Afternoon summary

  • Jeremy Hunt, the Conservative former health secretary and chair of the Commons health committee, has said the £250m plan to improve GP services announced today will fail to “turn the tide”. (See 1.05pm.)
  • Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, has said the NHS will face an “exceptionally difficult” winter even without a spike in Covid cases. (See 10.34pm.)

Updated

Sir Keir Starmer speaking to shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves when they were on the train to Sheffield earlier to visit a steel plant.
Sir Keir Starmer speaking to the shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves. They were on the train to Sheffield earlier to visit a steel plant. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Updated

Irish PM urges Johnson to get in 'solution mode' over NI protocol, saying he's won on sausages

Micheál Martin, the taoiseach (Irish PM), has described the EU plans to change the Northern Ireland protocol announced yesterday as “very significant”. He also said Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission vice president who drew up the plans, had to get them agreed in the face of internal EU opposition. Martin said:

Maroš Šefčovič has really consulted with people all around. His engagement with the Irish government to get a sense of things, he went north and spoke to people on the ground in Northern Ireland and business and industry, and politically met with all the parties.

He has managed to bring through the commission, which is not an easy task in itself because there would be countervailing forces there in terms of some of the advances that have been made in terms of the package that he’s produced.

There are very significant advances, on SPS [rules] which would reduce checks by about 80%, and also in terms of customs checks and in respect the medicines, and in building stakeholder engagement for people in Northern Ireland.

It demonstrates that the European Commission is in solution mode.

In a good analysis for the Irish Times, Naomi O’Leary quotes a diplomat saying there was “blood on the floor” at the commission because the rows about the package were so brutal. “The commission is pushing at the very edge of what is accepted by member states,” the diplomat told O’Leary.

At a news conference, Martin also implied he was surprised that the UK government is now making a big issue of European court of justice oversight of the protocol. Previously Boris Johnson seemed most concerned about sausages, Martin said. He explained:

The main sticking point all along on the ground was around the free flow of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

Even with the British PM, in the discussions I have with him in respect of Northern Ireland, it was, emotively, people talking about the sausages getting to Northern Ireland and so on.

You know what, the sausages can now get to Northern Ireland. I don’t want to be facetious about it but the bottom line is we got over that too.

Martin also said he hoped the UK would be “in solution mode” too.

This is from Sky’s Stephen Murphy.

#Brexit: “You know what? Now the sausages can get to Northern Ireland.”

A sense of frustration from Micheál Martin in Dublin, who says the free flow of goods was supposed to be the big protocol issue - also says he can’t see the role of the ECJ changing
🌭 pic.twitter.com/5Lc3FTrjtF

— Stephen Murphy (@SMurphyTV) October 14, 2021

Police commissioner accused of victim blaming after Everard case resigns

Here is my colleague Josh Halliday’s story about the resignation of Philip Allott.

And here is an extract about the meeting of the North Yorkshire’s police, fire and crime panel which passed a vote of no confidence in Philip Allott earlier.

Allott’s Conservative colleagues lined up to tell him to resign during the 90-minute meeting. Mike Chambers, a Tory councillor, described the remarks as “indefensible”, adding: “This will continually haunt you, Philip, whether you like it or not. For God’s sake, go, and go now.”

Allott has faced a growing chorus of criticism since his comments 13 days ago, including from Boris Johnson, Priti Patel and Keir Starmer. Demands for his resignation grew this week when colleagues accused him of making “sexist and misogynistic” comments to female staff, allegations he denies.

The details of these alleged remarks have not been made public and Allott said they had been leaked “to damage my credibility” ...

Carl Les, a Conservative council leader who chairs the oversight panel, said there was a “catastrophic lack of confidence” in Allott and it was “frustrating” that he could not be dismissed from the £74,400 a year role. Les has said he will write to the government to recommend that PFCCs are able to be dismissed if they lose a vote of no confidence.

Allott, who previously ran a PR firm and wrote a book about donkeys, said his comments had exposed “shortcomings in my understanding of violence against women and girls” and that he thinks about the comments “every hour of every day”.

Philip Allott has resigned as North Yorkshire police, fire and crime commissioner in response to the outcry caused by his comment after Sarah Everard’s murder that women needed to be “streetwise”, PA Media reports.

Earlier he told a meeting, in which local councillors passed a vote of no confidence in him, that he would not be resigning. (See 2.54pm.)

