Joint red and white poppy ceremony in Aberystwyth hailed a success

From Cambrian News:

Aberystwyth’s first joint red and white poppy ceremony has been hailed a success afte­r the chairman of the town’s Royal British Legion praised the number of people who paid their respects at the event.

After disagreements in the past over whether a white poppy wreath, used to symbolise a des­ire for peace, should be laid at the war mem­orial alongside the traditional red poppy as a symbol of remembrance for those who lost their lives, an agreement was reached to have a joint ceremony. It is believed it is the first such joint ceremony in the UK.

Sean Langton, the chairman of the Aberystwyth branch of the British Legion, said he hoped the agreement would continue in future years and said he was impressed by the level of support from the public for the Remembrance Parade and poppy ceremony.

He said: “We had a great turnout and for a small town to get such a good turnout was great. We hope that there will be a joint ceremony in the future.

“For me, what is important is that we all get a chance to remember and pay tribute to people as we want to. If people wish to wear the white poppy that is their choice. The red poppy isn’t a symbol of war, and I do think that is misunderstood by some people.”

He added: “I hope we do continue the joint ceremony, as last year’s event with all of the media attention takes away from what the day is about, which is remembrance.”

As part of the joint ceremony, five white poppy wreaths were laid by Aberystwyth Town Council, Aberystwyth Peace and Justice Network, Côr Gobaith, Aberystwyth Quakers, and Borth and Aberystwyth Women in Black, as well as a purple wreath from Animal Aid.

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Housing Associations back Right to Buy deal

From 24Dash:

It has been revealed that 86% of NHF members voted in support of the deal, representing 93% of the sector’s total rented homes.

In an email sent to housing associations and seen by 24housing editorial team, David Orr writes: “Over the past week we’ve been asking you and all our members to give your view on whether a proposal to voluntarily deliver Right to Buy should be put forward to the government.

“I’d like to thank you for considering this issue and sending us your response so quickly, given that we were working to a tight timetable which I know many of you found challenging.

“The responses we have received show that a majority of our members are in favour of the proposed offer to the government. 86% of our members who responded supported the offer, representing 93% of the sector’s total rented homes. This puts us in a position to offer the Government a Right to Buy proposal that it can be confident has the support of a sector which is ready and willing to work with it to deliver its manifesto commitment in a way that does not compromise the independence of boards.

“We have now put the offer forward to the government and await its response. We believe it is a good offer that works for all parties and we hope that the government responds positively.

“If the government accepts the offer we are making as a sector, we will work alongside you on the details of how we move forward together. I know, from conversations that my team and I have had with many associations over the last week, the serious and meticulous way that boards around the country have considered this issue.

“I know that some boards had concerns about the proposal and felt unable to support it. I know that others who did support it have identified issues where they need further reassurance as we begin to develop the detail. While there won’t be any movement on the principles set out in the offer, we will ensure we highlight all detailed concerns you’ve raised with us in discussions with the government if our offer is formally accepted.

“Finally, I want to offer personal thanks for the way in which the sector has engaged with this process. What it has shown me, once again, is that this is a sector which is bold, innovative and agile. We have a strong offer to the government, but more than that, we have shown ourselves capable of tackling big issues in an imaginative and innovative way.”

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Iain Duncan Smith to station job advisors at food banks:

From Huffington Post:

The Government wants to station job centre advisors at food banks to help get hard-pressed families work in a significant extension of the role of charities.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, told MPs that a pilot project in Manchester is to be rolled out across the country as it is proving successful.

The Conservative minister told the work and pensions select committee of MPs he had received “good feedback”.

He added: “If this works and other food banks are willing to encompass it, I would want to roll this out across the country.”

Robert Devereux, Permanent Secretary at the DWP, said the pilot scheme was initially focussed on helping people struggling to claim benefits they deserved, but advisors were “spending more time pointing people to vacancies”.

The move appears to embed food banks, run by charities, into the welfare state. Critics will also point out many using food banks are already in work, albeit poorly paid.

Mr Duncan Smith questioned Trussell Trust figures that showed a 398% increase in the number of people using their food banks between 2012-14 in Scotland.

While the figures were “genuinely put together” they were “not absolutely clear”, he told the committee.

Ministers have come under fire for the number of hard-pressed families relying on food parcels.

The Trussell Trust, the biggest provider of food banks that provide three days of free food to clients in need, helped people with food 129,000 times in 2011/12 but did so more than a million times in 2014/15.

A report by The Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty today claimed David Cameron has “no means” of alleviating poverty to the point people no longer rely on food banks.

It said it was unclear how the Prime Minister would cut use and added the level of food bank support hid a deeper issue of people not being able to eat well because they are too poor.

