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Johnson wants us to talk about the NHS instead of his future. Let’s do just that | Polly Toynbee



Have you noticed that this is the government’s “health week”? Sajid Javid, the health secretary, has appeared twice on Radio 4’s Today programme to try to make it fly, yet somehow it has failed to distract from other Westminster dramas.

Hoping health might act as a useful shield was an odd manoeuvre, as the NHS is the bad news story that will dog the Tories through the next election. But where else can No 10 turn, to which crippled department, for an iota of good news to distract from all the other bad news? Blank denial, upending the truth, is the Boris Johnson way: at prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, he boasted of his government’s “fiscal firepower”, just as the OECD told the world that the UK is heading for zero growth, bottom of the league (bar Russia).

When the NHS came up, he used a breathtaking blizzard of numbers, plainly not expecting to be believed. Inspect his numerology on staff recruitment and it reveals failure after failure. By July, no one will wait two years for an operation! But is that success? Labour left office with 18 weeks the maximum wait. No, Covid is only one of the reasons: 4.43 million people in England were on waiting lists just before the pandemic struck.

Johnson’s bluffing infects his cabinet. Javid on Today neither flinched nor blenched in claiming his 48 “new” hospitals by 2030 are on target. Listen carefully and they have become “hospital projects”, mostly wings and units, as only £3.7bn has been punted up when a new mid-sized hospital costs £500m. How are they progressing? The government watchdog, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, downgraded the programme to “amber/red”, which means delivery “is in doubt with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas”, branding it seemingly “unachievable”. Meanwhile, crumbling hospitals hear no news on their rebuild. The collapsing roof of the intensive care baby unit at Queen Elizabeth hospital in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, is held up by 1,500 props. This one hospital needs £862m, but delay costs more as construction prices rise by 24%.

Anita Charlesworth, health economist and research director at the Health Foundation, spells out the size of the NHS shortfall. “Running to not stand still”, keeping the same inadequate activity level as the past decade, “would cost an extra £2bn a year”, and that’s before pay rises. For pay to keep up with inflation would cost £7bn, taken from the existing NHS budget: there’s no chance of that. After the deepest funding squeeze in its history, with 110,000 vacancies in England, she says: “We spend less on the NHS than equivalent countries, and by the end of the decade we’ll be short of a quarter of the staff, with the number of over-85s rising by a third.”

MPs jeer as Johnson faces Starmer for first time since no-confidence vote – video

The danger now, she says, is the haemorrhaging of highly skilled and overstressed staff at the top of their pay grades, wooed into easier occupations. The government voted down having any workforce strategy, one senior Tory tells me, because the Treasury couldn’t let the world see the true state of future spending needs.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine’s recent report on beds in the NHS is another grenade dropped into health week, showing 25,000 beds lost across the UK in the past decade, causing “unsafe” bed occupancy levels, with the fewest beds per head in Europe. NHS beds are blocked for lack of social care, causing cancelled operations and ambulances stuck outside overflowing A&Es. During prime minister’s questions, Keir Starmer hammered away at the 135,000 patients left waiting for delayed cancer scans, the lack of GPs and those 48 Potemkin hospitals. The commentariat wanted him to rub salt in Johnson’s leadership wounds, but it’s NHS delays that cause real alarm within most households.

Here’s the risk if Labour doesn’t win the next election: years of acute underfunding in the 1990s led to fevered debate that the 1948 system was broken, with a crescendo of calls for insurance and top-ups. In power, Labour could prove how robust funding restores the NHS to health.

As the prospect of power draws closer, the scale of the NHS collapse may make a good campaigning issue for Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health secretary, but what a nightmare to inherit. “It’s a two-term project,” he warns me. “We have to start with the most urgent priorities.” And that’s workforce, with a massive training programme to promise enough future staff.