Updated

Announcement on temporary visas for butchers and abattoir workers 'imminent', peers told

An announcement on temporary visas to tackle an acute shortage of butchers and abattoir workers that has led to a crisis in the pig industry is “imminent”, peers have been told.

Richard Benyon, a peer and environment minister, said an announcement was “imminent” in response to a question in the House of Lords earlier.

Maggie Jones, a Labour peer, asked:

There are 150,000 pigs which are unable to be slaughtered for consumption and already farmers have had to cull and destroy over 6,000 healthy pigs.

Talking is great, but when is the government going to provide those temporary visas and the lower language requirements for skilled butchers which lie at the root of this crisis?

In response, Benyon said:

We care deeply about this sector, the people that work in it, the welfare of the animals concerned, and want nothing more than to smooth out the perfect storm of a variety of different issues which have brought this to a head at this particular time.

I had hoped to be able to come to the house with an announcement - it is imminent.

I think she will be pleased with the hard work that ministers and officials have put in to show that we do care and we want this industry to get back on its feet.

Lord Benyon.
Lord Benyon. Photograph: Anna Gowthorpe/PA

Updated

An activist from the Insulate Britain campaign with a letter for Boris Johnson outside Downing Street today. The group, which wants the government to properly insulate all homes in Britain, is suspending its road-blocking protests until 25 October.
An activist from the Insulate Britain campaign with a letter for Boris Johnson outside Downing Street today. The group, which wants the government to properly insulate all homes in Britain, is suspending its road-blocking protests until 25 October. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Starmer says it would be 'unforgivable' if government let gas price hike lead to steel job losses

Sir Keir Starmer has been speaking to the media on a visit to a steel plant in Sheffield. Here are the main points he has been making.

  • Starmer said the plan to improve GP services announced today would not deal with the shortage of doctors. He said:

I think it is very important that people can see their GPs face-to-face if that is what they want to do. That requires a robust plan. What the government has put in place is not a robust plan.

The core problem here is lack of GPs. In the election of 2019, the prime minister promised us 6,000 new GPs. That was his great pledge. We have now got less than we had in 2019.

  • He urged the government to help the steel industry cope with soaring gas prices. It would be “unforgivable” if a short-term price hike led to long-term job losses, he said. He said:

What the steel sector needs is support and action from the government. What we have got is a government that is missing in action.

It is not having discussions that it should be with the sector. It is not doing what is necessary to save the jobs that are at risk. They have put the ‘out of office’ sign up. That is not acceptable.

If we have short-term energy prices leading to long-term job losses that is unforgivable by the government.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, has asked the Treasury to help energy intensive industries like steel, but the Treasury has not responded yet.

  • Starmer said the government should have had a plan months ago to deal with the supply chain shortages. He said:

What we needed here is a plan that was crafted months ago to deal with these problems.

We have seen it with fuel drivers, we have seen it with delivery drivers and with abattoirs and other sectors. All of these shortages were predicted.

People will look at pictures of Felixstowe which has got containers that are much unable to move and scratch their heads and say ‘Why is there not a plan to get us through this?’.

At the moment the government is sitting back and saying this is somebody else’s problem.

Sir Keir Starmer and shadow chancellor Rachel watching a stainless steel making process during a visit to Outokumpu Stainless Ltd in Sheffield.
Sir Keir Starmer and shadow chancellor Rachel watching a stainless steel making process during a visit to Outokumpu Stainless Ltd in Sheffield. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Police commissioner who urged women to be 'streetwise' after Sarah Everard's murder loses non-binding no confidence vote

The Conservative police commissioner whose comments following the murder of Sarah Everard caused a national outcry has received a formal, but non-binding, vote of no confidence from local politicians, PA Media reports. PA says:

But despite calling his own comments “absolutely ridiculous” and “pathetic”, Philip Allott, North Yorkshire police, fire and crime commissioner, told an online public meeting he would not step down from his £74,400 role.

He had been accused of victim blaming after he said in a radio interview that women should be more “streetwise” about powers of arrest and that Everard, whose family live in York, should not have “submitted” to arrest by her killer Wayne Couzens, a serving police officer.

The North Yorkshire fire and crime panel had received 121 complaints and Allott’s office more than 800, the panel heard.

The prime minister was said to have been “outraged” by Allott’s comments.

All 11 members of the panel, which is made up of local councillors and two independent members of the public, gave him a vote of no confidence in continuing in his role.

That vote effectively brought the meeting to a close.

