KINGSTON HOSPITAL UPDATE
I spoke to leaders at Kingston Hospital yesterday, and was relieved to learn that they are cautiously optimistic that they have passed the peak of hospitalisations in this second wave of coronavirus. Thanks to the consistent and sustained efforts of local residents we now have the lowest case rates in London in this area, and the pressure on the NHS is starting to come down in response.
Just to illustrate how serious the situation still is, though, here are some numbers: during the peak in April the highest number of Covid-19 patients they had in the hospital on a single day was 124. On January 8 they had 210. Yesterday they had 176. So while the numbers are going in the right direction again, the pressure remains high. You can see the pressure they are under for yourself in this report from Sky News, filmed inside Kingston Hospital.
Although the hospitalisation rate at Kingston Hospital has come down, hospitalisation rates in other parts of London, where the case rates aren't as good as ours, remain high. This underscores the need for us to continue adhering to lockdown rules, observing good hygiene habits and maintaining social distance. We must keep lowering our case rate week by week.
Hospital leaders also wanted me to assure residents of their commitment to restarting non-urgent procedures as soon as they can. But they did ask me to share their sense that their staff members are at breaking point, both physically and emotionally, after their heroic effort to keep the system running during this second wave. Staff will need to have a period of recovery before they can take up any additional challenges. I know that my constituents join me in gratitude to our front line healthcare workers and hope that those of you who are waiting for an appointment will understand.
If any of my constituents would like to do something to thank local hospital staff for their amazing work, you can see what Kingston Hospital Charity is doing to support them here.
Community testing for essential workers is available for both Richmond borough and Kingston borough residents. You can also book these rapid-response tests if you are volunteering or caring for someone who is vulnerable.
I have had a number of letters from constituents who are concerned that these tests are not as accurate as the PCR tests we offer to people who have symptoms. As Public Health London explained it to me, even though the LFD tests do generate some false negatives, the benefits of identifying even half of the undetected, asymptomatic cases are enormous. Every hidden case we uncover helps to stop the chain of transmission. But I want to emphasise that people who receive negative results should not assume they are definitely free of the virus. They should continue following lockdown rules, practicing good hygiene and maintaining social distance. This is also true of those who have received the vaccine.
Both testing and vaccination need to supplement lockdown restrictions, not replace them. Even if you have been vaccinated or had a negative test, you still need to follow all of the guidance on staying home, hygiene and social distancing.
In the Public Accounts Committee on Monday I asked Baroness Dido Harding, head of the NHS test and trace programme, whether lack of compliance with instructions to isolate is undermining the Test, Trace and Isolate programme. It's vital that people recognise the importance of isolating when told to, and for government to take all steps necessary to ensure that people are financially and logistically able to do so. You can see my question and her answer here.
There is very good news on the local vaccine rollout this week too. I learned today that the NHS expects to have all of our local care home residents vaccinated by this Sunday, and that this part of London has the highest number of over 80s vaccinated at 74%. We are on track to complete the rollout to the first four groups on the JCVI list by February 14, as targeted. This will include everyone over 70, all health and care workers, care home residents and people on the Clinically Extremely Vulnerable list.
I also learned today that our local NHS is beginning home visits to vaccinate people who live in their own homes but cannot get to a vaccination centre. People who are housebound should talk to their GP about getting a home visit when they are offered an appointment.
I want to reassure my constituents that the vaccine is safe and effective. The JCVI has just published a joint letter attesting to the efficacy of a twelve week break between dosages. You can see it here.
I also want assure you that everyone will be offered the vaccine. If you are in the first target groups and have not yet been contacted, don't worry. There is no need to contact your surgery. Please do not turn up at a vaccination centre without an appointment.
The first large vaccination centre for Richmond residents will be at Harlequins’ Stoop rugby ground, which will be opening in February. Kingston's large vaccination centre at Hawks Road in Norbiton will be opening next week. There will be one at Queen Mary's Hospital in Roehampton in February too. Large vaccination sites will operate seven days a week.
Lastly, many constituents have written to me in the past few weeks asking how they can volunteer to help with the vaccine effort. If you would like to offer your services at a vaccine site, you can register on the NHS's website here.
EARLY DAY MOTION ON PLASTIC WASTE
This week in Parliament I submitted an Early Day Motion on exporting plastic waste. I am appalled that the Government has decided to allow the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries, despite a pledge in the Conservative party manifesto to ban the practice. You can see more context on this issue in this article in the Guardian. My motion reads:
That this House notes that UK exports of unsorted plastic waste to non-OECD countries are allowed when given prior informed consent; further notes that from 1 January 2021, the EU no longer allows that practice; recognises that a ban on plastic exports outside of developed countries was a commitment in the 2019 Conservative Party Manifesto; and is concerned that continuation of global trade in plastics could mean the UK exports plastic waste to lower income countries instead of taking responsibility for its own refuse.
I will do all I can to get the Government to rectify this, and will let you know their response.
