines are open 9am to 7pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 2pm at weekends. You can also email them at email@example.com or find out more at lbhf.gov.uk/can
This is in addition to the Shield network for those most at risk. Everyone eligible should now have received letters from the NHS telling them they need to shield. If you have not been contacted but think you should have been, contact your GP to ask to be added to the shielding list.
Turn2us is a national charity but based in H&F that provides practical information and support to people facing financial crisis. Contact their website turn2us.org.uk or call the helpline 0808 802 2000 8am to 6.30pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 1pm Saturday. Help includes
- Benefits Calculator so that people can work out what they are eligible for (coronavirus updated)
- Grants Search – containing over 1,700 charitable grants (searchable by profession, health condition, location and age)
- Information on benefits and grants (including additional rights due to coronavirus)
The Urban Partnership Group is a local neighbourhood service which supports the young and old and families with children under five in Hammersmith, Edward Woods and White City estates. Call 020 7605 0800 or visit www.upg.org.uk for further details.
Citizens Advice will advise and help residents who are struggling with issues or questions arising from the coronavirus crisis.
Staff and volunteers are working from home to help support residents and you can visit their website cahf.org.uk or telephone on 0300 330 1162.
Post Offices are considered essential services and all branches should be open. There have been some temporary closures recently at Starch Green and Uxbridge Road but I am told both have now reopened. All our postal workers, in branches and delivering mail, are doing a great job under difficult conditions.
Bringing together volunteers:
One degree of sport is a voluntary organisation delivering meals to NHS workers, packing PPE for NHS Trusts and helping older people who have been quarantined in the community. Their 200+ volunteers come mainly from sports clubs in west London. They want to hear from individuals and groups with time help others and from those who need help.
W12 together is a self-help group working with some of the poorest and most marginalised people in the borough. They are keen to link up with other individuals and organisations locally who have time and resources to help: email Helen@W12Together.org
In other news
There is some. In fact when I looked through my Zoom meetings this week quite a variety:
- Speaking in the House of Commons on the government’s Fire Safety Bill, almost three years after Grenfell
- Taking part in the Justice Select Committee’s session with the Victim’s Commissioner on how the criminal justice system is failing victims.
- Meeting experts and MPs from various parties to discuss the perilous situation in Palestine now Trump and Netanyahu have decided to annex the Occupied Territories and risk ending the 70-year search for a two-state solution.
- A school governor’s meeting at William Morris Sixth Form
- A politics lesson for Hammersmith Academy students
And all without leaving home.
This year will also be perhaps the first ever Ramadan at Home. The Holy Month began a week ago and it is above all a time for being together, whether for iftar, prayer or finally Eid. Not this year. So it will be even more of a challenge, but we have a strong Muslim community in H&F. I wish all those observing ‘Ramadan Mubarak’.
And I hope everyone reading this will stay safe and well and that together we will come through the crisis.