The panel had no powers to sanction the commissioner, but the members who spoke during the meeting urged him to go, saying he had lost the confidence of the public.

Sajid Javid, the health secretary, has claimed that his package of support for GPs will “make a real difference”. Speaking to broadcasters, he said:

Over the pandemic, I don’t think people will be surprised to hear that the cost per hour of locums has risen generally, and this package will help to cover that.

It will also help to hire in further support and clinical support, including from nurses, physiotherapists, podiatrists, and others.

All of this, I think, taken together can make a real difference.

Jeremy Hunt, one of his Conservative predecessors, disagrees. (See 1.05pm.)

The Queen in the Senedd in Cardiff earlier opening it for its sixth term.
The Queen in the Senedd in Cardiff earlier opening it for its sixth term. Photograph: WPA/Getty Images

Gap between poor and affluent students going to university widest for 14 years, DfE figures show

The gap between poorer students and their more affluent peers attending university has widened to the largest gap for 14 years, PA Media reports. PA says:

Better-off pupils are still significantly more likely to go to university than their more disadvantaged peers and the gap between the two groups - 19.1 percentage points - is the widest it has been since 2005/06.

Data from the Department for Education (DfE) shows that 26.6% of pupils in England who received free school meals (FSMs) at the age of 15 went on to university in 2019/20, compared with 45.7% of those who did not receive meals.

It comes as leading universities are under pressure to widen access to different groups of students, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The gap between the numbers of disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students entering more selective universities also widened in 2019/20.

Only 4% of pupils eligible for FSMs progressed to high-tariff institutions - universities with higher entry requirements - by the age of 19, compared with 12% of those not eligible for FSMs, the figures show.

Sajid Javid, the health secretary (right) with Dr Clementine Olenga-Disashi (left) and Dr Ali al-Bassam, during a visit today to the Vale Medical Centre in Forest Hill, south east London.
Sajid Javid, the health secretary (right) with Dr Clementine Olenga-Disashi (left) and Dr Ali al-Bassam, during a visit today to the Vale Medical Centre in Forest Hill, south east London. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

The Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis, has failed to uphold his duties to provide full abortion services in the region, a high court judge has ruled. My colleague Alexandra Topping has the story.

Javid's GP rescue plan will fail to 'turn the tide', says former Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt

Sajid Javid, the health secretary, won’t be surprised that Labour is criticising his £250m plan to improve GP services in England (see 12.31pm), but Jeremy Hunt, the former Conservative health secretary who now chairs the Commons health committee, has also described the measures as inadequate.

Hunt wants an OBR-style independent body to take charge of advising the government on how many doctors it needs to train. He suggests that would be the best way to address workforce shortages in the NHS in the long run.

He has set out his case on Twitter.

A few thoughts on the government’s GP rescue plan announced today….firstly they are right to address crisis in this sector. Some good ideas including a new NHS covenant modeled on the military and more transparency about performance.

— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) October 14, 2021

BUT, as someone who tried & failed to get 5000 more GPs into the system, I don’t think this package will turn the tide. We got 000s more graduates into GP surgeries, but we didn't make progress because experienced GPs were retiring/going part time faster than new trainees arrived

— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) October 14, 2021

The lesson? This is a burnt-out workforce running on empty because of a massive mismatch between supply & demand.  The only thing that will convince them not to continue retiring or opting for part-time hours in droves is a clear plan to end the unsustainable pressure they face.

— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) October 14, 2021

That means in the short-term a big recruitment drive: incentives to persuade retired GPs who stepped up temporarily during the pandemic to extend their service; relaxation of immigration rules on overseas medics…

— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) October 14, 2021

…incentives to move here including waiving bureaucracy for people moving from countries with good medical training e.g. Canada/Australia, and reform of pension disincentives which drive people into early retirement.

— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) October 14, 2021

But sticking plaster after sticking plaster will no longer cut it. Unless we fix workforce planning in the NHS for the long term, the future will be bleak and the number of face to face GP appointments will go down not up.

— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) October 14, 2021

That means most of all overhauling broken workforce planning with an independent system - modeled on something like the OBR - to ensure transparent, public projection are made about the number of clinicians we should be training in every specialty.

— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) October 14, 2021

If we continue to leave that process to back-room haggling between Treasury and DH ministers in spending reviews, it will never get the focus it needs - and the crisis will just get worse.

— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) October 14, 2021
Jeremy Hunt.
Jeremy Hunt. Photograph: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA

Updated

Javid plans to get GPs to see more patients face-to-face 'already unravelling', says Labour

Labour says Sajid Javid’s plan to ensure more GPs see their patients face-to-face is “unravelling” aleady. In a statement, Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said:

The NHS is in crisis. Waiting lists are at record levels with more and more patients forced to pay for operations.

GP numbers have gone down, and it’s no wonder Sajid Javid has run away from defending his latest policy announcement in front of doctors - his promise is already unravelling.

The money announced today will mean about £33,000 extra per practice; nowhere near enough to deliver the change needed for patients. In 2019 the Tories pledged to deliver 6,000 extra GPs, and ahead of a tough winter, patients are asking why they have broken that promise.

Jonathan Ashworth
Jonathan Ashworth. Photograph: Anthony Harvey/Rex/Shutterstock

Updated

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader, had an online meeting this morning with Maroš Šefčovič, the European commissioner dealing with Brexit who yesterday published the EU’s plans for reform of the Northern Ireland protocol. In a statement issued afterwards Donaldson said they had a “useful and honest discussion” but he said the plans fell short of what the DUP wanted. He said:

I also explained why the proposals fall short of what is needed. These negotiations must not be a missed opportunity. There is a window to get this right. To get a deal which can allow Northern Ireland to, once again, get moving forward.

Short-term fixes will not solve the problems that have beset the United Kingdom internal market. Removing some checks today does not solve the divergence problems of tomorrow. State aid and VAT arrangements if left unaltered will be detrimental to Northern Ireland’s long-term prospects.

We need a sustainable solution which removes the Irish Sea border and restores our place within the United Kingdom.

In his statement, which was less confrontational than the one he issued last night, Donaldson also did not directly mention European court of justice oversight of the protocol, which is now one of the main points of dispute between the UK and the EU.

The Queen has praised the efforts of all those who worked to address the Covid pandemic in a short speech delivered when she officially opened the the sixth session of the Welsh Senedd. She said:

I have spoken before about how recent times have, in many ways, brought us closer together.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to those who have risen so magnificently to the challenges of the last 18 months - from key workers to volunteers, who have done so much to serve their communities.

They are shining examples of the spirit for which the Welsh people are so renowned, a spirit which I have personally encountered so many times.

The Queen addressing the Senedd.
The Queen addressing the Senedd. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA

There was a private notice question down in the House of Lords today on the Northern Ireland protocol, but it did not get taken, and so peers did not get the chance to question Lord Frost, the Brexit minister.

Boris Johnson has been continuing his Cop26 telephone diplomacy, speaking this morning to the Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. Johnson encouraged Sisi “to commit to no new coal power and to come forward with an ambitious nationally determined contribution ahead of Cop26 to cut emissions”, according to the No 10 read-out. Johnson also congratulated Sisi on Egypt being nominated to host Cop27.

Updated

Sajid Javid, the health secretary, did a morning interview round today to publicise his plans to encourage more GPs to see their patients face-to-face. He is also visiting a GP’s surgery in south-east London.

But he pulled out of appearing at the Royal College of General Practitioners’ annual conference this morning. There was laughter when Dr Michael Mulholland, the conference chair, read out the reason given for Javid’s non-appearance. Mulholland said:

Unfortunately we do have one change to the programme. The secretary of state for health for England is unable to join us today either in person or by video link.

This is because, and I need to get this right, he had to ‘clear his diary to ensure he can fight for the NHS in the spending review, or be anywhere else you may have seen or heard him this morning’.

As my colleague Denis Campbell reports, doctors are furious with Javid over the way the government seems to be blaming them for not seeing more patients in person.

Updated

The latest YouGov polling is looking good for the Conservatives.

Latest Westminster voting intention (12-13 Oct)

Con: 41% (+2 from 5-6 Oct)
Lab: 31% (n/c)
Lib Dem: 9% (n/c)
Green: 8% (-1)
SNP: 4% (-2)
Reform UK: 4% (n/c)https://t.co/V5TSBxCY48 pic.twitter.com/L4wEENKudW

— YouGov (@YouGov) October 14, 2021

Which of the following do you think would make the best Prime Minister?

Boris Johnson - 31% (n/c)
Keir Starmer - 25% (-1)

Changes from 15-16 Septhttps://t.co/V5TSBxCY48 pic.twitter.com/EyrLJhPx3w

— YouGov (@YouGov) October 14, 2021

In his Sky News interview this morning, Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, criticised the hardline approached adopted by the UK government in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol. (See 11.01am.)