“And pay must rise. In a Colchester food bank they’re giving food parcels to nurses.” On GP services, he says, “The NHS’s front door is broken. Young doctors don’t want to work as sole traders in an end-of-terrace house.” So, building on GP networks, he is reviving Labour’s plan for local polyclinics with multiple services including diagnostics – abandoned by the Tories. “Our National Care Service is the only way to unblock NHS beds, and with good pay, training and career progression we can attract people into care.” But it took Labour many years last time to repair the damage.

As health week has flopped, Johnson has turned to housing instead. But that only highlights a story almost as bad, with promises equally empty. The Downing Street grid will keep thrashing around from one issue to another. Crime, with the courts now booking criminal cases three years ahead? Climate, with Tory MPs tearing up net zero policy? Johnson will be driven back to Tory front-page pleasers, so expect loud and phoney culture wars to try to fill the great void.

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Kevin Lankinen, Predators take down Islanders 4-1



Kevin Lankinen made a career-high 48 saves and the Nashville Predators beat the New York Islanders 4-1 on Friday night for their seventh victory in nine games.

Filip Forsberg and Roman Josi scored and Matt Duchene and Mikael Granlund added empty-net goals. The Predators have won nine straight games against the Islanders, the longest active streak against a single opponent. The Predators are 11-1-1 in their last 13 overall against the Islanders.

“Lanky knew what he was doing. We had great goaltending,’’ Forsberg said. “The reason we are happy is the play of our goaltender.”

Mathew Barzal scored for New York midway through the third period.

“That’s a good hockey team over there,’’ Barzal said of the Predators, who are 7-1-1 in their last nine games. “They are heavy and strong with good D. It could have gone either way.”

The Predators were coming off 4-3 comeback win at New Jersey on Thursday night in which they scored with nine seconds left in the third period and won 33 seconds into overtime.

“We played two solid games against two very good teams,″ said Duchene, whose goal was the 300th of his career. “The Islanders threw the kitchen sink at us in the third.”

Forsberg opened the scoring on a power play with 5:42 left in the first with his eighth goal of the season. Duchene and Josi assisted.

Josi, the Predators captain, made it 2-0 on a power play at 8:22 of the second. Forsberg and Duchene assisted.

Josi has 10 points in his last seven games against the Islanders, including four assists in Nashville’s 5-4 home Nov. 17. The Swiss-born defenseman is four points from tying David Legwand for most points (566) in Predators history.

Lankinen made nine saves in the first, 18 in the second and 21 more in the third. The 27-year-old Finnish goaltender played the previous two seasons with Chicago.

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“Kevin was great. He was really good down the stretch,’’ Predators coach John Hynes said. “It’s great to see him get rewarded.”

Islanders Lane Lambert said he was pleased with the Islanders’ offense which generated a season-high 49 shots. But Lankinen was there to stop all but one as the Islanders lost for only the fourth time in 12 home games.

“We did a good job at times,’’ Lambert said. “It was just one of those nights.”

Predators defenseman Ryan McDonagh left the game nine minutes into the third period after he was struck in the nose on a shot by Islanders defenseman Alexander Romanov. McDonagh, the former Rangers captain, wears a face shield.

The Islanders scratched forward Kyle Palmieri, who was placed on injured reserve on Thursday retroactive to Nov. 21 … The Islanders also scratched forwards Cal Clutterbuck (day-to-day with an undisclosed injury) Ross Johnston and Hudson Fasching, who was recalled from AHL Bridgeport on Thursday along with Cole Bardreau who skated in Clutterbuck’s spot on a line with Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin … The Predators scratched forwards Eeli Tolvanen and Cody Glass.

Islanders: Host Chicago on Sunday night,

Predators: At Tampa Bay on Thursday night.

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WHO estimates 90% of world have some resistance to Covid | Coronavirus



The World Health Organization estimates that 90% of the world population now has some resistance to Covid-19, but warned that a troubling new variant could still emerge.

Gaps in vigilance were leaving the door open for a new virus variant to appear and overtake the globally dominant Omicron, the WHO director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said.

“WHO estimates that at least 90% of the world’s population now has some level of immunity to Sars-CoV-2, due to prior infection or vaccination,” said Tedros, referring to the virus that causes the Covid-19 disease.

