Monday, March 30, 2020

Lockdown diary, day seven

A week to the day since the PM announced what amounts to a lockdown

In some ways it seems like an age and in other ways life is on hold.

A bit of progress on two things I twined about yesterday evening.

I phoned the Royal Mail about the missing delivery after getting absolutely nowhere with their user-unfriendly automated online service. It took a long wait to get through their call steering system to reach another human being but when I finally did she was very polite and helpful and took action to deal with the problem.

After getting our shopping done yesterday I was not planning to leave the house for several days but in the event one of the family developed a medical issue (which I'm pleased to say has been resolved) and travelling for a medical reason, such as obtaining the necessary medicine is one of the approved reasons for which one can leave the house, so I went back to Morrison's for that and took the opportunity to but some more essential supplies to prolong the time until the next supply run.

Pleased to say that the product limit on coffee, which I definitely regard as an essential supply item, has been lifted.

Hope everyone reading this is safe and well and remains so. 

I may get a bit sharp with people when I think they are posting silly things (I was told as a boy that I didn't suffer fools gladly, which was fair comment then and is still true now) but I would not wish COVID-19 on my worst enemy.

Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.



Working together to defeat Coronavirus


The government yesterday outlined measures which will enable the emergency services, local authorities, military and NHS to work together more effectively so as to  protect the most vulnerable from coronavirus.
  • It is important to let local leaders do what’s best for the most vulnerable in their local area. 
  • That is why strategic co-ordination centres are being set up across the whole country to ensure coordinated measures can be brought into action quickly and effectively. 
  • Each centre will bring together senior members of the emergency services, local authorities, military planners and the NHS to lead communities thought this difficult time. Using their expertise, their judgement and their leadership these groups will ensure a comprehensive and coordinated response across every single part of our country.

All of us have our own parts to play too.

Some people are key workers who have a role to play through their jobs, whether it is keeping the NHS running, supplying the country with food, keeping communications channels open.l Thanks to those people for everything they are doing.

But all the rest of us can help by following government advice: wash your hands regularly, follow the social distancing guidelines.

We can and will defeat this virus. The more effectively we work together the sooner we will defeat it sooner and with least loss of life.

Stay home; Protect the NHS; Save lives. 


Personal Protective Equipment update

The UK government has delivered millions more pieces of equipment to NHS staff, so that everyone who needs personal protective equipment can get it. A national supply distribution response team, supported by the Armed Forces, has been established to deliver equipment to people who need it the most. 
Over 170 million items of  PPE equipment have been delivered including: 
  • 23 million surgical face masks
  • 42.8 million gloves
  • 13.7 million aprons
  • 182,000 gowns
  • Almost 10 million items of cleaning equipment
  • 2.3 million pairs of eye protectors

Every single GP practice, dental practice, and community pharmacy has had a PPE delivery. All care homes, hospices, and home care providers have, or will shortly have, a delivery.

Monday music spot: Handel's "Endless pleasure, endless love"

Keeping safe when volunteering during COVID-19

Coronavirus testing: further update

The government has launched a new drive on Coronavirus testing to ensure that frontline NHS staff get the tests they need to keep safe and treat patients.

Public safety is our top priority, and radically ramping up testing for coronavirus is a key part of our plan to protect lives and stopping this disease.
  • On Saturday the UK achieved our target of 10,000 tests a day - we are now working to deliver even more. 
  • Working with universities, research institutes and businesses, the rollout of staff testing across the NHS will begin in the coming week, with plans for a full roll-out for health, social care and other frontline workers. 
  • The new service will be free and help to end the uncertainty of whether NHS staff need to stay at home. 
  • This will help us to protect life, protect the most vulnerable, and relieve pressure on our NHS. 

The government is committed to do the right thing at the right time, based on the best scientific advice. The most important thing people across the UK can do is stay at home in order to protect the NHS and save lives.

Quote of the day 30th March 2020



Sunday, March 29, 2020

Lockdown diary, day six

A Sunday on which one cannot go to church is a very strange thing indeed.