JOIN ME FOR MY VIRTUAL COFFEE MORNING NEXT WEDNESDAY
If you fancy an informal conversation with myself and some of your fellow constituents about local and national issues, please sign up for my next coffee morning here. Coffee morning conversations are wide-ranging, lively and interesting. You are welcome to bring a topic to the table, or just join us to hear an update from me on what I'm working on and find out what other people are thinking about.
PETITION TO REOPEN TOILETS IN RICHMOND PARK
Those of you who visit the western side of Richmond Park may be aware that Royal Parks closed the toilets at Ham Gate in November. In conjunction with the local councillors for Ham I objected strenuously to this action and have written repeatedly to Royal Parks in the strongest terms, asking them to reverse this decision. Regular users of the park will know how important toilet facilities are, especially for older and disabled people.
So far Royal Parks has been adamant that the toilets must be shut for budgetary reasons. I understand that they have lost a huge amount of revenue due to the cancellation of public events last year, but I do not think this is the answer. I have joined forces with the local councillors in starting a petition calling on the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to step in and insist that all toilets remain open, especially during lockdown when the park is in such heavy use.
If you are interested in this issue, you can sign our cross-party petition here: http://chng.it/7g5FVSJB6J.
TRANSPORT FOR LONDON STEPPING UP ENFORCEMENT
Transport for London has written to give me the good news that the overwhelming majority of customers both favour the face covering requirement on public transport, and are wearing their coverings, with around 90 per cent compliance at the busiest times of the day. But an expanding team of enforcement officers is cracking down on the non-complying minority who are not exempt, and is handing out more fines to non-compliers and prosecuting those who do not pay.
CONSULTATION ON GOVERNMENT PLANS FOR A LEVEL AND GCSE EXAMS
The Department for Education and Ofqual are consulting on their proposals for an alternative system of awarding grades for both vocational and general qualifications this year. The consultation runs until 29 January 2021.
For GCSEs, AS and A Level, their proposals would mean teachers and lecturers making judgements on attainment, potentially using assessment papers provided by exam boards. Proposed arrangements for vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs) depend on the nature of the qualification:
Ofqual and the Department for Education want to hear the views of students who were due to take their exams; their parents and carers, their teachers, school and college leaders and others about how grades should be awarded this summer. The consultation is due to close on 29 January. You can have your say and find out more on the government website.
KINGSTON AND RICHMOND CHILDREN ARE TOP READERS!
A report this week concluded that Richmond and Kingston are the top two councils in London for children's library lending. Have a look at this cheering news here:
LATEST RICHMOND PODCAST
Tune in to TalkRichmond to hear from Shannon Katiyo, Director of Public Health for Richmond, as he joins Talk Richmond host Cllr Jim Millard to discuss the current COVID-19 situation, why we are in another national lockdown and the rollout of the vaccines. To listen to the 15-minute episode, click here.
FREE SHOWS FROM OSO ARTS CENTRE
OSO Arts Centre in Barnes is doing their part to lift community spirits by live streaming a free show from the OSO every Wednesday evening at 8pm. They have run two shows already, attracting live online audiences of over 300. Access the shows via their website: www.osoarts.org.uk
HEALTHWATCH RICHMOND: FREE VACCINE INFORMATION EVENT FOR RICHMOND RESIDENTS
Healthwatch Richmond, in partnership with NHS Richmond and the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, will be hosting a talk on COVID-19 Vaccinations in Richmond: What you need to know. This will be a free event featuring a panel of top local experts delivering the vaccination programme, who will answer questions from the community about the vaccine and its rollout in the Borough.
This event will be a live Zoom webinar (also accessible by phone) from 3.30 PM to 4.30 PM on 2 February. Residents are invited to submit their questions to the panel in advance when they register or by calling us on 020 8099 5335 or emailing us at email@example.com. To register click here.
BERICHMOND TRANSFORMING EMPTY SHOPS IN THE TOWN CENTRE
Empty shop units in Richmond town centre have been transformed by the application of stylish, colourful graphics which showcase the rich cultural, architectural and natural heritage of the area. Themed around history, culture, nature and local poetry, the graphics have been funded by members of Be Richmond, an alliance of over 300 businesses in the town centre area. Feedback from businesses and residents has been very enthusiastic. The whole project has been funded by Be Richmond member businesses.
Kingston residents will be interested to see this video from Council Leader Caroline Kerr on the Covid-19 response in Kingston: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vpKVUdUsH4
HELP SHAPE KINGSTON'S EQUALITIES, DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION STRATEGY
Kingston Council wants to provide the right services and support for Kingston, and make sure they are accessible to everybody. To help them make the right decisions, they want to hear from all of our community to find out what's important to you. Visit kingstonletstalk.co.uk/equalities to have your say.
SUPPORTING CHILDREN'S MENTAL HEALTH THROUGH COVID-19
Children and young people might be feeling particularly worried or anxious at the moment. The changes to lives and routines means there is a lot of uncertainty, and home learning is really hard for many children and young people. Find advice on supporting your child’s mental wellbeing during the pandemic. Remember, if you are concerned about the safety of a child, or you see or hear something that doesn’t sit right with you, please call 020 8547 5008.