But Raoul Ruparel, an adviser on Brexit to Theresa May when she was prime minister, argues that, without that hardline approach, the EU would never have agreed to compromise. He has posted a long and interesting Twitter thread on the plans starting here.

There are definitely some meaningful & welcome steps in EU's proposals on NI Protocol. But the more I got into the texts, the less impressed I was. I also fear the EU overhyped them over past few days. A (long) thread setting out what is good & not so good in my view 1/

— Raoul Ruparel (@RaoulRuparel) October 13, 2021

And it ends with this conclusion.

Final thought is that this will only further engrain the view that the UK's aggressive strategy is the only one that works with the EU given they've now tabled things they rejected for years when asked more nicely by more reasonable UK Governments. 17/ ENDS

— Raoul Ruparel (@RaoulRuparel) October 13, 2021

Sir Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, says it is “astonishing’” that Sajid Javid, the health secretary, was unable to say what the government had got wrong in its handling of the Covid pandemic. (See 9.28am.)

Simply astonishing that Sajid Javid has apologised but can't say what for. How about saying sorry to the NHS staff left wearing bin bags as PPE, or those who lost relatives in care homes because of a lack of testing? 1/2 https://t.co/NvpIFisLM4

— Ed Davey MP 🔶🇪🇺 (@EdwardJDavey) October 14, 2021

Bereaved families deserve better than this. They must be given a voice in the public inquiry and it must begin now. 2/2

— Ed Davey MP 🔶🇪🇺 (@EdwardJDavey) October 14, 2021

Boris Johnson promised to tear up NI protocol, says DUP MP Ian Paisley

The DUP MP Ian Paisley has confirmed Dominic Cummings’ claim that No 10 always intended to ditch parts of the Northern Ireland protocol. (See 11.01am.) As my colleague Lisa O’Carroll reports, on Newsnight last night Paisley said that Boris Johnson said that to him personally.

Cummings claim that No 10 always intended to ditch parts of NI protocol does 'real damage' to UK's reputation, says Drakeford

In an interview with Sky News this morning Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, said that the claim from Dominic Cummings this week that the UK always intended to ditch parts of the Northern Ireland protocol would do “real damage” to the country’s reputation. He said:

A country that behaves in that way will never find partners in the rest of the world prepared to do serious business with them.

When the UK puts its name to a treaty with other parts of the world, then it’s absolutely incumbent on us to act in good faith with that agreement.

The deep cynicism of the sort that you heard from Mr Cummings does real damage to the reputation of the United Kingdom and our ability in a post-Brexit world to strike agreements with countries elsewhere.

Drakeford also said that he was “baffled” by the way ministers talked about the protocol. He said:

I am frankly baffled by some of the things we hear from the UK government. The deal is the deal that they themselves signed up to. It is their deal, yet so often we hear UK government ministers talk as though the deal was entirely somebody else’s responsibility.

He also said that he hoped the UK and the EU would be “pragmatic” about finding a long-term solution to the problems caused by the protocol. Uncompromising language from the UK government was not helpful, he said.

I don’t think it’s helpful when UK ministers make hardline speeches drawing red lines criticising the deal that they themselves had signed.

Mark Drakeford.
Mark Drakeford. Photograph: Anthony Harvey/Rex/Shutterstock

Updated

NHS faces 'exceptionally difficult' winter, even without Covid spike, says Chris Whitty

This is what Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser and the chief medical officer for England, told the RCGP conference as he explained why the winter would be “exceptionally difficult” for the NHS.

He said this would be the case even without a major Covid spike. He explained:

The winter as a whole, I regret to say, is going to be exceptionally difficult for the NHS and general practice is going to be absolutely at the forefront of this, unfortunately.

That is irrespective of whether we have a relatively low but non trivial amount of Covid, or whether we actually have a further surge in the winter.

If you ask 100 modellers, you’re going to get over 100 answers exactly as to how this is going to go out. I think what we’re confident of is the very top end that we would have faced, potentially if things had gone wrong [like] last winter, is not going to happen, barring an extraordinary escape variant ...

I think the top end risks are much lower, but we could certainly go up. We are only two to three doubling times away from really quite serious pressure on the NHS - it’s already serious but one that would be very difficult to deal with.

So, the margin of error is quite small.