Instead my family lit a candle and prayed for everyone at this very difficult time, especially those who have contracted COVID-19 and their families and friends, and the souls of those who have died after contracting it, and their families and friends.

Spent some time in the garden, clearing out the rabbit hutch and tidying up dead leaves etc. I noted that a tree had made a miraculous recovery - see previous post,

"Sunday Reflection: Life finds a way."

And yes, I know that's not an original line, it is of course a reference to a quote from Jeff Goldblum's character Dr Ian Malcolm in the first Jurassic Park film.

We were supposed to have three parcels delivered by yesterday. In two cases the delivery people were very sensible, knocked on the door or rang the bell, put the package by the front door and stood two metres back to check from that safe distance that we were there to collect.

However, the most charitable explanation of what happened to the third one is that the Royal Mail delivery person somehow could not find the correct address. I got a message saying that they had attempted to deliver the third package on Saturday and we didn't appear to be in, which astonished me as of course we were at home all day.

The Royal Mail tracking service claimed there had been an unsuccessful attempt to deliver the package at 1.47 pm yesterday, a time when I would almost certainly have heard any knock on the door. More to the point, no card was put through the door.

Now have to decide whether the item is important enough to justify going down to the Post Office depot to collect it given the COVID-19 restrictions on leaving the house, or asking them to make another delivery and praying that this time the post office send it via one of their people who actually know how to find us.

We did a shop for essential supplies at Morrisons this afternoon, and the store were responsibly bending over backwards to minimise any risk of transmitting infection. Only a certain number of people are allowed in at any time,  and where necessary customers are asked to queue, waiting two metres apart, until they can enter.

There was a table at the entrance with hand sanitiser and wipes to clean trolley handles.

In the shop we were asked to maintain two metres separation from other customers and from staff.

There was a good supply of toilet paper available and almost everything we were looking for.

Generally I will give Morrisons nine out of ten for handling a difficult situation.

There was only one thing which jarred, which was that one of the things we wanted to buy - packets of a particular brand of coffee - was being sold at a substantial discount from what is supposed to be the normal price and yet we were only allowed to buy two units of the item concerned as coffee is supposedly in short supply.

(And no, the packets were not out of date or anything)
Now, if the normal price was really the normal price this would be economic insanity. Why on earth would you cut the price of something which was in seriously short supply or subject to excess demand?

I can think of a number of explanations but the most likely is that someone has not thought this one through. Maybe they applied the limit because they were short of some brands of coffee but didn't notice that they had plenty of others.

In which case it would make more sense to limit the number of items you can buy at a time of those coffee products which really are in short supply, (hence the limit to two items,) but make clear that this does not apply to those coffee products which they are trying to shift, (hence the discount.)
One could easily come up with other explanations but they get us into conspiracy theory territory and I'd rather not go there. Hanlon's razor is usually the best thing to apply:


Stay well everyone.

Stay home: protect the NHS; Save lives.

Deolivering supplies to those at highest risk

The Government has delivered the first free food boxes containing essential supplies to those at highest risk from Coronavirus.

  • The most clinically vulnerable people have been advised by the NHS to stay at home for 12 weeks so they can be shielded from Coronavirus, and the Government is doing everything it can to support them. 
  • Thousands of food parcels containing essential supplies and household items such as pasta and tinned goods have been delivered this weekend to those who cannot leave their homes, and hundreds of thousands of boxes could be delivered each week.
  • Working with the food industry, local government, community pharmacies and others, the government is delivering an unprecedented package of support to ensure that the most vulnerable people are protected at this difficult time.

Sunday reflection: life finds a way

I was in my garden today doing a spring tidy-up when I noticed the bright green foliage on a fir tree which proclaimed that, although I cannot see how it can possibly still be alive, the tree obviously is.

Something - most likely my daughter's pet rabbits as the only other animal in Cumbria which could have done that is a deer, and it's unlikely any deer could have got into the garden - had a really good go at the lower trunk of that tree last year, stripping off a lot of bark and doing enough damage to weaken the base of the fir tree and make it keel over. I propped it back up by tying the upper part of the tree to the adjacent fence and IIRC took appropriate measures to contain the loss of sap but didn't expect the tree to survive.

