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Migrants are at risk of being left behind in the UK’s response to HIV


4 min read

If we are to end new cases of HIV by 2030, we need to reach every community with our HIV response – this includes those born abroad and living in London as well as the rest of the UK.

This year we mark 40 years since the first reported cases of what we now know was AIDS and the subsequent discovery of HIV.

Since then, we’ve made big progress in the fight against HIV in the UK. New cases have fallen by over a third in the last five years and diagnoses among gay and bisexual men have nearly halved. The extraordinary advances in HIV treatment now mean the majority of people living with HIV can now assume a normal life expectancy and, even more remarkably, those on effective treatment with an undetectable viral load can’t pass it on.

But this success isn’t shared equally by all groups; UK residents born outside the UK are at real risk of being left behind in the UK’s response to HIV.

As the MP for Vauxhall, a central London constituency with a large migrant population and one of the highest rates of HIV prevalence in the country, I’m urging the government to include migrants living in the UK as a key population in its HIV Action Plan to end transmissions by 2030. We must also build on this plan with our own coordinated approach in London, led by our Mayor Sadiq Khan.

Fears around being charged for NHS services and data sharing between the NHS and the Home Office mean many migrants delay accessing healthcare

A recent report by the UK’s HIV rights charity National AIDS Trust, HIV and migration, highlights the barriers faced in London by people who were born abroad, when accessing HIV testing, treatment and care. HIV is a public health inequality which disproportionately affects migrants. Indeed, the majority of HIV diagnoses in 2019 in the UK were among people born abroad.

We’ve seen with the Windrush Scandal how the hostile environment policies this government has implemented can harm migrants living in the UK. They deter people from accessing healthcare including HIV testing and treatment, which increases the likelihood of late diagnosis, poor health outcomes, and mortality. This is despite the fact that HIV treatment and testing is free for everyone regardless of their immigration status. Fears around being charged for NHS services and data sharing between the NHS and the Home Office mean many migrants delay accessing healthcare, resulting in complex healthcare needs in an already vulnerable population.

Hostile environment policies outside of healthcare also have an impact on the health and wellbeing of migrants living with or at risk of HIV. Many migrants subject to immigration control have No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF), which means they are unable to access the majority of welfare benefits. There’s no safety net for them if they lose their job, or if a pandemic like Covid-19 happens. The High Court has declared the Home Office’s NRPF policy to be unlawful and a breach of Human Rights Law which fails to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.

Some migrants also don’t have the right to work. Unable to earn money, some can’t afford food or travel to hospital appointments. These policies drive many into poverty, forcing them into destitution where they are less likely to be able to prioritise their health or HIV treatment. Not enough is known about the impact these policies have on the overall health of our nation, and the Health and Social Care Committee must investigate the impact of NRPF and lack of permission to work on individual and public health.

People born abroad aren’t being supported to test for HIV proactively. Awareness of the HIV prevention drug PrEP among migrants is far too low. The government has committed to end new cases of HIV by 2030. If we are to be successful, we need to reach every community with our HIV response – this includes those born abroad and living in London as well as the rest of the UK. 

 

Florence Eshalomi is the Labour MP for Vauxhall.

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Driving uptake of breast cancer screening to saving lives


Credit: Alamy

With the right approach we can encourage more women to attend breast cancer screening appointments and save lives in the process.

It is widely recognised that early diagnosis is fundamental to reducing deaths from breast cancer.[1] However, at present, too many women are choosing not to take up screening appointments when invited to attend.[2]

To understand the factors preventing them from attending Hologic undertook a survey of 2000 women across the UK aged between 45 and 74).[3] The results highlighted some key areas of consideration for those working within the health service and offered insights that, if acted upon, could increase breast screening attendance and save lives.

Breast screening: understanding and misconceptions

Results from the survey found that 96%[3] of those questioned understood mammograms are an essential check for women.

Yet despite this, 21% of women did not plan to attend their breast screening appointment in the following months, if invited to attend. While 45% of women cited fears around COVID-19 as a key driver in non-attendance, we also found that 13% of women thought mammography is painful, while a further 10% did not believe it detects cancer accurately. These findings are concerning and highlight why it is so vital to tackle misconceptions if we are to turn the tide on breast cancer through earlier diagnosis.

How to drive better uptake of breast cancer screening

This starts with better education.

While most women understand the importance of breast screening, this is not translating to high enough attendance. However, there are steps that can help break through the misunderstandings and misinformation.

As ever, public education campaigns that emphasise the importance, effectiveness and ease of breast cancer screening are vital to boosting attendance. The more that women see their peers from their own communities attending appointments and benefitting from early diagnosis, the more likely they are to attend their own screenings.

