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NHS Providers say a shortage of tests is preventing doctors from returning to work (PA)


4 min read

The ongoing coronavirus testing capacity issues are now stopping NHS staff from going to work and patients being treated, according to health chiefs.

Hospital leaders in Bristol, Leeds and London say workers have been forced to stay at home and self-isolate due to a lack of availability.

It comes after reports there are no Covid-19 tests available in the country’s ten worst hotspots for the disease, and the shortages could continue for weeks.

This morning home secretary Priti Patel said it was “wrong to say” there were no tests available, claiming the government is “surging capacity” in local lockdown areas.

But NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said the issue is having a “significant impact and a growing impact on the NHS, and that is a problem”.

He added: “Nobody knows how widespread this problem is, nobody knows how long it’s going to go on for, nobody knows, for example, given that there are scarcities of tests, about who’s going to be prioritised for those tests that are available.”

He told Sky News: “Chief execs in Leeds and Bristol in London, all of whom are saying ‘look we’ve got staff off that we simply can’t afford to have off’, because they can’t get access to tests.

“And of course, part of the problem is that if you’ve got a family member who could have coronavirus and you can’t get a test then you should be self-isolating, so it’s not just actually the test for the individual member of staff, it’s also getting access to tests for their family members.

“And what we think has happened is that the volume of requests for testing has really risen exponentially after scores went back.”

He accused the government of not “being as open as trusts would like about how big this problem is, how widespread it is, and how long it’s going to last”.

Mr Hopson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If you have got a demand-capacity mismatch, what you need to do is, kind of, prioritise really clearly, in terms of work out who should have greatest access to tests.

“Now, clearly from the NHS’s point of view we would want to have our staff tested and we would also want to have our patients who are needing treatment. They are the people who are the real priorities.”

And he added: “We have now got cases where patients who should be being treated, we can’t treat them because they can’t get access to a test.

“So, for them that’s a real problem.”

His deputy at NHS Providers Saffron Cordery told the BBC services are being affected by a lack of testing, saying: “It means that trusts up and down the country are unable to start the restoration of services that we so desperately need to see after Covid.

“And also, critically, they are now preparing for winter and if they have staff unable to come and work on the front line because they haven’t had tests that’s going to make it incredibly difficult for them.”

In response Ms Patel said: “I think we have to recognise this is challenging.

“There is no magic solution to say that it is all going to be perfect.”

But speaking on BBC Breakfast she said: “Tests are available, you’ve heard me say, particularly in local lockdown areas, I’ve seen this myself, I’ve seen the teams that have been working on this.

“Mobile testing is going in, capacity is going into local areas where lockdowns have been undertaken and are taking place.

“I think it is wrong to say tests are not available, new book-in slots are being made available every single day, mobile testing units are being made available.

“And on top of that home testing kits are being issued across the country but specifically in local lockdown areas.”

And an NHS spokesperson said: “Hospitals continue to fully comply with recommended patient and staff testing protocols.

“To further support the national Test and Trace programme, NHS hospital labs have now been asked to further expand their successful, fast turnaround and highly accurate, testing capacity.”

The British Medical Association’s council chairman will warn the government not to focus on its ambitious Operation Moonshot plan for 10 million tests a day, and instead focus on the current testing system.

In a speech to the doctors’ union’s annual meeting on Tuesday, Dr Chaand Nagpaul is expected to say: “The Government is now shooting for the moon promising to deliver mass continuous testing with a test that doesn’t yet exist at a cost nearly as much as the total NHS budget.

“Down here on Planet Earth, we need a fit for purpose test and trace system in the here and now with capacity, agility and accessibility that doesn’t require 100-mile journeys that disadvantage some of the most vulnerable.”

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Nepal’s Ang Rita Sherpa, first to climb Mount Everest 10 times, dies at 72

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All the ascents to the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) summit of the world’s tallest mountain between 1983 and 1996 by Ang Rita, who went by his first name, like many Sherpas, were made without bottled oxygen.

The 72-year-old, who had suffered brain and liver ailments for a long time, died at his home in the Nepali capital of Kathmandu, his grandson, Phurba Tshering, said.

Ang Rita was also known as the “snow leopard” for his climbing skills.

“He was a climbing star and his death is a major loss for the country and for the climbing fraternity,” said Ang Tshering Sherpa, a former president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.

The body will be placed at a Sherpa Gomba, or holy site, in Kathmandu, and cremated on Wednesday according to sherpa tradition, Ang Tshering said.

Many other climbers have since surpassed Ang Rita’s feat, with one member of the community setting a record of 24 ascents.

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Romney faces another crossroads on Trump’s Supreme Court push

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Romney’s short Senate career has been punctuated by big moments of distancing himself from the president: marching in a Black Lives Matter protest and penning an op-ed before he even took his Senate seat vowing to push back against Trump when needed. He also occasionally criticizes Trump’s rhetoric, but he’s careful not to get dragged into a back and forth with the president on Twitter or elsewhere.

Yet the party’s 2012 presidential nominee has also largely backed Trump’s appointments and much of his agenda. His voting record is a regular reminder that he’s still a conservative, which his GOP colleagues hope is a sign that he will divorce his differences with Trump from the monumental opportunity the conservative movement sees before it.

“I really don’t know what he’ll do,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.). “I think he’s probably wrestling with it just like he has on other issues.”

Romney’s opinion may not be decisive: He’d need one other Republican senator to join him and Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Collins in opposition to derail McConnell’s hopes of a swift confirmation. For now, that would take a surprise defection after vulnerable Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) backed McConnell’s strategy.