Well, it has, and has managed to repair it's base sufficiently to still be upright although the cords I used to tie it in that position have long since gone - and even though the lower trunk and root system must be under a considerable turning moment trying to topple it, because the lowest part of the trunk is almost horizontal before bending back close to the vertical by the time it reaches a foot above the ground.

I know the colour of dead foliage on a fir tree. Sometimes trees die a little bit at a time and you will see a dying tree parts of which are the dull brown of death while other parts are still green. This tree is not like that, it has the bright green which you see mostly in spring, and only on trees which are very much alive.

In a way the determined struggle of that tree to repair it's injuries and survive is a metaphor for life itself, which in so many creatures often manages to cling on against the most terrible challenges when the odds are stacked against it.

The living creatures which we call human beings have that ability in spades. And although we will lose some of our friends, neighbours and loved ones, and we will regret every one of those deaths, human society we will come through the Coronavirus pandemic just as the tree in my garden recovered from the attack of the killer bunnies.

And as they saying goes, we will find that whatever does not kill us makes us stronger.

The Boris letter

The Prime Minister is writing a letter to every UK household, to urge everyone to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.

  • The Government will do whatever it takes to support the NHS and protect the public as we come together to tackle this national emergency. 
  • The Prime Minister is writing a letter to every household across the UK, outlining the guidance everyone must follow. The letter also thanks our NHS and social care staff who are working round the clock, as well as the 750,000 people who have volunteered to protect others.
  • The Prime Minister also sets out how it will be with our great British spirit that we will beat coronavirus and we will beat it together. That is why it is imperative that everyone must stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.

Swimathon 2020 - provisional new date

Yesterday was supposed to be the day I swam 5,000 metres to raise money for cancer care as part of Swimathon 2020.

The organisers have pencilled in a new date for Swimathon 2020, and have written to me as follows:

They have added, quote "We will release the new session details as and when it is appropriate and possible to do so. Please note that this is unlikely to happen for a few months."


I think Michael Gove was right to say this weekend that none of us can be certain what the timescale is for the progression and defeat of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I would like to think the timescale will be such that 16-18 October will be a viable date for Swimathon 2020 and have put the date in my diary. Whenever the event does take place I will take part.

But I'm not betting my shirt on the pandemic being sufficiently out of the way by mid-October to allow events like this to take place.

Sunday music spot: "Dixit Dominus," Handel (first movement)

Update on Testing

Health secretary Matt Hancock tweeted this morning confirmation that the UK has now hit the target to test 10,000 people per day, adding that we are now on track to test 25,000 a day.

Quote of the day 29th March 2020

"It is important for me to level with you - 

we know things will get worse before they get better."

(Boris Johnson: Extract from letter the PM is sending to every household about Coronavirus/COVID-19)

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Adil El Tayar RIP

I have just read the very sad news that an organ transplant specialist has become the first working NHS surgeon to die from coronavirus.

Adil El Tayar, 63, died on Wednesday at West Middlesex university hospital in London, his family have said.

The doctor, who had worked around the world, spent his final days volunteering on the frontlines against the outbreak in an A&E department in the Midlands.

“He wanted to be deployed where he would be most useful in the crisis,” his cousin, British-Sudanese journalist Zeinab Badawi, said in a moving tribute on BBC Radio 4."

We should all be incredibly grateful for people like Adil El Tayar and all the other NHS staff who are working to keep us safe at this time.

Greater Love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Rest in Peace.

Lockdown diary, day five

A very peculiar day today: I'm aware that it's the weekend because I am not working but in general it is like a Saturday without the usual social side of Saturday, and tomorrow will be even worse.

My wife is using up her remaining annual holiday and I have been working at home, and we took the government advice about consolidating out essential shopping to minimise trips out of the house, so unless we make a shopping trip in the next few days, none of the family will have left the curtilage of our property during the five days from yesterday (Friday 27th March 2020) through to Tuesday.

It is difficult to fine words for how unusual that is. In many respects it seems like normal life is on hold.