We must also ensure that our screening programmes have access to the best and most innovative technology, to make the process of screening as simple, efficient and convenient as possible. In particular, if women are reluctant to attend screening, making technology available to reduce recalls and help avoid unnecessary appointments could help to improve the overall patient experience. Tomosynthesis, often called 3D Mammography ™, detects up to 65% more invasive breast cancers and reduces recalls of patients by up to 40% when compared to traditional 2D mammography.[4][5]

Knowing the risks

While a family history of breast cancer is widely understood to be a risk factor in developing the disease, just 20% of women knew that having dense breast tissue is also a key factor, despite it being a greater risk than having two immediate relations who have had breast cancer.[6] Furthermore, only 36% of women considered age a risk, even though the number one risk factor for breast cancer is being aged 65 or over.[7]

In short, countless people are in the dark when it comes to their personal risk of developing the disease. That is why the healthcare sector needs to act now to improve awareness of risk factors to improve attendance at mammograms.

According to the charity Breast Cancer Now, over 700,000 people in the UK of breast screening age are at higher-than-average risk of developing breast cancer due to having a high breast density.[8] It is therefore shocking that 86%[3] of women have never had a formal cancer risk assessment to identify this.

More personalised care is essential to addressing some of the key challenges in breast screening.  Offering risk stratification through the adoption of quantifiable breast density assessment would allow women with higher risk factors to be accurately identified and prioritised for screening. This would allow the screening interval for lower risk women to be extended, creating a more efficient and targeted breast screening programme.

As services continue to operate amidst the fallout of the pandemic, it is absolutely vital that as many women as possible feel comfortable attending a breast cancer screening appointment. Technology can go a long way to helping streamline the process and critically to improving patient experience. However, it must be supported by robust public education and a smart approach to service prioritisation; one that stratifies risk and unlocks screening for the women that need it most.


[4] Friedewald SM, Rafferty EA, Rose SL, et al. Breast cancer screening using tomosynthesis in combination with digital mammography. JAMA. 2014 Jun 25;311(24):2499-507.

[5] Rafferty E, Park J, Philpotts L, et al., Assessing Radiologist Performance Using Combined Digital Mammography and Breast Tomosynthesis Compared with Digital Mammography alone: Results of a Multicenter, Multireader trial. Radiology, 2013 Jan; 266(1):104-13. Epub 2012 Nov 20.

[6] Engmann NJ, Golmakani MK, Miglioretti, DL, et al. Population-Attributable Risk Proportion of Clinical Risk Factors for Breast Cancer. JAMA Oncol. 2017

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Reversing biodiversity decline will require decisive action across our society


A survey on behalf of WSP and BrightBlue shows the vast majority of people value the mental wellbeing and improved physical wellbeing benefits of nature

Amid the urgency of action to tackle climate change, the issue of biodiversity collapse can easily get lost. In the UK and most countries across the world, biodiversity is declining at an alarming rate, yet understanding of the correlation between climate change and biodiversity loss is lacking.

We must see the climate and biodiversity crises as equally important and interconnected issues; indeed, nature actually has a vital role to play in the fight against climate change, from nature-based solutions which absorb carbon, to our natural capital being understood and appreciated as an economic asset, as stated in the landmark Dasgupta Review.

Alongside helping to tackle climate change, the natural environment provides numerous benefits which are all too often taken for granted. These include improved mental wellbeing, healthier lifestyles and cleaner air, some of which have been more important than ever during the COVID pandemic.

A survey as part of new research from WSP and thinktank Bright Blue, entitled ‘Nature Positive?’, showed the vast majority of people valued the mental wellbeing and improved physical wellbeing benefits of nature, and there was strong support for existing domestic Government policies to protect and enhance the natural environment.

Though, when asked about where responsibility lay for the UK’s natural environment, there was a disconnect. Despite expected responsibility for government being high, only a third (32%) of those surveyed believed that local authorities were doing enough to protect and enhance the natural environment in the UK. This fell to just over a quarter (28%) for central Government.

The question of who is responsible for nature in the UK is not easily answered. It is surely the responsibility of us all: government, businesses and individuals, we can all play a role, though government and business have great opportunity to effect real change.

Our research shows that the public recognise that there is a clear role for government and they believe more needs to be done, making the existing cross-party support for addressing climate change and biodiversity most welcome.

The Environment Bill is certainly ambitious and the over 100 initial amendments to the Bill from the Lords shows even more appetite to protect nature. However, key commitments from the Government such as the 2030 target to reverse species decline do not spare us much time to drive this forward. Indeed, the welcome addition of Biodiversity Net Gain for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects will not be mandatory until nearly 2024, giving us only six years until the 2030 target.