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Tampon Tax: List of MPs who voted against scrapping VAT on tampons

305 MPs voted against scrapping VAT on tampons, here’s a list of them:

Mp Name Constituency Vote
Nigel Adams Selby and Ainsty Con
Adam Afriyie Windsor Con
Peter Aldous Waveney Con
Lucy Allan Telford Con
Heidi Allen South Cambridgeshire Con
David Amess Southend West Con
Stuart Andrew Pudsey Con
Caroline Ansell Eastbourne Con
Edward Argar Charnwood Con
Victoria Atkins Louth and Horncastle Con
Richard Bacon South Norfolk Con
Steven Baker Wycombe Con
Harriett Baldwin West Worcestershire Con
Stephen Barclay North East Cambridgeshire Con
Gavin Barwell Croydon Central Con
Guto Bebb Aberconwy Con
Henry Bellingham North West Norfolk Con
Richard Benyon Newbury Con
Paul Beresford Mole Valley Con
Jake Berry Rossendale and Darwen Con
James Berry Kingston and Surbiton Con
Andrew Bingham High Peak Con
Bob Blackman Harrow East Con
Nicola Blackwood Oxford West and Abingdon Con
Nicholas Boles Grantham and Stamford Con
Peter Bone Wellingborough Con
Victoria Borwick Kensington Con
Karen Bradley Staffordshire Moorlands Con
Graham Brady Altrincham and Sale West Con
Julian Brazier Canterbury Con
Andrew Bridgen North West Leicestershire Con
Steve Brine Winchester Con
James Brokenshire Old Bexley and Sidcup Con
Fiona Bruce Congleton Con
Robert Buckland South Swindon Con
Simon Burns Chelmsford Con
David Burrowes Enfield, Southgate Con
Alistair Burt North East Bedfordshire Con
Alun Cairns Vale of Glamorgan Con
Neil Carmichael Stroud Con
James Cartlidge South Suffolk Con
Maria Caulfield Lewes Con
Alex Chalk Cheltenham Con
Rehman Chishti Gillingham and Rainham Con
Christopher Chope Christchurch Con
Jo Churchill Bury St Edmunds Con
Greg Clark Tunbridge Wells Con
Kenneth Clarke Rushcliffe Con
James Cleverly Braintree Con
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown The Cotswolds Con
Therese Coffey Suffolk Coastal Con
Damian Collins Folkestone and Hythe Con
Oliver Colvile Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport Con
Alberto Costa South Leicestershire Con
Geoffrey Cox Torridge and West Devon Con
Stephen Crabb Preseli Pembrokeshire Con
Tracey Crouch Chatham and Aylesford Con
Byron Davies Gower Con
Chris Davies Brecon and Radnorshire Con
David Davies Monmouth Con
Glyn Davies Montgomeryshire Con
James Davies Vale of Clwyd Con
Mims Davies Eastleigh Con
David Davis Haltemprice and Howden Con
Caroline Dinenage Gosport Con
Jonathan Djanogly Huntingdon Con
Michelle Donelan Chippenham Con
Steve Double St Austell and Newquay Con
Oliver Dowden Hertsmere Con
Jackie Doyle-Price Thurrock Con
Richard Drax South Dorset Con
Flick Drummond Portsmouth South Con
James Duddridge Rochford and Southend East Con
Alan Duncan Rutland and Melton Con
Iain Duncan Smith Chingford and Woodford Green Con
Philip Dunne Ludlow Con
Tom Elliott Fermanagh and South Tyrone UUP
Michael Ellis Northampton North Con
Jane Ellison Battersea Con
Tobias Ellwood Bournemouth East Con
Charlie Elphicke Dover Con
George Eustice Camborne and Redruth Con
Graham Evans Weaver Vale Con
Nigel Evans Ribble Valley Con
David Evennett Bexleyheath and Crayford Con
Michael Fabricant Lichfield Con
Michael Fallon Sevenoaks Con
Mark Field Cities of London and Westminster Con
Kevin Foster Torbay Con
Liam Fox North Somerset Con
Lucy Frazer South East Cambridgeshire Con
George Freeman Mid Norfolk Con
Mike Freer Finchley and Golders Green Con
Richard Fuller Bedford Con
Marcus Fysh Yeovil Con
Edward Garnier Harborough Con
Mark Garnier Wyre Forest Con
David Gauke South West Hertfordshire Con