Today was supposed to be Swimathon 2020 but that had to be postponed because of Coronavirus. I sitll intend to take part in the event at some stage, and my fundraising page for Swimathon 2020, raising money for Marie Curie Cancer Care and Cancer research UK is still open at

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/chris-whiteside2020

However, today's tragic news both in the UK and Italy underlines the need to follow government advice to Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save lives.

Both countries passed unwelcome milestones today: the death toll of people who have died after contracting COVID-19 passed a thousand in the UK, and passed 10,000 in Italy.

We will get through this, but just about every human being on the planet is going to have a very difficult few months.

Clocks go forward tonight!

British Daylight Saving time, when the UK changes from Greenwich Meantime (GMt) to  British Summer Time (BST), begins tonight (in the early hours of Sunday 29th March) when the time goes straight from 1am to 2am.

The cast majority of computerised devices programmed for the UK and all radio-controlled clocks should automatically adjust, but remember to put those timekeeping devices which need manual adjustment forward an hour.

Usually at this point I would make a joke about not forgetting and turning up am hour late for church but obviously there will be no physical church services tomorrow. There will be services broadcast on TV, radio and online.

Testing for COVID-19

The most recent information I have been given about testing for COVID-19 is as follows.

The Government is fully aware of the importance of testing as many people as possible. They are rapidly increasing the number of tests that are carried out throughout the country, with the aim of testing as many as 25,000 people every day in a few weeks’ time.

The priority is to make sure that those tests are being used on the people who need them the most. It goes without saying that as we expand our testing capability, the number of people who can have those tests will also expand – but the priority must remain all patients in critical care or being admitted to hospitals for pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome or flu - like illness.

Public Health England is currently testing a new antibody test that may be able to show if a person has had Covid - 19.

TESTING NHS STAFF:

The highest priority cases will be tested first, this includes those most at risk of severe illness and it also includes  NHS staff.

Staff testing is now being rolled out across the NHS from next week, starting with critical care nurses and expanding to other medical professionals, including people in the social care sector.

TEST FOR INDIVIDUALS:

The overriding aim is to save lives, protect the most vulnerable and relieve pressure on the NHS. It is not practical to test everyone in the country. Because, as the medical experts have advised, the majority of people with the virus will have only mild symptoms but others will be at much greater risk, it is therefore better to prioritise those most at risk, such as patients in critical care, when deciding who to test.

(Obviously those most at risk also includes front-line medical staff, and the criteria for testing also reflect the importance of testing those in jobs which  bring them into contact with a lot of people so that they do not spread the disease.)

UPDATE 29TH MARCH

Health secretary Matt Hancock tweeted this morning that the UK has now hit the target to test 10,000 people per day, adding that we are now on track to test 25,000 a day.

Saturday music spot: "Not the black horse"

This cantata is essentially a series of variations by Johann Sebastian Bach on the theme of the hymn tune "Wachet Auf" which is German for "Wake, O wake." 

There are a number of versions of this, some for choir and orchestra, some just for instruments, and some of the variations are often played on their own.

The best known one, which occurs about two thirds of the way through, is the one which was used by Lloyds Bank for their "black horse" series of TV advert.

My favourite one is the first one, and when asking my wife to that piece on a CD player, for example when we were on a journey somewhere and it was best to keep my own eyes and hands on the road and the wheel respectively, I would ask her to put on the "Not the black horse" piece to distinguish it from that other variation.

In fact this clip includes both the "Not the black horse" variation, and later the "black horse" one.

Quote of the day 28th March 2020


Friday, March 27, 2020

Lockdown diary: day four

I've spent almost all today working at home, occasionally being interrupted by members of my family stopping to tell me things like the news that the PM and health secretary have tested positive for Coronavirus. (The Chief Medical Officer is also experiencing symptoms and self-isolating)

This should not surprise anyone - people in positions like theirs meet a vast number of people and therefore have lots of opportunities to catch any bug which is going around. A strong immune system is pretty much an essential requirement for anyone who want to be a politician but one of the bizarre things about COVID-19 is that the normal relationships between the strength of your immune system and how vulnerable you are do not seem to work in the normal way.