Our research showed that people believe businesses have a low expected and low actual responsibility to protect and enhance nature. This was a surprising outcome as be it through corporate policies or the land business own and manage, organisations across a diverse range of sectors have significant impact on biodiversity but also real power to deliver positive benefits for the natural environment. Importantly, they have the opportunity to involve their employees and local communities in that process.

Government at all levels must ensure that all businesses report and disclose their impact on biodiversity in line with the draft targets for the Convention on Biological Diversity, due to be finalised early next year. This ambition will be supported by the Taskforce on Financial Disclosure for Nature and the UK Government has an opportunity to lead by ensuring all large businesses start reporting on their impacts and dependencies on nature.

This will make our businesses more transparent, increase their resilience to market shocks and change, and result in benefits for people and wildlife.

Of course, individuals and communities across the country also have a vital role to play in supporting a positive future for our natural environment, and I firmly believe it is the responsibility of both government and businesses to work with communities to make sure that the benefits we receive from nature are available to everyone, and not just those who can afford it.

All elements of our society have a role to play in reversing biodiversity decline in the UK and internationally, and to work with nature to help tackle climate change – not see them as two different issues. It is only through coordinated and swift action that we will be able to make a real difference and restore the habitats and ecosystems we are all ultimately reliant upon.

Join WSP and Bright Blue at 8am on Monday 4 October during the Conservative Party Conference for a panel discussion on public attitudes towards nature and biodiversity in the UK.

Tom Butterworth is UK Deputy Head of Ecology at WSP, the world’s largest environmental consultancy

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rise in national insurance to fund the NHS and social care was the easy bit – now comes the graft


4 min read

My job as Health Select Committee chair is to hold the government to account, and I haven’t shied away from doing that during the pandemic. But that means also giving credit where it’s due.

NHS leaders, clinicians and the select committee have been warning about the precarious state of the NHS and care systems post-pandemic, and ministers have really listened. A Conservative government raising national insurance to invest in the NHS is a bold one-nation move that will be rewarded by voters, who testify time and again that nothing matters more to them than healthcare. 

So it’s deeply disheartening to see opposition politicians who complain about NHS and social care underfunding week in and week out vote against giving the NHS an extra £12bn each year. This is politicking of the worst kind because the crisis in the NHS and care system is real, and the hard fact is that any wealth tax will not raise the kind of sums needed to care for an ageing population. If other parties can’t point specifically to how they would raise £12bn a year from April, then they can’t look their constituents facing long waits for operations in the eye and tell them they have a plan to help.

Even before the pandemic, there were structural reasons why we needed a proper conversation with the electorate about health funding. Last year was the first in human history where there were more over 65s than under 18s. In the UK, the number of people aged 65 and over is growing three times faster than the number aged under 65. 

It is a wonderful miracle that we are living longer, but one with dramatic consequences for NHS and care spending. A 50-year-old man costs the NHS just under £500 on average – but by the time he is 85 it rises to nearly £4,000. Our hospitals will be 40 per cent busier in 15-years-time according to one study. 

It was, as Sir Humphrey would say, “brave” for a Conservative Prime Minister to raise taxes but the next task of turning money into shorter waits, with proper reform, will be tougher still. As the cost of living increases on every side, voters will be angry if they don’t see tangible improvements fast in exchange for that rise in national insurance. 

It could well be that getting the national insurance increase through Parliament was the easy bit

I know some simply see the NHS as a bottomless pit and fear the money will disappear without touching the sides. They are right to be concerned. As someone who has made their fair share of mistakes while stewarding the NHS, I believe we need urgent reform in several crucial areas to avoid that fate.

There is a real and rapidly deteriorating workforce crisis in the NHS. Our eye-watering waiting lists, lack of face-to-face GP appointments and even multiple lockdowns to protect NHS capacity stem partly from this pressing issue. 

You can give the NHS £8bn extra for the next three years but without £8bn of extra doctors and nurses to do the work, nothing will change. The Health Foundation estimates it will take 4,000 more doctors and 18,000 more nurses to clear the backlog, but so far there is no plan to find them.

Long term there is only one solution, so far rejected by the government, to allow an independent body to make workforce forecasts, OBR-style, so we can make sure we are training enough doctors and nurses for the future.

It could well be that getting the national insurance increase through Parliament was the easy bit for ministers. Much now hangs on their ability to avoid the traps set out above. But they have taken a courageous first step in raising the money and they should be applauded for that. This is not, in the end, about big state versus small state politics, but whether we back the people’s number one priority: healthcare. 