Nusrat Ghani Wealden Con
Nick Gibb Bognor Regis and Littlehampton Con
Cheryl Gillan Chesham and Amersham Con
John Glen Salisbury Con
Zac Goldsmith Richmond Park Con
Robert Goodwill Scarborough and Whitby Con
Michael Gove Surrey Heath Con
Richard Graham Gloucester Con
Helen Grant Maidstone and The Weald Con
James Gray North Wiltshire Con
Chris Grayling Epsom and Ewell Con
Chris Green Bolton West Con
Damian Green Ashford Con
Dominic Grieve Beaconsfield Con
Andrew Griffiths Burton Con
Ben Gummer Ipswich Con
Sam Gyimah East Surrey Con
Robert Halfon Harlow Con
Luke Hall Thornbury and Yate Con
Philip Hammond Runnymede and Weybridge Con
Stephen Hammond Wimbledon Con
Matthew Hancock West Suffolk Con
Greg Hands Chelsea and Fulham Con
Mark Harper Forest of Dean Con
Richard Harrington Watford Con
Rebecca Harris Castle Point Con
Simon Hart Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire Con
Alan Haselhurst Saffron Walden Con
John Hayes South Holland and The Deepings Con
Oliver Heald North East Hertfordshire Con
James Heappey Wells Con
Chris Heaton-Harris Daventry Con
Peter Heaton-Jones North Devon Con
Gordon Henderson Sittingbourne and Sheppey Con
Nick Herbert Arundel and South Downs Con
Damian Hinds East Hampshire Con
Simon Hoare North Dorset Con
George Hollingbery Meon Valley Con
Kevin Hollinrake Thirsk and Malton Con
Kris Hopkins Keighley Con
Gerald Howarth Aldershot Con
John Howell Henley Con
Ben Howlett Bath Con
Nigel Huddleston Mid Worcestershire Con
Jeremy Hunt South West Surrey Con
Nick Hurd Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner Con
Stewart Jackson Peterborough Con
Margot James Stourbridge Con
Sajid Javid Bromsgrove Con
Ranil Jayawardena North East Hampshire Con
Andrea Jenkyns Morley and Outwood Con
Robert Jenrick Newark Con
Boris Johnson Uxbridge and South Ruislip Con
Gareth Johnson Dartford Con
Jo Johnson Orpington Con
Andrew Jones Harrogate and Knaresborough Con
David Jones Clwyd West Con
Marcus Jones Nuneaton Con
Daniel Kawczynski Shrewsbury and Atcham Con
Seema Kennedy South Ribble Con
Danny Kinahan South Antrim UUP
Simon Kirby Brighton, Kemptown Con
Greg Knight East Yorkshire Con
Julian Knight Solihull Con
Kwasi Kwarteng Spelthorne Con
Mark Lancaster Milton Keynes North Con
Pauline Latham Mid Derbyshire Con
Andrea Leadsom South Northamptonshire Con
Phillip Lee Bracknell Con
Jeremy Lefroy Stafford Con
Edward Leigh Gainsborough Con
Charlotte Leslie Bristol North West Con
Oliver Letwin West Dorset Con
Brandon Lewis Great Yarmouth Con
Julian Lewis New Forest East Con
Ian Liddell-Grainger Bridgwater and West Somerset Con
David Lidington Aylesbury Con
Jack Lopresti Filton and Bradley Stoke Con
Jonathan Lord Woking Con
Tim Loughton East Worthing and Shoreham Con
Karen Lumley Redditch Con
Craig Mackinlay South Thanet Con
David Mackintosh Northampton South Con
Anne Main St Albans Con
Alan Mak Havant Con
Kit Malthouse North West Hampshire Con
Scott Mann North Cornwall Con
Tania Mathias Twickenham Con
Theresa May Maidenhead Con
Paul Maynard Blackpool North and Cleveleys Con
Jason McCartney Colne Valley Con
Karl McCartney Lincoln Con
Stephen McPartland Stevenage Con
Mark Menzies Fylde Con
Johnny Mercer Plymouth, Moor View Con
Huw Merriman Bexhill and Battle Con
Stephen Metcalfe South Basildon and East Thurrock Con
Maria Miller Basingstoke Con
Amanda Milling Cannock Chase Con
Nigel Mills Amber Valley Con
Anne Milton Guildford Con
Andrew Mitchell Sutton Coldfield Con
Penny Mordaunt Portsmouth North Con
Nicky Morgan Loughborough Con
Anne Marie Morris Newton Abbot Con
David Morris Morecambe and Lunesdale Con