The good news is that because of those differences, although young people are not completely immune this bug does not kill nearly as many children, or adults under thirty, as a disease this deadly normally would.

The bad news is that a strong immune system is not invariably a good defence.

As Michael Gove pointed out, this coronavirus does not discriminate and can attack anyone.

Annoying to be stuck indoors on what has been a beautiful day in West Cumbria but we all have rather more important things to worry about.

Horrified by the death totals from Spain and Italy. I can certainly see why my social media friends who live in those countries and have been sending me warnings about the need to act, pointing out that what had hit them was and is on its way to Britain, were getting at.

Please stay at home. Support the NHS. Save lives.

Primary Care changes in North Cumbria in response to COVID-19

The Trust and CCG  responsible for the NHS in West, North and East  Cumbia has made the following announcements today about how they are changing primary care provision (particularly  GP and pharmacy services) in these parts of Cumbria to cope with the COVD-19 situation.


Changes to primary care in response to Covid-19 across North Cumbria

Across North Cumbria all our general practice teams are working together on rising to the challenge faced by Covid-19. This might mean you see a change in the way you access primary care.

We want to reassure you that your family doctor and their wider team are working hard to keep you as well as possible at this challenging time, and explain why things might be different.

There are two main changes that patients might experience. They are:
  • You won’t be able to have an appointment without a conversation on the phone or on-line – and your query might be dealt with on the phone or online. If you are invited for a face-to-face appointment you might be asked to attend a different surgery and see a different healthcare professional 
  • GPs in your local area are working together to make sure that patients who are likely to have Covid-19 can be seen in one location which will become your area’s hub - or red centre - solely for use by invited potential Covid-19 patients 

Dr Colin Patterson, clinical lead for NHS North Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said:

“The challenges facing the NHS are unprecedented, and we have been working on making sure our environment keeps patients and NHS teams as safe as possible by making use of telephone and online.


“It is important that our general practice teams remain resilient in the face of increasing pressures, and that GPs and their wider healthcare teams and our out of hour’s provider Cumbria Health On Call (CHOC) work together at a local level.

“Groups of practices – known as Primary Care Networks – are working together to make sure that they are reducing the risk of infection by consulting with patients as much as possible by phone and digital links.

“They are still seeing patients with health needs and are still offering essential routine appointments, but everyone will have a conversation on the phone before being invited for their appointment which in some cases might not be at your usual surgery.

“We are also planning those patients who need medical assessment and are poorly or potentially poorly with Covid-19 will be seen locally in one place with strict infection control measures in place.”


GP Service Area Hubs/Red Centres

These are the local designated hubs where doctors will see and treat symptomatic patients who have been invited by their GP for face to face assessment.

It is not a general public facility, and will only be accessed by appointment after referral from NHS 111 to a GP and telephone triage by a GP. It will NOT offer community testing.

In Eden this will be at Penrith Hospital.

In Copeland it will be Flatt Walks Surgery in Whitehaven.

Other areas are developing their hubs.


Pharmacy services

Our pharmacy teams are also doing their best during these difficult times to make sure that everyone gets the medicines they need.

Help them to help you:
• Follow Government advice and do not visit a pharmacy if you or anyone in your household has a temperature or a new and continuous cough, even if mild.
 • Plan ahead where possible. Pharmacies are working hard to provide prescriptions, but please try to order your next prescription seven days before it is due. This will help the pharmacist deal with urgent requests and queries.
• If you are handing in your prescription, please put your contact details on it so pharmacies can let you know when your medicines are ready. That means you won’t need to be in the pharmacy for as long. Please don’t ring the pharmacy unless it’s urgent.
• If you are self-isolating please ask family, friends or neighbours to arrange to pick up your medication for you. If you don’t have anyone who can collect your medicine, speak to your community pharmacy for advice about how they can help.
• If you are well and can visit the pharmacy yourself, think about how you can help family, friends and neighbours who are self-isolating by collecting their medicines on their behalf (you may need to take ID with you and will need to know the name and address of the person you are collecting for).
• Do not ask for extra medicine or an increase in prescription duration as this could lead to overall medicines shortages. Continue to request as normal and do not stockpile.