Jeremy Hunt is Conservative MP for South West Surrey and chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee

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UK Voters Are Majority Pro-Choice Across The Political Spectrum And Support Extension Of At-Home Abortion


Since April 2020, women have been able to access medical abortions at home (Alamy)

5 min read

Exclusive: The majority of people across the UK are pro-choice regardless of political affiliation and back the continuation of at-home abortion care beyond the pandemic, new polling reveals.

According to the survey of 2,001 people, conducted by Censuswide on behalf of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), 71% of Brits agree that “if a woman does not want to continue a pregnancy, she should be able to have an abortion”.

This trend is consistent across the political spectrum, with 70% of Conservatives in favour compared to 9% opposed, and 77% of Labour voters in favour versus 9% opposed.

The majority of Brits also support the continuation of at-home abortion services, after temporary measures were introduced at the start of the pandemic allow women and those seeking abortion care to take medical abortion tablets without visiting a clinic.

Previously women have had to take the first dose of the medication at a registered clinic, followed by the second dose at home. 

Those who voted Labour at the last election are more in support of the measures continuing, with 64% in favour, compared to those who voted Tory, who are 56% in favour.

Age also proved to be a significant factor in whether an individual is pro-choice — 68% of 16-to-24-year-olds said they supported women having an abortion, while on 51% of over 55s said the same.

Commenting on the findings of the survey, Clare Murphy, Chief Executive of BPAS, said: “Telemedical early abortion care is supported by medical bodies including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, women’s rights groups, and — as this polling makes clear — the majority of the public, across all political party allegiances.

“There is a vast body of clinical evidence that telemedical abortion care is safe, effective, and woman-centred.

“The ability to provide at-home early medical abortion treatment has led to shorter waiting times and a reduced rate of complications due to women being able to end pregnancies at the earliest possible gestation.”

She continued: “We must be clear — revoking access the telemedical abortion would be detrimental to the health and wellbeing of women in need of abortion care.

“On the eve of Conservative Party Conference, the government has an opportunity to demonstrate that they are listening to the medical experts and that they are listening to women. We urge them to do so.”

Women’s groups and abortion charities have been calling for the continuation of temporary at-home aboriton measures since earlier this year.

The rule change came into force in April 2020 and is set to last until 31 March 2022, or until the mechanisms underpinning coronavirus regulations are lifted.

Previously, women and pregnant people seeking an early medical abortion — defined as the first nine weeks of pregnancy — were required to visit a registered clinic for their first mifepristone or misoprostol pill.

Since 2018, they have been able to take the second dose home, allowing them to control where they are when bleeding begins. 

A recent study by the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, of more than 50,000 abortions in England and Wales, published in April 2021, concluded that abortion care provided virtually was “effective, safe, acceptable, and improves access to care”.

According to statistics from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), 43% of medical abortions were administered at home between April and June 2020 at the height of the first lockdown.

Caroline Nokes, chair of the women and equalities select committee, said the the findings of the BPAS survey “clearly shows the level of support for women being able to access early and safe abortion care when it is needed”.

“What we have seen with the introduction of telemedicine is an ability for women to access help earlier, in the comfort of their own homes, and waiting times have dropped,” she told PoliticsHome. 

“We all know that early treatment is far preferable, minimising the risk of complications.”

“The pandemic made life very difficult for women, both financially and in terms of the caring responsibilities they carried out.  

“Making this sort of medical care as accessible as possible has helped those who have to make incredibly difficult decisions, and we know making their lives easier is crucially important.

“I hope the Government has the courage to continue with telemedicine for abortion care, and this study shows there are significant benefits to that.”

The survey also showed support for the decriminalisation of abortion, with respondents asked how they felt about a woman ending her pregnancy at home without attending a clinic once the temporary measures allowing this were lifted.

65% said they would not support a woman facing criminal prosecution for choosing to end their own pregnancy at home, while 13% were strongly in favour and 22% were somewhat in favour.

Labour MP Diana Johnson — who recently forced to withdraw her amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill aiming to decriminalise abortion — said the findings of the survey “must not be ignored”.

“During COVID-19, telemedicine for Early Medical Abortion has prevented tens of thousands of women from having to travel needlessly to clinics and has enabled many healthcare professionals to provide care from the safety of their own homes.”

“The APPG on Sexual and Reproductive Health heard from experts at its most recent event just how beneficial these measures have been for women and how important it is that they remain in place.”

“Abortion care must meet the needs of women. Today’s survey results show strong public support for ensuring policy reflects this.”

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This World Ostomy Day let’s show people with stomas that they are not alone


Coloplast Ambassador, Kevin Baker | Credit: Coloplast UK

World Ostomy Day takes place every three years on the first Saturday in October. To mark this day on 2nd October, the stoma support charities (Colostomy UK, Ileostomy & Internal Pouch Association (IA), Urostomy Association) and Coloplast UK have teamed up to raise awareness of, and more importantly celebrate, people living with a stoma.