James Morris Halesowen and Rowley Regis Con
Wendy Morton Aldridge-Brownhills Con
David Mowat Warrington South Con
David Mundell Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale Con
Sheryll Murray South East Cornwall Con
Andrew Murrison South West Wiltshire Con
Bob Neill Bromley and Chislehurst Con
Sarah Newton Truro and Falmouth Con
Caroline Nokes Romsey and Southampton North Con
Jesse Norman Hereford and South Herefordshire Con
Matthew Offord Hendon Con
Guy Opperman Hexham Con
George Osborne Tatton Con
Neil Parish Tiverton and Honiton Con
Priti Patel Witham Con
Owen Paterson North Shropshire Con
Mark Pawsey Rugby Con
Mike Penning Hemel Hempstead Con
John Penrose Weston-Super-Mare Con
Andrew Percy Brigg and Goole Con
Claire Perry Devizes Con
Stephen Phillips Sleaford and North Hykeham Con
Chris Philp Croydon South Con
Eric Pickles Brentwood and Ongar Con
Christopher Pincher Tamworth Con
Daniel Poulter Central Suffolk and North Ipswich Con
Rebecca Pow Taunton Deane Con
Victoria Prentis Banbury Con
Mark Prisk Hertford and Stortford Con
Mark Pritchard The Wrekin Con
Tom Pursglove Corby Con
Jeremy Quin Horsham Con
Will Quince Colchester Con
Dominic Raab Esher and Walton Con
Jacob Rees-Mogg North East Somerset Con
Laurence Robertson Tewkesbury Con
Mary Robinson Cheadle Con
Andrew Rosindell Romford Con
Amber Rudd Hastings and Rye Con
David Rutley Macclesfield Con
Antoinette Sandbach Eddisbury Con
Paul Scully Sutton and Cheam Con
Andrew Selous South West Bedfordshire Con
Alok Sharma Reading West Con
Alec Shelbrooke Elmet and Rothwell Con
Keith Simpson Broadland Con
Chris Skidmore Kingswood Con
Chloe Smith Norwich North Con
Henry Smith Crawley Con
Julian Smith Skipton and Ripon Con
Royston Smith Southampton, Itchen Con
Amanda Solloway Derby North Con
Anna Soubry Broxtowe Con
Caroline Spelman Meriden Con
Mark Spencer Sherwood Con
Andrew Stephenson Pendle Con
John Stevenson Carlisle Con
Bob Stewart Beckenham Con
Iain Stewart Milton Keynes South Con
Gary Streeter South West Devon Con
Mel Stride Central Devon Con
Graham Stuart Beverley and Holderness Con
Julian Sturdy York Outer Con
Rishi Sunak Richmond (Yorks) Con
Desmond Swayne New Forest West Con
Hugo Swire East Devon Con
Robert Syms Poole Con
Derek Thomas St Ives Con
Maggie Throup Erewash Con
Edward Timpson Crewe and Nantwich Con
Kelly Tolhurst Rochester and Strood Con
Justin Tomlinson North Swindon Con
Michael Tomlinson Mid Dorset and North Poole Con
Craig Tracey North Warwickshire Con
David Tredinnick Bosworth Con
Anne-Marie Trevelyan Berwick-upon-Tweed Con
Elizabeth Truss South West Norfolk Con
Thomas Tugendhat Tonbridge and Malling Con
Andrew Turner Isle of Wight Con
Andrew Tyrie Chichester Con
Ed Vaizey Wantage Con
Shailesh Vara North West Cambridgeshire Con
Martin Vickers Cleethorpes Con
Charles Walker Broxbourne Con
Robin Walker Worcester Con
Ben Wallace Wyre and Preston North Con
David Warburton Somerton and Frome Con
Matt Warman Boston and Skegness Con
Angela Watkinson Hornchurch and Upminster Con
James Wharton Stockton South Con
Helen Whately Faversham and Mid Kent Con
Heather Wheeler South Derbyshire Con
Chris White Warwick and Leamington Con
Craig Whittaker Calder Valley Con
Bill Wiggin North Herefordshire Con
Craig Williams Cardiff North Con
Gavin Williamson South Staffordshire Con
Rob Wilson Reading East Con
Sarah Wollaston Totnes Con
Mike Wood Dudley South Con
William Wragg Hazel Grove Con
Jeremy Wright Kenilworth and Southam Con
Nadhim Zahawi Stratford-on-Avon Con
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Snowden: GCHQ can hack smart phones to listen in on surroundings