You may have to queue and respect social distancing at your pharmacy. Some pharmacies are closing for part of the day to enable them to respond to demand.

Our NHS teams across Cumbria are working really hard and need your patience and support to keep going.


Anyone who suspects they have Covid-19 is advised to follow this national guidance:

Stay at home if you have coronavirus symptoms

Stay at home if you have either:
  • a high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature) 
  • a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual) 

To protect others, do not go to places like a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. Stay at home. Use the 111 online coronavirus service to find out what to do at 111.nhs.uk

Only call 111 if you cannot get help online.

Only get in contact with NHS 111 if you feel you can’t cope or your symptoms are getting worse and they will give you advice and may refer you to a GP.

Other useful advice:

How long to stay at home?

• if you have symptoms of coronavirus, you'll need to stay at home for 7 days
• if you live with someone who has symptoms, you'll need to stay at home for 14 days from the day the first person in the home started having symptoms
• If you live with someone who is 70 or over, has a long-term condition, is pregnant or has a weakened immune system, try to find somewhere else for them to stay for 14 days.

If you have to stay at home together, try to keep away from each other as much as possible.

For more information about Covid-19, go to:

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/

https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus

Friday music spot: Bach (Vivaldi) Concerto for 4 Harpsichords

For those who may not have seen my previous explanations on the subject, and didn't already know, I attribute this as "Bach (Vivaldi)" because Antonio Vivaldi originally wrote this piece as a concerto for four violins but this is the version as transcribed by Johann Sebastian Bach for four harpsichords and strings.

NHS Staffing

There has been a lot of debate in the comments section of this blog on NHS staffing.

I was on record long before anyone had heard of Coronavirus as saying that we don't have enough doctors and nurses in this country because for thirty years we have not been training enough medical professionals in this country.

And I will take no lectures on the shortage of doctors in the NHS from any of those who, when the government finally at long, long, last did something about this in 2016 and announced five new medical schools and a 25% increase in doctor training places, attacked that increase because they misinterpreted it as a means of sending foreign doctors home in response to the Brexit vote.

That increase is, unfortunately, going to take decades to work through, and almost certainly isn't enough: it takes a long time to go from being a first year medical student to becoming a consultant. We can only ramp up the scale of medical education in a country so fast, but we have more to do. So nothing in any of the statistics I have quoted below should be taken as suggesting that I think we have enough doctors and nurses yet, or that we can afford to be complacent on the subject.

On the other hand, I think it is important to give credit where credit is due and not to get into the sort of cycle of self-reinforcing pessimism and negativity which will make it even harder to build up our health service. Because although they have much further to go, medical staff numbers in the NHS are moving in the right direction. 

New NHS workforce statistics show that, over the last year, the number of nurses in the NHS has increased by 9,398 and the number of doctors has risen by 5,188 – and we pay tribute to each and every NHS staff member and their commitment to caring for the British people and saving lives. 
  • In addition to this, as part of the ‘Your NHS Needs You’ recruitment drive, 15,266 former professionals in England have so far come forward to help the NHS tackle coronavirus and will start being deployed from this weekend.
  • From next week 5,750 final year medics and 17,000 final year nursing students in England will also be asked to consider moving into frontline placements, with appropriate support.
  • This means in total over 38,000 more people will join the NHS in the coming weeks, alongside over 560,000 volunteers who have signed up as part of the new NHS volunteer army helping vulnerable people stay safe and well at home.
  • Our NHS is facing an unprecedented challenge and we pay tribute to each and every one of them helping battle this virus. The entire country is grateful but we must help them too. That’s why the government is asking everyone to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.

Researching a Coronavirus Vaccine

Yesterday, the Prime Minister announced new aid funding of £210 million to help find a coronavirus vaccine – making Britain the biggest contributor to the international coalition to find a vaccine.