Whilst we believe that it is important for us all to be #StomaAware each and every day, we want to take this opportunity to increase the visibility of the amazing stoma community, both here and across the world.

A stoma (or ostomy) is a surgically created opening in the abdomen to divert the flow of faeces or urine so that it can collected in a bag1. Individuals of all ages can have a stoma and stoma surgery is undertaken to treat a wide range of illnesses including cancer, Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s disease or following a trauma to the abdomen2. There are three main types of stoma: colostomy; ileostomy; and urostomy. A stoma can be temporary or permanent3.

People with a stoma are collectively known as ‘ostomates’ or ‘ostomists’. It is estimated that 165,000 – 200,000 people are living with a stoma in the UK. Approximately 21,000 people have stoma surgery each year4,5,6. Whatever the reason for the surgery, they will all have undergone life-changing surgery and received a diagnosis of a chronic condition. However, with the right care and good stoma management, many can live life to the full.

This does not mean living with a stoma is easy and some individuals can feel isolated by what can feel like a “hidden condition”. Ostomates may have concerns about how their stoma looks, about possible leakage or skin issues, or smells even though ostomy products have been designed to be odour-proof and discreet. In addition, some ostomates are uncomfortable using public toilet facilities particularly if there are no waste bins to place their used products. Travelling, working, or socialising may also be worrying for this reason.

We know that adjusting to life with a stoma can be difficult at first, but we also know that it is possible for people to enjoy an active and full life. There are amazing individuals doing amazing things every day, who just happen to have a stoma. These people might be firefighters, rugby players, nurses, and teachers; the list goes on.

So what can you do to support World Ostomy Day? Please click here to find out more information about stomas, our organisations, and the support, advice and help available to ostomates, their families and carers. Let’s all work together to raise awareness of this vibrant and inspiring community, so that individuals with stomas know that they are not alone today or any day.

This article was initiated and funded by Coloplast UK and Ireland, and developed in partnership with Colostomy UK, Ileostomy and Internal Pouch Association, and Urostomy Association.

Sources:

1. https://www.colostomyuk.org/information/what-is-a-stoma/
2. Ibid
3. Ibid
4. NHS Digital. NHS Digital Hospital Admitted Patient Care Activity 2020.
5. Colostomy UK. Step Up for Stomas 2021. 2021 [Available from: https://www.colostomyuk.org/active-ostomates/step-up-for-stomas/.]
6. British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA). Estimated number of ostomates in the UK. 202

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Serious about combatting climate change?


More than 88 billion land animals are bred, raised and slaughtered by the animal agriculture industry globally each year. Credit: Jo-Anne McArthur

Today marks the start of the Pre-COP summit, the last chance for world leaders to discuss climate change mitigation strategies ahead of the upcoming negotiations at the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in November in Glasgow. If COP26 organisers are serious about meeting the Paris Agreement and “keeping 1.5 degrees alive” to limit the potentially catastrophic impact of global warming, it’s crucial that all leading drivers of climate change are acknowledged and addressed. Yet, until now, one topic has remained the cow in the room: intensive animal agriculture.

Responsible for nearly 60% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from food production, animal agriculture represents 14.5-16.5% of all man-made GHG emissions. This makes farming animals for food the world’s second largest GHG emitter, on par with all forms of transport globally combined. As a leading cause of habitat loss, water pollution, soil degradation and rainforest destruction, it is also driving the biodiversity crisis we face.

The science is clear: shifting to plant-rich diets is one of the most effective climate-mitigation measures and provides multiple benefits for human health and wellbeing, biodiversity and nature recovery, animal welfare, as well as opportunities for sustainable economic growth. In 2021, the UN Environment Programme found that transforming diets to derive more protein from plants and less from animals has the potential to cut annual GHG emissions by up to 20% of current emissions.  

For the UK, the Climate Change Committee has recognised that “an accelerated shift in diets away from meat and dairy products” is “particularly important” to achieve our net zero emissions goal, and has called for a reduction in meat and dairy consumption of 20% by 2030, increasing to 35% by 2050, with clear government policies needed to encourage that shift. In June, the National Food Strategy recommended that Brits reduce meat consumption by 30%, by 2032.

Having established what a sustainable food system should look like, and with an ambitious net zero emissions target to meet, there is a unique opportunity for our government as COP26 hosts to provide climate leadership by including animal agriculture in these critical discussions for the first time.

