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Great Ormond Street children’s hospital guards to strike in dispute over sick pay | Employment law

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Outsourced security guards at London’s Great Ormond Street hospital are planning to walk out for six weeks because they are being denied full sick pay and other standard NHS employment rights by a company owned by a leading Conservative donor, Michael Ashcroft.

The guards, who are employed by Carlisle Support Services, which is owned by former Tory treasurer and deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft, are desperate to be taken in-house by the children’s hospital because they fear the devastating financial consequences of falling ill. “It is hard to believe, but I do not get sick pay. What this means is if I go to work, I put myself and others in danger. If I stay at home, I don’t make rent,” said Erica Rasheed, who has been working at the hospital since March.

The world-renowned hospital’s 36 security guards are only entitled to statutory sick pay, which is just £96.35 a week, whereas NHS staff at the hospital, including in-house cleaners, get up to six months of full pay when ill.

This means the security guards have to survive on less than £14 a day if they stay away from work. They are, however, entitled to full pay when self-isolating with Covid.

“I’ve only been off one time – I have not taken any other sick leave in four years. I have to go to work when I’m ill,” said Peter Akintoye, a security guard, who has worked at the hospital since 2017. “It’s not just me – it is almost all of us. We cannot afford to be sick. We still have to come to work. We are left with no other option.”

The guards, who earn just over £11 an hour, put themselves and their families at risk during the pandemic to help medical staff, sometimes escorting infectious patients, accompanied by paramedics, into the hospital. Now the hospital is facing another wave of the virus as the Omicron variant sweeps London. “It is dangerous for us. We are on the frontline. We walk around the whole hospital and deal with parents,” said Rasheed.

The guards, who took three days of strike action earlier this month, will be walking out again in January. They claim they are being denied a range of employment rights enjoyed by their NHS colleagues, including full maternity pay, extra payments for unsociable hours and employer pension contributions. They are not paid more for working night shifts. “We are treated as second-tier staff,” said Akintoye, who has three children under nine. “There has to be some dignity and respect. It is so unfair.”

The predominantly black and Asian guards argue they are being indirectly discriminated against because the largely white in-house workforce has superior terms and conditions. They are taking the hospital to an employment tribunal. “We are looked down on because we are not white, because we are immigrants,” said Rasheed. “I don’t doubt it at all.”

Great Ormand Street staff receive eight weeks of full maternity pay and 18 weeks of half maternity pay – but the guards only get the statutory minimum, which is 90% of average earnings for the first six weeks and then no more than £151.97 a week. Rasheed, who is three months’ pregnant, dreads the prospect of having to get by on the legal minimum when her baby is born. “Now I’m pregnant I’m more worried than before. Maternity pay is worse than sick pay,” she said. “We can’t live on £650 or so a month [after six weeks] when our rent is £1,300 a month and our bills are £1,500 a month. Then there is food and transport. And stuff for the baby. We’re going to struggle. My husband will have to kill himself to find more work.”

Ashcroft, whose business empire is estimated to be worth more than £1.2bn.
Ashcroft, whose business empire is estimated to be worth more than £1.2bn. Photograph: Terry O’Neill/PA

Carlisle Support Services, which generated revenues of £65m and profit before tax of almost £1.3m in 2019, is a supplier of outsourced cleaners, guards and retail staff in the UK. Ashcroft, who lives in Belize, has ultimate control of the firm as he holds more than half of its shares.

Ashcroft, whose business empire is estimated to be worth in excess of £1.2bn, donated at least £10m to the Tories up to 2010. He has started donating to the party once more in recent years, including more than £200,000 since 2020. Ashcroft became a Conservative life peer in 2000 but was dogged by controversy about his tax status as he remained a “non dom” for 10 years, meaning his permanent home was not in the UK, so he did not pay UK tax on overseas earnings. He resigned his seat in the House of Lords in 2015 but retained his peerage.

Petros Elia, general secretary of the United Voices of the World union, which represents the guards, accused Ashcroft’s firm and Great Ormand Street of ignoring their plight. “At a time when our NHS could soon be at breaking point, the refusal to give the security guards equality with their NHS counterparts tells you all you need to know about outsourcing. It’s all about profits and saving costs at the expense of worker wellbeing,” he said.

Carlisle Support Services said the hospital’s security team’s terms and conditions of employment were transferred from the previous provider, when it took over the service in August. It said it was a large and ethical employer that recognised the right of employees to take lawful industrial action. It said the security team at the hospital earned more than the London living wage. It noted Ashcroft was not involved in any of the day-to-day operations of the company or the negotiation of client contracts. “At all times, Carlisle has and will maintain that all statutory employment provisions are offered to all employees,” the firm said in a statement.

Great Ormond Street hospital said it respected and valued the security team’s contribution, particularly during the pandemic. It said it worked with an external provider approved by the Security Industry Authority to ensure a resilient and properly regulated security service. It said it had recently invited all members of the team to a series of staff meetings to discuss any concerns.