But should Romney be the only other Republican to join the Senate GOP’s moderate bloc, it would invite the explosive scenario of Vice President Mike Pence breaking a 50-50 vote on the Senate floor for a Supreme Court nominee, perhaps just days before Election Day.

Romney’s decision may do a lot to illustrate what kind of senator he will be as he finishes his first two years in the chamber. Romney has little of the baggage of his colleagues over past Supreme Court fights or battles over precedent. At a 2018 debate, Romney said Senate Republicans’ blockade of President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, set no new standard and did not say how he would handle an election-year confirmation under Trump.

Conservative advocacy groups are keeping a close eye on Romney. The Judicial Crisis Network announced Monday that it was pouring $2.2 million into ads boosting the effort to fill the seat. The targeted states are home to vulnerable GOP incumbents, except one: Romney’s Utah.

But Romney is insulated from immediate political ramifications. His term isn’t up until 2024, and that gives Romney significant freedom to make his own way.

With the filibuster gutted on all nominations after recent rules changes by both parties, Senate Democrats are powerless to stop Trump’s appointment on their own. But many enjoy good relationships with Romney and are counting on him to take yet another stand against Trump.

“He’s shown extraordinary courage before,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “I hope he does again.”

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A Former Government Minister Is Leading Calls By Tory MPs For Boris Johnson Not To Put The Country Back Into Lockdown

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5 min read

The former minister Simon Clarke is leading calls by Tory MPs for the country not to be put back into a full lockdown amid a surge in coronavirus cases.

The Middlesborough MP made a “plea for proportionality” to Matt Hancock in his first contribution to the Commons since standing down as a local government minister earlier this month.

Speaking to PoliticsHome he said: “I’ve seen constituents commit suicide during the first lockdown. When you get those emails it’s quite sobering about the human cost about what it is that we’re demanding of people.

“And it made me reflect that we should lever do so lightly, and that frankly if there are intervening measures before we get to those – then I would strongly hope we would exhaust all of them.”

Speaking ahead of a statement by Boris Johnson on Tuesday, where he is expected to introduce tighter restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19, Mr Clarke warned: “there are very, very significant economic tradeoffs” to such measures.

He is calling for a “graduated tradeoff” of freedom “rather than fire off all our artillery now”, adding it will be “a very long winter if we moved into lockdown now”.

Although he is in favour of local lockdowns he added: “But I just think a suite of national measures which set the economy even further back, and really do impose massive restrictions on people’s quality of life, are to be avoided as such time as they are totally unavoidable.”

Mr Clarke urged his former colleagues to “maintain fundamental liberty for people at this stage of autumn” after suggestions it may take six months to tackle the virus.

With the ‘rule of six’ only recently introduced he called for “other rules kick in before preventing households to mix”, saying “things which cut across basic human freedoms and basic human needs are to be avoided until they are an absolute last-ditch option”.

A growing number of Tory MPs have also expressed concern over what they see as a growing lack of parliamentary scrutiny over Coronavirus legislation. 

Peter Bone MP told PoliticsHome: “I think there’s a growing number of MPs who think you shouldn’t be making these significant regulations without parliamentary approval.”

He said the powers were handed over via emergency legislation but it was when there wasn’t “a functioning Parliament”, at the time, and MPs should not get a chicane to defat, amend and vote on them.

As an example he said the “rule of six” would likely have still been passed, but perhaps amended not to include children or a month-long sunset clause.

Asked whether Number 10 had been ignoring its own MPs, Mr Bone said: “Well I think they get used to it, they got used to in an emergency just doing it ,and they’ve continued. There is a drift within government to a more presidential type of government.

Clarke’s call to avoid lockdown was backed up in the Commons by the ex-transport secretary Chris Grayling, who said he did not believe there is a case for a new national lockdown.

He told the Commons: “Given the huge consequences of this virus for people in our communities on their mental health, particularly the younger generation who are paying a very heavy price, can I say to him that given those regional variations – and in the full knowledge of all the pressures that he is facing – I do not believe the case for further national measures has yet been made.”

Mr Hancock replied: “He’s absolutely right that there are some parts of the country where the number of cases is still thankfully very low and so the balance between what we do nationally and what we do locally is as important as the balance in terms of what we do overall.”

Another former minister – Sir Edward Leigh – said public consent for lockdowns is “draining away”.

Addressing the House of Commons, he said: “The trouble with authoritarianism is that’s profoundly inimical to civil liberties, it is also increasingly incompetent, it relies on acquiescence and acquiescence for lockdowns, particularly national ones, is draining away.

“If you tell a student not to go to a pub, they will congregate in rooms, even worse.”

Mr Hancock said in his reply: “As a Conservative, I believe in as much freedom as possible consistent with not harming others.”

But fellow Tory MP Pauline Latham called for more Parliamentary scrutiny of such decisions, saying: “Could I remind the Secretary of State, I think he’ll be going to a Cobra meeting tomorrow, could he explain to the Prime Minister that we actually live in a democracy not a dictatorship and we would like a debate in this House?”

Mr Hancock replied: “Yes, there absolutely will be a debate in this House on the measures… that we have to use. We do have to move very fast.”

The chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers, Sir Graham Brady, then asked the minister if: “Balancing the measures to tackle Covid with the other health consequences such as cancer patients going undiagnosed or not treated in time and the economic and social consequences is a political judgment?”

He added: “And does he further agree with me that political judgments are improved by debate and scrutiny?”

Mr Hancock replied: “Yes I do and I do come to this despatch box as often as possible. I’m very sorry that I wasn’t able to come on Friday for Friday’s decision but the House wasn’t sitting.”

He added: “The more scrutiny the better is my attitude.”

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