We simply cannot reduce  methane emissions to a safe level, nor free up the land we need for sequestering carbon without reducing the amount of meat we eat', says National Food Strategy. Credit iStock/HSIHumane Society International (HSI) is campaigning for intensive animal agriculture to feature prominently in strategies to combat climate change and future-proof our food system. Alongside more than 50 global animal protection, environmental and food justice organisations, we have urged COP26 President the Rt. Hon. Alok Sharma MP to publicly recognise the catastrophic climate impact of intensive animal agriculture. We are engaging with cross-party MPs and peers to join this call and to show their support by pledging to choose a more climate-friendly diet before the summit’s conclusion.

We need to be clear: acknowledging the cow in the room does not imply taking a stand against farmers, it is a call to work with and support them. The farming sector is highly vulnerable to many environmental factors linked to global warming, which are already impacting global food production and security.

We urgently need food and agricultural policies that accelerate and reward a decisive shift away from intensive animal agriculture and towards more diverse and regenerative food production, and that support farmers in a just transition towards a food system that is better for people, animals and the environment. The success of green innovation leaders like Hodmedod’s shows the business opportunity to grow indigenous pulses and grains, climate-friendly crops that improve soil health and enable British farmers to supply the growing demand for plant proteins.  

Changes are also underway in the foodservice sector, with the UK’s major catering companies, like Sodexo, supported by HSI’s Forward Food campaign, planning to make 25-30% of menus plant-based by 2025. The thriving demand for plant-based food in hospitality and retail has boosted UK meat-free sales by 40% between 2014 and 2019 and the sector is expected to exceed £1.1b by 2024. To meet the soaring demand for oat drinks, Oatly plans to open one of the world’s biggest plant-based drinks factories in Peterborough by 2023. Meanwhile, the global annual market for alternative meat, egg, dairy and seafood products is predicted to reach at least $290bn (£210bn) by 2035.

Diet change to combat climate change is already happening, and whilst it is encouraging to see Ministers such as Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng acknowledge that plant-based dietary shifts made by individuals will help us achieve GHG reduction targets, at this critical juncture, country leaders cannot rely on individuals and the corporate sector to make the transition alone.

Through its Presidency of COP26, and in its response to the National Food Strategy, the Government needs to adopt a bold and proactive policy approach that supports and catalyses plant-centric dietary shifts across the whole supply chain, from farmer to consumer. Our climate and nature crisis, and our collective ambition to build resilient and fair food systems, demands that governments stop ignoring the cow in the room.
 

Claire Bass is Executive Director at Humane Society International UK.

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Championing dairy milk for British children on World School Milk Day


4 min read

It is no coincidence that as milk schemes are squeezed, levels of child malnutrition increase and obesity soars.

With World School Milk Day today, school meals and child nutrition are in need of public support, it is time to reinvigorate the Great British institution and historic Labour initiative of free school milk.

In 1946, Clement Attlee’s Labour government introduced the School Milk Act, which provided children in schools with free milk to better nourish our nation’s children. After decades of Tory toying and thatcher’s snatching, the scheme has been reduced from giving milk to all pupils under 18 to just being subsidised for a limited number of primary school children. It is no coincidence that as schemes like this – and others to reduce poverty and inequality – are squeezed, levels of child malnutrition increase and obesity soars.

While it is a statutory obligation for schools to offer milk to their pupils every day, not all schools are aware or able to deliver on this

All children in England, Wales and Scotland under the age of five are eligible to receive a free 1/3rd pint of milk through the Nursery Milk Scheme (NMS), provided they attend an early year setting such as school or nursery for two or more hours a day.

Additionally, all five to 11-year old children in UK schools are eligible to receive subsidised milk through DEFRA, covering the costs of the European School Milk Scheme. Children can only enjoy either scheme if their education setting opts into the schemes, which too often is not the case. For the NMS the uptake is around 30 per cent, this worsens for the School Milk Scheme (SMS), which has an uptake of around 20 per cent.

With a lot of misinformation flying around, it is important to remember exactly why milk is so important for growing bodies. Milk is one of nature’s superfoods, and non-dairy alternatives don’t come close to offering the nutritional content of that from the cow.

While milk is hydrating, it doesn’t just give its drinkers liquid. Milk is jam-packed with calcium, zinc and protein, all essential nutrients for growing children. Young people need milk to grow, its minerals are vital in boosting the body’s bone formation during childhood and adolescence. Calcium helps to build and maintain strong bones, as well as helping the heart and muscles function at an optimal level. Gaps in calcium and other key nutrients that are essential for a healthy development of children can have a negative impact in the longer term.