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Solar storms may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in a given year

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In an approximate 11-year cycle, the sun blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field, which may disrupt our body clock and ultimately affect our heart



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17 June 2022

A solar storm

Jurik Peter/Shutterstock

Solar storms that disrupt Earth’s magnetic field may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in the US in a given year.

The sun goes through cycles of high and low activity that repeat approximately every 11 years. During periods of high activity, it blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field.

These so-called solar storms can cause glitches in our power grids and bring down Earth-orbiting satellites. A handful of studies have also hinted that they increase the risk of …

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UK Covid infection rate rising, with more than a million cases in England | Coronavirus

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Coronavirus infections are rising in the UK, figures have revealed, with experts noting the increase is probably down to the more transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), based on swabs collected from randomly selected households, reveal that in the week ending 11 June an estimated one in 50 people in the community in England are thought to have had Covid – around 1.13 million people.

The figure is even higher, at one in 45, in both Wales and Northern Ireland, while it was highest in Scotland where, in the week ending 10 June, one in 30 people are thought to have been infected.

While the figures remain below the peak levels of infection seen earlier this year, when around one in 13 people in England had Covid, the findings are a rise on the previous week where one in 70 people in England were thought to be infected. Furthermore, the data reveals increases in all regions of England, except the north-east, and across all age groups.

Experts say that a key factor in the increase is probably the rise of the Covid variants of concern BA.4 and BA.5.

“Infections have increased across all four UK nations, driven by rising numbers of people infected with the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants,” said Kara Steel, senior statistician for the Covid-19 Infection Survey.

While Steel said it remained too early to say if this was the start of another wave, others have warned it may already have begun, with increased mixing and travelling among other factors fuelling a rise in cases.

Among concerns scientists have raised are that BA.4, BA.5 and another variant on the rise, BA.2.12.1, replicate more efficiently in human lung cells than BA.2.

Prof Azra Ghani, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said the latest figures were not surprising, and might rise further.

“This increase in infection prevalence is likely due to the growth of the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, which as we have seen elsewhere in Europe, appear to be able to escape immunity generated from previous Omicron subvariants,” she said.

“It is therefore possible that we will continue to see some growth in infection prevalence in the coming weeks and consequently an increase in hospitalisations, although these subvariants do not currently appear to result in any significantly changed severity profile. This does however serve as a reminder that the Covid-19 pandemic is not over.”

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NHS to offer women in England drug that cuts recurrence of breast cancer | Breast cancer

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Thousands of women in England with breast cancer are to benefit from a new pill on the NHS which reduces the risk of the disease coming back.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has given the green light to abemaciclib, which cuts the chance of breast cancer returning after a patient has had surgery to remove a tumour.

Trials showed that patients who had the drug with hormone therapy had a more than 30% improved chance of their cancer not coming back after surgery, compared with hormone therapy alone.

“It’s fantastic thousands of women with this type of primary breast cancer will now have an additional treatment option available on the NHS to help further reduce the risk of the disease coming back,” said Delyth Morgan, the chief executive of charity Breast Cancer Now.

“The fear of breast cancer returning or spreading to other parts of their body and becoming incurable can cause considerable anxiety for so many women and their loved ones.

“New effective treatments such as abemaciclib, which can offer more women the chance to further reduce the risk of the disease recurring, are therefore extremely welcome and this is an important step change in the drug options available for this group of patients.”

The twice-a-day pill is suitable for women with hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative, node-positive early breast cancer at high risk of recurrence who have had surgery. About 4,000 women will benefit initially, Nice said.

Helen Knight, the interim director of medicines evaluation at Nice, said the draft recommendation came less than a month after abemaciclib received its licence.

“The fact that we have been able to produce draft recommendations so quickly is testament to the success of our ambition to support patient access to clinically and cost effective treatments as early as possible,” said Knight. “Until now there have been no targeted treatments for people with this type of breast cancer.

“Abemaciclib with hormone therapy represents a significant improvement in how it is treated because being able to have a targeted treatment earlier after surgery will increase the chance of curing the disease and reduce the likelihood of developing incurable advanced disease.”

Abemaciclib works by targeting and inhibiting proteins in cancer cells which allow the cancer to divide and grow. It normally costs £2,950 for a packet of 56 150mg-tablets, but the manufacturer, Eli Lilly, has agreed an undisclosed discounted price for NHS England.

“Thanks in part to this latest deal struck by NHS England, NHS patients will be able to access another new targeted drug for a common and aggressive form of breast cancer,” said Prof Peter Johnson, the cancer director of NHS England.

“Abemaciclib, when used alongside a hormone therapy, offers a new, doubly targeted, treatment option, helping to increase the chances of beating the cancer for good, as well as meeting the NHS’s commitment to delivering improved cancer care under our long-term plan.”

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