“We are much closer to being able to say that the emergency phase of the pandemic is over – but we’re not there yet,” he told reporters.

“Gaps in surveillance, testing, sequencing and vaccination are continuing to create the perfect conditions for a new variant of concern to emerge that could cause significant mortality.”

Last weekend marked one year since the organisation announced Omicron as a new variant of concern in the Covid-19 pandemic, Tedros noted.

It has since swept round the world, proving significantly more transmissible than its predecessor, Delta.

Last week, the latest real-world study of updated Covid boosters showed that new vaccines by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are likely to provide better protection compared with the original shots.

The study of more than 360,000 people indicated that the boosters offer increased protection against new variants in people who have previously received up to four doses of the older vaccine.

Since their introduction to the US in September, the vaccine boosters, which contain both original and Omicron BA.4/5 coronavirus strain, provided greater benefit to younger adults aged 18-49 years that those in the older age group.

Tedros said there were now more than 500 highly transmissible Omicron sub-lineages circulating – all able to get around built-up immunity more easily, even if they tended to be less severe than previous variants.

Around the world, 6.6 million Covid deaths have been reported to the WHO, from nearly 640 million registered cases. But the UN health agency says this will be a massive undercount and unreflective of the true toll.

Tedros said more than 8,500 people were recorded as having lost their lives to Covid last week, “which is not acceptable three years into the pandemic, when we have so many tools to prevent infections and save lives”.

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Kevin Durant, Nets beat Raptors to tally fourth win in a row



Make it four in a row and seven of their last nine.

The Nets are one of the hottest teams in basketball and moved two games above .500 with a 114-105 victory over the Toronto Raptors in front of a sellout 17,732 fans at Barclays Center on Friday night.

They led by as many as 36 points before letting the Raptors creep back into the game late in the fourth quarter.

After digging a 2-6 hole to start the season, the Nets (13-11) have pulled a complete 180. They are inching closer toward contender status, though they still have tremendous ground to cover separating themselves from the cream of the NBA crop.

And it both looks and feels different when the Nets aren’t leaning too heavily on Kevin Durant — or Kyrie Irving, as they did for unending stretches last season.

Durant’s minutes have become a point of contention in Brooklyn, as they were last year. He entered Friday’s matchup as the league’s leader in minutes, points and field goals. At age 34 and in year 15, the Nets star is averaging 37 minutes per game for the second consecutive season.

“We’ve had to play Kevin more minutes than we’ve wanted to,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said ahead of tipoff. “That’s just kind of where we are. He understands that.”

It hits different, though, when Durant has help, and it reflects on the scoreboard.

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Sharpshooter Joe Harris got hot early, scoring 11 points in the first quarter alone. After breaking out of his shooting slump to hit four out of six threes in Wednesday’s win over the Washington Wizards, Harris, who is starting in place of the injured Ben Simmons (calf strain), hit another five threes for 17 points against the Raptors on Friday.

Royce O’Neale hit a trio of timely threes, and Kyrie Irving shouldered a large chunk of the scoring load, scoring 27 points on 17 shot attempts. Veteran forward TJ Warren, in his Nets debut after missing two-plus seasons with consecutive stress fractures in his left foot, scored 10 points on 5-of-11 shooting off the bench.

And Nic Claxton added 15 points and nine rebounds, sealing the game with a putback dunk, then offensive rebound and finish that extended the Nets’ lead back to 16.

He forced Raptors coach Nick Nurse to call his second to last timeout with four minutes left in the fourth.

It was Durant’s lightest workload of the season. He still played 38 minutes but they were low impact. He only took 10 shots and finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

The Nets built a lead as large as 36 and watched the Raptors whittle the deficit down to as little as seven in the final minute of the fourth quarter. It wasn’t a pretty finish but nothing has come easy for the Nets this season.

They have a chance to make it five in a row on Sunday, though they’ll have to go through last year’s Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics to get there.

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