Plant-based beverages do not have the same naturally occurring nutrients as real dairy milk and instead must be fortified with additional vitamins to imitate cow’s milk. Vital nutrients are naturally found in dairy milk, and unlike non-dairy alternatives they are not packed with additional salt, sugar and stabilisers. It is important that plant-based beverages disclose their nutrition to explain what they contain and what they lack relative to real milk, to help consumers know how they can fit into their dietary preferences and make informed decisions instead of following misinformation.

Much is made about the impact of the dairy industry on the environment, but we should also remember that cow’s milk is made here in the UK, is free of airmiles, supports British farmers, contributes enormously to Britain’s economy and keeps the public healthy.

While it is a statutory obligation for schools to offer milk to their pupils every day, not all schools are aware or able to deliver on this. More needs to be done to promote these milk schemes so that all education settings opt in, therefore ensuing that our children receive the free and healthy milk to which they are entitled.

On World School Milk Day, it is important to celebrate the historic role that school milk has played in supporting the nation’s health since the 1946 School Milk Act. We also need to tighten up the school milk scheme so that our children can benefit from free, nutritious milk now and in the future.

 

Daniel Zeichner is the Labour MP for Cambridge and Shadow Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

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How British science will help levelling up


Dr Richard Torbett, Chief Executive
| Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI)

The Prime Minister has begun to set out his levelling up plans. The challenge is now to rebalance growth and jobs across the regions within this parliament. The health sector, emerging growth-ready from the pandemic, can be an engine for this.

The key to unlocking levelling up is business investment in research and development – linking directly to another of the PM’s goals: building “a global science superpower”. He wishes to build on the UK’s vaccine success, with its model of rapid development of innovative science for practical purposes. He sees that linking this to innovation more widely can spur growth. The government can be commended on the recent publication of its Life Sciences Vision, bold implementation of which can underpin this agenda.

The PM is right to link the mission of improving health to the task of rebuilding our economy. If we get this right, the benefits could be huge, but there is a major hurdle to get over. It comes down to the fact that even with the combined efforts of government and the private sector, we still invest too little in the R&D that drives new technologies: just 1.7% of national income, well below the OECD average of 2.4% and most of our key competitors. 

This shortfall has been highlighted by eight of the country’s leading trade groups, including the CBI, Tech UK, and my organisation, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, in a recent report which concluded there is simply too little incentive for businesses and investors to make the UK their R&D base.

To turn that around, we are all calling on the Chancellor to make a simple change to allow better treatment of R&D capital expenditure, including assets like research sites, factories, laboratories, and machinery. Tax credits are available to provide tax relief for other R&D costs, but the cost of the actual facilities to conduct the work are excluded. This discriminates against capital-hungry sectors like manufacturing, and the parts of the country that host them, a stark contrast with the approach of France, Spain, and Japan among others. It is a simple but powerful barrier to doing R&D in the UK.

The reality is that we cannot be a global innovation leader if our R&D incentives lag those of our rivals. Better treatment of capital in R&D tax credits would bring the UK into line with key competitors and if enacted, at last provide a real incentive for investors to make the UK their R&D base.

This would have a serious benefit for our regions. Our analysis shows the policy shift would have a concrete levelling up benefit by unlocking £4bn a year of new growth and over 12,000 new jobs, including direct and spill over employment. These jobs would mainly be in high-skilled manufacturing, providing good wages and secure employment. 

In the North of England, the policy would generate more than £750m of new growth and almost 4,000 new jobs. In the Midlands, more than £500m growth and 4,800 jobs. In the East of England, more than £300m and 6,200 new jobs. In the South of England, there would be more than £850m of new growth and over 8,300 new jobs. And in London, more than £900m and 4,200 new jobs.

The aim of the new Office for Science and Technology Strategy is to push forward the government’s research priorities. One such priority should be ensuring that our R&D investment incentives do not lag those of our competitors and can catalyse levelling up. 

If the Prime Minister really wants the UK to be a global leader in science and innovation, he should act now to put UK firms on the same footing as those in other countries. In doing so, he can kill two birds with one stone: advancing his levelling up agenda and making the UK a genuine science superpower.

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NHS Doctors Who Volunteered In Novavax Trial Say They’re Unable To Travel Or Get Boosters


6 min read

Participants in the Novavax trial say they have been “abandoned” and feel like “second-class citizens” after volunteering to help find a Covid-19 vaccine.

Thousands of people involved in the Novavax vaccine trial have been left in limbo while the jab awaits approval, leaving them unable to travel abroad or take part in the booster programme.

Ministers have already struck an agreement to purchase 60 million doses of the jab produced by the US-based firm, while around 15,000 in the UK people took part in the study which began last year.

But delays in the authorisation of the vaccine has left participants, including hundreds of frontline NHS staff, facing significant restrictions compared to those who have received doses of approved jabs such as Pfizer, Astra Zeneca or Moderna.