From BBC News:

Smartphone users can do “very little” to stop security services getting “total control” over their devices, US whistleblower Edward Snowden has said.

The former intelligence contractor told the BBC’s Panorama that UK intelligence agency GCHQ had the power to hack into phones without their owners’ knowledge.

Mr Snowden said GCHQ could gain access to a handset by sending it an encrypted text message and use it for such things as taking pictures and listening in.

The UK government declined to comment.

Edward Snowden says government phone-hacking capabilities were “named after Smurfs”
Mr Snowden spoke to Panorama in Moscow, where he fled in 2013 after leaking to the media details of extensive internet and phone surveillance by his former employer, the US National Security Agency (NSA).

He did not suggest that either GCHQ or the NSA were interested in mass-monitoring of citizens’ private communications but said both agencies had invested heavily in technology allowing them to hack smartphones. “They want to own your phone instead of you,” he said.

Mr Snowden talked about GCHQ’s “Smurf Suite”, a collection of secret intercept capabilities individually named after the little blue imps of Belgian cartoon fame.
“Dreamy Smurf is the power management tool which means turning your phone on and off without you knowing,” he said.

“Nosey Smurf is the ‘hot mic’ tool. For example if it’s in your pocket, [GCHQ] can turn the microphone on and listen to everything that’s going on around you – even if your phone is switched off because they’ve got the other tools for turning it on.

“Tracker Smurf is a geo-location tool which allows [GCHQ] to follow you with a greater precision than you would get from the typical triangulation of cellphone towers.”

Mr Snowden also referred to a tool known as Paronoid Smurf.

“It’s a self-protection tool that’s used to armour [GCHQ’s] manipulation of your phone. For example, if you wanted to take the phone in to get it serviced because you saw something strange going on or you suspected something was wrong, it makes it much more difficult for any technician to realise that anything’s gone amiss.”

Once GCHQ had gained access to a user’s handset, Mr Snowden said the agency would be able to see “who you call, what you’ve texted, the things you’ve browsed, the list of your contacts, the places you’ve been, the wireless networks that your phone is associated with.
“And they can do much more. They can photograph you”.

Mr Snowden also explained that the SMS message sent by the agency to gain access to the phone would pass unnoticed by the handset’s owner.

“It’s called an ‘exploit’,” he said. “That’s a specially crafted message that’s texted to your number like any other text message but when it arrives at your phone it’s hidden from you. It doesn’t display. You paid for it [the phone] but whoever controls the software owns the phone.”

Describing the relationship between GCHQ and its US counterpart, he said: “GCHQ is to all intents and purposes a subsidiary of the NSA.

“They [the NSA] provide technology, they provide tasking and direction as to what they [GCHQ] should go after.”

The NSA is understood to have a similar programme to the Smurf Suite used by GCHQ on which it is reported to have spent $1bn in response to terrorists’ increasing use of smartphones.

Mr Snowden said the agencies were targeting those suspected of involvement in terrorism or other serious crimes such as paedophilia “but to find out who those targets are they’ve got to collect mass data”.

“They say, and in many cases this is true, that they’re not going to read your email, for example, but they can and if they did you would never know,” he said.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the UK government said: “It is long-standing policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters.

“All of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework, which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the interception and intelligence services commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. All our operational processes rigorously support this position.”

The government believes Mr Snowden has caused great damage to the intelligence agencies’ ability to counter threats to national security.

Mr Snowden maintains he has acted in the public interest on the grounds that the surveillance activities revealed in the thousands of documents he leaked are carried out – in his words – “without our knowledge, without our consent and without any sort of democratic participation”.

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Rival London mayoral candidates address Heathrow runway protest:

From BBC News:
No Third Runway Rally
Rival mayoral candidates have united to condemn plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport.

They addressed a protest in Parliament Square, central London, attended by more than 1,000 people.

Conservative contender for City Hall, Zac Goldsmith, warned it would be “catastrophic”. Labour’s Sadiq Khan called it “madness”.

A Heathrow spokesman said a third runway was needed to keep London “at the heart of the global economy”.

Mr Goldsmith told the crowd: “We know that our air pollution problems in London would be unsolvable if we expand Heathrow. And we know it requires the demolition of more than 1,000 homes. It is a catastrophic price to pay.”

Mr Khan told BBC London: “It would be madness to build a new runway. People who care about London and the health of London, who worry about the noise, who worry about the infrastructure, are united against it.”

Green candidate Sian Berry, Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon and UKIP’s Peter Whittle all gave speeches against the proposed expansion, joined by environmental campaigners and local residents.

John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor and Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, also addressed the crowd. He said: “In my constituency at the moment, people are literally dying. They’re dying because the air has already been poisoned by the aviation industry.”
A Heathrow spokesman responded: “London’s future success as a global city, and as a centre for finance and investment, will depend on the strength of links with existing and new markets.

“The Airports Commission has confirmed that Heathrow expansion will keep the capital and the whole of the UK at the heart of the global economy, meet environmental targets and balance the needs of local communities.”

Heathrow was chosen by the Davies Commission as the best way to increase airport capacity for London and the South East because it was predicted it would add £147 billion in economic growth and 70,000 jobs by 2050.

Prime Minister David Cameron is due to announce a decision on expansion by the end of the year.

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GPs being paid to cut patient referrals

From BBC News:

Some doctors in England are being offered thousands of pounds to cut the number of patients being sent to hospital, an investigation has found.

GP practices are being paid to help local NHS groups limit the number of patient referrals and cut costs, the doctors’ magazine Pulse found.