  • While our brilliant doctors and nurses fight coronavirus at home, this record British funding will help to find a vaccine for the entire world. To date, this is the largest single contribution by any country to the key international fund to find a coronavirus vaccine and it will ensure British scientists and researchers continue to lead the global fight against the virus.
  • Following a virtual summit with G20 leaders, the Prime Minister is calling on governments to work together to create a vaccine as quickly as possible and make it available to anyone who needs it.
  • We have also announced new funding to accelerate the production of rapid tests and treatments for the virus, and the total amount of UK aid spent fighting coronavirus now stands at £544 million.

Quote of the day 27th March 2020


Thursday, March 26, 2020

Lockdown diary, day three

If the amount of traffic seen on the trip to West Cumberland Hospital  (where my wife works) and back, and the number of vehicles passing through Foxhouses Road, are anything to go by, there is much less traffic than normal today, even less than earlier in the week.

Colleagues at work wrestling with how to deliver service in the COVI-19 environment. For the business I work for, like many others, this is presenting great challenges.

With the family all at home, my son suggested we play games together this evening: something we used to do regularly but now usually only get to do during the holidays. This was actually the most fun I've had since the virus completely changed the pattern of my life a week and a half ago.

Helping the self-employed

One of the biggest non -medical challenges caused by the COVID-19 situation is looking after the needs of the self employed.

The chancellor has announced today details of action the government is taking to help them. Here is a briefing I have received about it.

The coronavirus outbreak is the biggest public health emergency in a generation. Our message to the public is clear: you must stay at home, in order to protect the NHS and save lives.

The Government said we would do whatever it takes to protect people’s jobs and incomes – and we meant it. We know many self-employed people are deeply anxious about the support available for them.

That is why the Chancellor has announced a new Self-Employed Income Support Scheme – helping many of our country’s self-employed workers: the musicians, the sound engineers, the plumbers, the electricians, the taxi drivers, the hairdressers, the childminders, the driving instructors, and many others. 

Through this scheme, the Government will pay self-employed people a grant worth 80 per cent of their average monthly profits over the last three years, up to £2,500 a month – that’s unlike almost any other country and makes our scheme one of the most generous in the world.

We know there are challenging times ahead, but we are confident that the measures we have put in place will support millions of people, businesses and self-employed workers to get through this, and emerge on the other side both stronger and more united as a country. And we will get through this together. 
The scheme the Chancellor has announced today is fair. It is targeted at those who need it the most. And crucially, it is deliverable:

  • We are launching the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme, to make sure people who work for themselves are getting the financial support they need. The Government will pay self-employed people across the whole UK who have been adversely affected by coronavirus a grant worth 80 per cent of their average monthly profits over the last three years, up to £2,500 a month, for three months – but we will extend it for longer if necessary. 
  • We will make it simple for self-employed people to get the financial support they need. Self-employed people who are eligible will be contacted by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) directly, asked to fill out a simple online form, and HMRC will pay the grant directly into their bank account. We expect people to access the scheme by the beginning of June.
  • We are ensuring our support reaches those self-employed people who are most in need of it. The scheme will only be open to those with trading profits up to £50,000, leaving 95 per cent of people who are majority self-employed eligible for the scheme. HMRC will also ask people to demonstrate that the majority of their income comes from self-employment, and, to minimise fraud, only those who are already in self-employment, and who have a tax return for 2019, will be able to apply.
This builds on the support that is available to self-employed people:

  • For self-employed people who are struggling now, we’ve also made sure that many will be able to access loans through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans Scheme. This scheme provides loans of up to £5 million, which will be interest free for twelve months. 
  • Supporting people through the welfare system so that nobody is penalised for doing the right thing. We will make it quicker and easier to access benefits. Those on contributory ESA will be able to claim from day 1, instead of day 8. And we are relaxing the requirement for anyone to physically attend a jobcentre – everything can be done by phone or online. 
  • Suspending the minimum income floor for twelve months – meaning self-employed people can now access, in full, Universal Credit at a rate that is equivalent to Statutory Sick Pay for employees.
  • Deferring income tax self-assessment payments for July until the end of January 2021. 