One NHS intensive care consultant told PoliticsHome they had taken part because they were “wanting to help wider society” but now felt “pretty hopeless”.

“Back when we were involved in the trial there was no immediate prospect of any treatment for Covid,” they said.

“You go into these things wanting to help wider society and now we are left in a position where we have been disadvantaged compared to everyone else despite the government saying you wouldn’t be.”

According to a recent update from the trial’s organisers, participants will be unable to secure a booster dose of the vaccine, raising fears that NHS staff working on the frontline could be left at increased risk.

“I work in intensive care and we have had a torrid time with Covid right from the beginning. I have treated a large number of people this year with Covid and many of them have died,” the NHS medic said.“We feel pretty hopeless that there doesn’t appear to be anyone who is taking up this cause in government in terms of trying to find a solution. There is a lot of corporate rhetoric that comes back when you try and push for a response, but no one is willing to take any ownership to push this forward.”

They added: “We had our vaccines quite early on and there are no studies at the moment showing how long my antibody response will be maintained for. The reason we are doing the booster programme is because we know with Pfizer there is a decline in antibody levels.”

While some of those jabbed with the trial vaccine have recently been able to register their vaccine status under the domestic certification scheme, they continue to face barriers to international travel because the jab has not yet been approved in most other countries.

“I feel disadvantaged as well because while all my colleagues have been able to go on holiday over the summer to recharge batteries, I have had to stay in the UK because of the travel impact. There is a risk I’d get turned back at the border of another country,” the intensive care doctor added.

“Like many other people I have booked holidays for next year that potentially I will not be able to go on. We are in a quandary now.”

In a letter seen by PoliticsHome, the NHS consultant told England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam that many NHS staff who took part in the trial were now “regretting” their involvement.

“Unfortunately, most of us are now regretting having taken part. We now find ourselves significantly disadvantaged when it comes to travel compared to people who have had an approved vaccine,” they wrote.

“In your open letter of the 11th June to trial participants you said that we would not be disadvantaged for travel but unfortunately this is still occurring.

“Whilst my Novavax vaccine is now showing in the NHS app, in reality this does not help me travel as it does not ‘prove’ vaccination outside of the UK.”

Responding to the concerns, Van Tam said he was “absolutely determined” to address the problems facing trial participants.

“I would like to offer you my sincerest apologies for the issues you are experiencing,” he wrote.

“This is a priority issue of mine and I am absolutely determined to solve it. Without your participation in a Covid-19 clinical trial, we would not have been able to deliver our ground-breaking vaccination programme that has saved more than 100,000 lives and prevented 23 millions infections in England alone.”

He added: “The UK government’s policy position is that anyone on a Covid-19 vaccine trial should be treated as fully vaccinated… Urgent work continues to ensure that all trial participants can access a domestic pass so that no one is left behind.”

But another NHS consultant surgeon expressed frustration at “vague promises and management speak” in response to their concerns.

“We have been told that we are not eligible for a booster jab under the current programme, leaving NHS staff who stepped forward to take part in the trial potentially at greater risk from catching Covid than those who have received an approved vaccine,” they said.

“Despite reassurances from the government that we would not be disadvantaged, we have been left in an impossible situation. Our vaccines are not recognised in other countries, and we have no route to getting another jab without having to leave the trial entirely.”

They added: “Many people stepped up to take this vaccine in the hope that it would help provide a route out of the pandemic, but now we have been abandoned.“When we raise our concerns we are given vague promises and management speak. Thousands of people volunteered when they were asked, and now because of delay and inaction we risk being treated as second-class citizens.

“We need urgent action to ensure those who put themselves forward are not now left behind.”

Those who want to receive an approved vaccine have also faced roadblocks after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) published guidance saying vaccine centers should not provide jabs to anyone involved in trials, leading to claims that participants are now “trapped”.

“I have tried on two occasions to get an approved vaccine, but this has been refused,” one Novavax participant said. “Recently, the local vaccine centre told me that the JCVI has specifically told them that they are not allowed to give approved vaccines to those who have already been vaccinated by Novavax.”

“We are completely trapped. We have received an effective vaccine which is essentially not recognised by many countries, and we have no way of getting an approved vaccine.”

They added: “I have a high regard for the work done by the NHS and I see the vital role of research in improving health care. Research has provided a way out of this pandemic.

“However, I feel that our contribution as volunteers has not been appreciated, and the situation we now find ourselves in is very unfair.

“None of the agencies involved have taken this situation seriously, and none of them are providing a way out, nor offering to compensate us for any loss. I feel completely cast aside.”

The Department for Health and Social Care have been approached for comment.

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