Appointments affected include scans and consultations with specialists – including those for cancer patients.

The British Medical Association said such incentives were “misguided”.

At least nine clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) were offering GP practices payments for hitting targets, according to Pulse’s investigation.

In one case, Birmingham South Central CCG was offering practices more than £11,000 to reduce new outpatient attendances, follow-ups, A&E attendances and emergency admissions by 1%, compared with 2014/15.

It said the schemes were designed to “incentivise best quality practice” and “drive improvements in the quality of primary medical care”.

“Our priority is to ensure that patients have access to services that they need, when they need them,” said a spokesperson for Birmingham South Central CCG.

Another CCG told Pulse it had considered the “full impact” of the incentive scheme and was “confident that there is no conflict of interest”.

And one said urgent care and two-week cancer referrals “cannot be separated” from its referral targets.

Pulse said that one scheme had already been looked at by the General Medical Council, the body which regulates medical standards in the UK, after local GP leaders expressed their concern.

The magazine pointed out that initial hospital referrals for cancer patients should happen within two weeks of a GP first suspecting the condition.

Dr Chand Nagpaul, chairman of the GPs committee of the doctors’ trade union the British Medical Association, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that such schemes were a “financial contaminant” to patient-doctor trust.

He said: “It’s short-sighted and misguided of CCGs to introduce such mechanisms, because they do lead to the potential for patients questioning the motives of GP referrals.
“We believe it is far more appropriate for CCGs to introduce clinical pathways that ensure patients are referred appropriately rather than these crude, salesman-like bonuses which pay GPs simply to make reduction to referrals in numerical terms.”

Dr Peter Melton is local GP and clinical chief officer for North East Lincolnshire CCG, which offers the equivalent of more than £6,000 to practices that reduce outpatient referrals to the same level as the 25% with the lowest referral rates (which include two-week urgent cancer referrals) in 2014/15.

He said the CCG was already among the best in England for referring suspected cancer patients to a consultant within two weeks and the scheme was not about avoiding sending people to hospital.

“It is not focussing on referral reduction per se but on better clinical and quality standards for the patient,” he explained.

“The expectation is practices will be encouraged to investigate more locally and monitor the patient in the first instance rather than automatically refer in to a secondary care service.”

In November the NHS advisory board said GPs in England should nearly double the number of patients referred to hospital for cancer tests.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence said delays in spotting symptoms could be costing thousands of lives each year.

NHS England said: “We explicitly want to increase not deter appropriate referrals for cancer checks.”

Dr Rosie Loftus of the charity Macmillan Cancer Support described the findings outlined in Pulse as “very worrying”.

“This is yet another sign of an NHS which is seriously over stretched and not giving GPs the resources and support they need,” she said.

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Housing association federation and government propose right-to-buy deal

From The Guardian

Government ministers and housing association leaders have negotiated a deal that, if accepted, would effectively push through controversial plans to extend the right-to-buy policy without parliamentary scrutiny.

Under the proposed deal, ministers would abandon plans to legislate for an extension of the right-to-buy scheme to 1.2m housing association homes. In return, housing associations would voluntarily agree to sell their homes to any tenants who wished to buy them.

The proposed deal was announced by the communities secretary, Greg Clark, and the National Housing Federation (NHF) boss, David Orr, in Birmingham on Thursday and has to be agreed by Britain’s 1,400 housing associations in the next eight days.

Having a voluntary agreement will allow ministers to sidestep a damaging political row over the policy at Westminster. The proposal – an unabashed extension of the flagship Thatcherite right-to-buy policy – was a centrepiece of the Tory general election manifesto.

Under the Conservative plans, housing association tenants were to be given the right to buy their home at a discount of up to £100,000, in line with existing right-to-buy arrangements for local authority homes.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “We want to help anyone who works hard and aspires to own their own home turn their dream into a reality. The NHF have voluntarily come forward with a proposal, which the government will now consider.

“Since 2012, councils have already delivered more than 3,000 homes through the reinvigorated right-to-buy scheme.”

Housing association leaders believe a voluntary deal will guarantee their independence as charities and private housing providers, and head off a full-scale battle with government, which has been critical in recent weeks of association performance and efficiency.

In a notably conciliatory address to the NHF conference on Thursday, Clark praised associations and promised that an agreement would not contradict their historical mission of housing poor people.

He told the conference: “Your tenants share the same hopes and dreams as everyone else. They live in the same towns, their children go to the same schools, they have the same ambitions for themselves and their families. They should be given the same opportunity, if they want it, to own their home.

“There is no reason why signing a tenancy agreement with a housing association should mean signing away your aspirations to be a homeowner.”