We have introduced unprecedented measures to support our country through this time:

Protecting our public services:

  • We have pledged that whatever resources the NHS needs, it will get. We will provide any extra resources needed by the NHS and other public services – starting with an initial £5 billion fund so the NHS can treat Coronavirus patients; councils can support vulnerable people; and ensure funding is available for other public services.

Helping families:
  • Lifted the incomes of over four million households with a £7 billion boost to the welfare system. We are increasing Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit by £1,000 a year for the next 12 months – a cash injection of nearly £7 billion in the welfare system. 
  • Introduced three month mortgage holidays and £1 billion more support for renters. The mortgage holiday will be available for those who are in difficulty due to coronavirus. We are also providing nearly £1 billion of support for renters, by increasing the generosity of housing benefit and Universal Credit, so that the Local Housing Allowance will cover at least 30 per cent of market rents in local areas. 
  • Making Statutory Sick Pay available for people diagnosed with COVID-19 or who are self-isolating, helping people with their finances. We have already set out that SSP will be available from day one for people who have COVID-19. But the Budget sets out that this will now cover those who are unable to work because they have been advised to self-isolate as well as for people within the same household who display symptoms. Those who are advised to self-isolate will able to obtain a doctor’s note via NHS 111 as medical evidence for SSP.

Supporting businesses:
  • Promised to pay 80 per cent of the wages of furloughed workers for three months. Any employer in the country who promises to retain their staff, can apply for a grant to cover most of the wages of people who are not working but are furloughed and kept on payroll, rather than being laid off. Government grants will cover 80 per cent of the salary of retained workers up to a total of £2,500 a month – above the median income. The cost of wages will be backdated to 1st March and will be open initially for at least three months – and we will extend the scheme for longer if necessary. 
  • Deferred more than £30 billion of tax payments until the end of the year. We are deferring the next three months of VAT tax, a direct injection of over £30billion of cash to businesses, equivalent to 1.5 per cent of GDP. That means no business will pay any VAT from now until the end of June, and they will have until the end of the financial year to repay those bills.
  • Agreed nearly 17,000 Time to Pay arrangements for businesses and individuals, helping businesses and self-employed workers with their tax affairs.
  • Made available £330 billion of loans and guarantees – that’s equivalent to 15 per cent of our GDPAnd if demand is greater than the initial £330 billion, we will go further and provide as much capacity as required.That means any business, small or large, in financial difficulty who needs access to cash to pay their rent, pay suppliers, or purchase stock, will be able to access a government-backed loan, on attractive terms.
  • Abolished business rates altogether this year for all retail, hospitality and leisure businesses. All businesses in this sector are exempt from business rates for 12 months – that’s every single shop, pub, theatre, music venue, restaurant, and any other business in the retail, hospitality or leisure sectors.
  • Introduced cash grants of up to £25,000 for small business properties in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors. Any business with a rateable value of less than £51,000 can now get access to a government grant.
  • Covered the cost of statutory sick pay for small business. We are supporting small and medium-sized businesses to cope with the extra costs of paying Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) by refunding eligible SSP costs. The refund will be limited to two weeks per employee who has claimed SSP as a result of Covid-19. 

Q: Why are you making this change now?
We have already announced unprecedented measures to support people and businesses. These include the Coronavirus Interruption Loan Scheme set out at the Budget, and last week we announced £330 billion of loans and guarantees for businesses and a £7 billion boost to our welfare system, among others. 
We have been working with the Federation of Small Businesses, the association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed, and the Trades Union Congress. Now we will give assurance.
Providing such unprecedented support for self-employed people is operationally very challenging. The self-employed are a very diverse population. They have a wide mix of different levels of income, which even in normal times can vary hugely from month to month.

Q: How quickly will the support be available?
HMRC are working day and night to get this scheme up and running. HMRC are also delivering other key schemes to a similar timescale, including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Statutory Sick Pay rebate for employers. 
The Self-Employed Income Support Scheme also allows late tax filers a month to get their 2018-19 tax returns in within 4 weeks of the announcement of the scheme, which also creates some delay.