Orr described the proposed deal as “a defining moment in our relationship with government”, but there were mixed views within the housing association movement.

Right to buy: views from the social housing sector
Read more
There had been fears that putting association right to buy into law would lead to the bodies, many of which are registered charities, being reclassified as public assets, adding an estimated £60bn to public debt.

The proposed deal would guarantee that associations were fully compensated for every home sold to tenants, enabling them to build replacements on a one-for-one basis.

Associations would have the discretion to block sales of homes where there were shortages of social housing, such as in rural areas, although those tenants would be given a cash voucher to put towards buying an association property elsewhere.

However, the deal would not remove the requirement for the government to fund the expected multibillion pound cost of right-to-buy discounts. Ministers currently propose to finance the discounts by forcing councils to sell off their most valuable social homes when tenants move out. This could significantly deplete stocks of affordable housing in high-cost areas, such as inner London.

The housing and homelessness charity Shelter said the deadline was too soon. “Offering just one week to decide something that will dramatically alter access to affordable housing in this country is unacceptable,” its chief executive, Campbell Robb, said.

“We need to see further detail before making a full judgement, but the bottom line is that something this big needs serious consideration … What matters here are the millions of people suffering at the hands of our housing shortage and rushing a decision through is simply not in their best interests.

“We need the government to come up with a well thought-out and comprehensive plan that can actually deliver the genuinely affordable homes we desperately need, not more piecemeal schemes.”

The deal was also criticised by the opposition. The shadow housing minister, John Healey, said: “It looks like ministers are trying to strike a backroom deal with housing association landlords to deliver a policy which they fear they can’t deliver themselves.

“It is being rushed to fit their political timetable ahead of Conservative party conference, when it should have been announced in parliament.”

The Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, said: “Forcing right to buy on housing associations was a stupid policy before the election, it remains a stupid policy now… If the Tories are serious about tackling a national emergency like housing they should take immediate action to allow councils to borrow funds to build the homes we desperately need.”

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DWP admits making up quotes by ‘benefit claimants’ saying sanctions helped them

From The Independent:

The Department for Work and Pensions has admitted making up comments from supposed “benefit claimants” that appeared in a leaflet about sanctions.

The leaflet, which has now been withdrawn, included positive example stories from people who claimed to have interacted with the sanctions system.

In one example, titled “Sarah’s story”, a jobseeker is quoted as being “really pleased” that a cut to her benefits supposedly encouraged her to re-draft her CV.

“It’s going to help me when I’m ready to go back to work,” the fabricated quote reads.

Another, by a benefit claimant supposedly called “Zac”, details the sanctions system working well.

But in response to a freedom of information request by the Welfare Weekly website the DWP said the quotes were not actually real cases and that the photos were not of real claimants.

The leaflet shows a claimant pleased with the outcome of their sanction “The photos used are stock photos and along with the names do not belong to real claimants. The stories are for illustrative purposes only,” the department said.

The leaflet, a copy of which is available in full at Welfare Weekly, contains no suggestion that the stories are not real.

The revelation is controversial because the sanctions system has been criticised for causing extreme hardship and being operated in an unfair and arbitrary way.

In March this year Parliament’s Work and Pensions Select Committee said there was evidence that sanctions were geared towards punishing people for being unemployed and might not actually help them find work.

The MPs said there was evidence that the benefit cuts for unemployed people caused more problems than they solved and might be “purely punitive”.

Previous widely-criticised decisions include people being sanctioned for missing jobcentre appointments because they had to attend a job interview, or people sanctioned for not looking for work because they had already secured a job due to start in a week’s time.

In one case a man with heart problems was sanctioned because he had a heart attack during a disability benefits assessment and thus failed to complete the assessment.

Charities including Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation say the sanctions are responsible for a significant increase in homelessness and rough sleeping in Britain under David Cameron’s government.

Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the PCS union, told the Independent that the department’s actions were “sinister”.

Another example shows the system working well “It’s disgraceful and sinister that DWP has been trying to trick people into believing claimants are happy to have their benefits stopped or threatened. Sanctions are unnecessarily punitive and counterproductive, and should be scrapped,” he said.

The DWP added in the FOI response to the website: “We want to help people understand when sanctions can be applied and how they can avoid them by taking certain actions. Using practical examples can help us achieve this.

“We have temporarily changed the pictures to silhouettes and added a note to make it more clear that these are illustrative examples only.

“We will test both versions of the factsheet with claimants and external stakeholders to further improve it in the future. This will include working with external organisations.”

The Independent contacted the Department for Work and Pensions for additional comment on this story.

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Boots, Tesco and Superdrug to get access to NHS medical records

From The Telegraph:

High street pharmacies such as Boots, Tesco and Superdrug will be given access to NHS medical records, under a national scheme which privacy campaigners fear could expose patients to “hard sell” tactics.

Health officials have drawn up plans to send sensitive data from GP surgeries to pharmacies across the country, starting this autumn, without considering the views of patients.

NHS England says the scheme will ease pressures on family doctors, and improve the care given to patients in the High Street.

But campaigners fear major commercial chains will be able to exploit the valuable data, and use it to push the sales of their products.

Officials have now ordered the national rollout of the scheme, on the basis of an evaluation of pilots in 140 pharmacies which they say showed “significant benefits”.

But the official report, seen by The Daily Telegraph, shows that the research garnered responses from just 15 patients – a sample so small that their views were discarded from the research.

The scheme got the green light, after the pharmacists involved in the pilots gave it their backing.

Privacy campaigners described the revelations as “extraordinary”. They said the scheme could leave the public exposed to heavy marketing tactics, from firms with inside information about their health.

Phil Booth, from campaign group medConfidential, said the valuable data would prove “irresistible” to the commercial firms which could exploit it.

“This approach to medical confidentiality is corroding trust in the NHS,” he said.

“It is just extraordinary: to roll out a national programme on the basis of 15 responses from patients, some of whom are very likely to have been negative about it. Fifteen people out of 60 million? That’s not an evidence base for a national policy; that is an exercise in manipulation,” he said.

The British Medical Association has called for the scheme – which is due to start extracting confidential data from patients’ medical files next month – to be halted until better efforts have been made to communicate the plans.

NHS England says the scheme will ease pressures on family doctors
Mr Booth said the data held in the “summary care records” – which set out details of previously prescribed medications taken – would allow companies to target patients for sales.
“These are commercial organisations, large chains, who are looking for opportunities to make money,” he said. “If you give them access to all this medical information it is irresistible to them to use it, it doesn’t matter if you try to ban it,” he said.

Summary care records are held on all NHS patients, unless they specifically opt out.
The data from them will be sent on to all pharmacies, starting this autumn, but pharmacists have to ask patient’s for “permission to view” the record during any encounter
Latest figures show such records are held on 96 per cent of patients in England.

They include all medication prescribed over the last six to 12 months, and any personal information, such as diagnoses or patient preferences added to the file by GPs.
The scheme is a forerunner to a controversial, and much delayed, national scheme which will see fuller details from GP consultations held on a central database, unless patients opt out.
Firms such as Boots, Lloyds and Superdrug will be told that the summary record can only be accessed by pharmacists during interactions about patient care, such as prescription requests and “MOT” health checks.

Patients are supposed to be asked permission before their records are accessed.
The pilot schemes, which took place in Somerset, Northampton, North Derbyshire, Sheffield and West Yorkshire, between September 2014 and March of this year, involved independent pharmacists, chains and supermarket pharmacies.

In total, almost 2,000 summary records were accessed, the report on the scheme says.
A “benefits audit” by health officials found 92 per cent of pharmacists thought access to records improved their service to patients, and 96 per cent said it helped them to meet patients’ needs.

But patients’ surveys, which were supposed to be administered by pharmacists at 10 of the sites, gathered just 15 responses.

The report by the Health and Social Care Information Centre states: “For the patient questionnaire, very few results have been received (15). As a consequence they have not been taken into account in the high level benefits results.”

It goes on to conclude that the use of the records “proved extremely beneficial”.
However, it notes that pharmacy staff were confused about getting consent from patients before accessing sensitive data.

“The principles around asking patients for permission to view their summary care record and its practical application for some prevalent patient groups in the pharmacy setting caused confusion and uncertainty,” the report notes.

Kiron Kurian, a volunteer patient advocate from London for people with long-term health conditions, said: “When I talk to patients about this they are very worried – one of their biggest fears is that loyalty cards for Boots or Tesco could end up linked up with their medical information. We know there are supposed to be safeguards, but how many security breaches have we seen in the past?”

“We have seen insurers get hold of information, we have seen personal information sold at a profit, there is a lot of concern about the way data ends up being used,” she said.

A spokesman for NHS England said: “Pharmacies and Pharmacists can only use information for the offering of clinical service to patients. They are bound by the same terms of service and regulations as with their access to any other information. Pharmacists are regulated by the General Pharmaceutical Society and must comply with the Data Protection Act.”

A Tesco spokesman said: “Our pharmacies are regulated by the General Pharmaceutical Society and comply with the Data Protection Act. We would never use summary care records or prescription data to market to customers.”

A Superdrug spokesman said: “At Superdrug, patient care is our highest priority. All team members who work in our pharmacies have completed enhanced data protection training to ensure sensitive personal data is handled appropriately.

We do not subject patients to sales pressure based on prescription records and this will not change when the Summary Care Record is rolled out.”

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