Zero Covid over this winter is a completely impossible dream ... What we hope is we can keep it roughly to low levels.

But we’ve got flu resurging. There’s a lot of debate about whether we’ll have a low flu year, because a lot of people are actually meeting many fewer people than they did two years ago. Maybe that’ll hold the line. On the other hand, we have less natural immunity in the system, we could have a really serious spike, and we could have a flu vaccine that is not very well matched to the flu we get because there hasn’t been enough flu circulating in the southern hemisphere really to get a proper fix on this.

We’ve definitely got some quite serious other respiratory infections going around. And we have all the usual winter pressures on cardiovascular, slips and trips, and everything else that goes with it.

So if you layer all of that on top of one another, and then you add on the fact there’s no doubt that we’re now seeing, as we knew from the beginning would happen, people who delayed coming to see doctors coming at a later stage of their disease, and therefore more seriously ill, and the fact that we’ve got to catch up on things like screening, and we’ve got to maintain the vaccination momentum - that’s an extraordinarily tall order when you add all of those up.

I wish I could claim the sunlit uplands and it’ll all be fantastic by Christmas but, sadly, I’m afraid [that’s not the case]. But we are in a so much better place than we were before.

Chris Whitty speaking at the RCGP conference this morning.
Chris Whitty speaking at the RCGP conference this morning. Photograph: RCGP

Updated

Record 5.7m people in England waiting for hospital treatment

The number of people waiting for hospital treatment in England has hit a record high of 5.7 million, as the NHS struggles to clear the growing backlog of care worsened by the pandemic, my colleague Andrew Gregory reports.

Whitty says the winter is going to be “exceptionally difficult” for the NHS.

He says the worst predictions are unlikely to materialise, unless there is an extraordinary new variant that can escape the vaccines.

But he says flu will be a problem. He says there will be less natural immunity in the system, and the vaccines may not be as well matched as usual to the flu in circulation.

On top of that, there will be the usual winter problems, as well as the problems caused by the backlog, he says.

But he says the NHS is in a “much better place” than it was before.

Back at the RCGP conference, Prof Chris Whitty is asked what advice he has for GPs worried about the negative press they are receiving. He says there is an old saying that is completely right. It is:

Never worry about criticism from someone you wouldn’t take advice from.

In his interviews this morning Sajid Javid, the health secretary, also defended his plan to publish league tables for family doctors. He said:

It is important that patients have this information because I want to see a levelling up of healthcare throughout the country. We do need to understand what the differences are in healthcare provision across throughout the country.

Whitty says he thinks the debate about GPs seeing their patients in person or virtually has attracted “more heat” than necessary.

He says he does not think doctors have settled “at the right point yet”, but he says they need to optimise what works best for patients and what works best for doctors.

He says for many patients a telemedicine solution is best.

Q: Has Covid played out as you expected? And when is the next pandemic coming?

On the second, “I hope long after I’ve retired,” Whitty says.

But he says much of what he expected has come to pass.

Updated

Q: Why are health inequalities so high in the UK?

Whitty says he has never lived in a country without health inequalities.

He says deprivation and age are the key factors in health.

And he says in the UK there are places were deprivation has been a problem for years.

Whitty says some of his advice will turn out to be wrong 'because the science moves on'

Q: What do politicians mean when they say they are following the science? And where does science end and politics begin?

Whitty says in an ideal world scientists would “set out the truth”, and politicians would turn that into policy.

In practice, it is messier, he says.

But he says he thinks there was a “genuine attempt” by the government and the opposition to understand the science.

There were a lot of voices, and at first political leaders found it hard to decide who to listen to.

But he says it is important to understand that science moves on.

I will make comments now and give opinions now which will prove to be wrong, because the science moves on and our understanding moves on.

I’m sure I’m still giving advice now, which in a year I’ll look back on and say that was technically wrong, because we’ve learned things that we didn’t know.

He says scientific advisers should not have an antagonistic relationship with government.

Updated

At the Royal College of General Practitioners’ annual conference Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, is taking part in a panel discussion now.

Prof Martin Marshall, chair of the RCGP, is interviewing him.

Whitty says polling show doctors have regained their place as the most trusted profession. He tells the audience that when people say that, they are thinking of GPs - “you” in the audience.

Updated

Sajid Javid says too early to know lessons that can be learned from Covid pandemic

Good morning. On Tuesday morning, following the publication of a parliamentary report describing the government’s early handling of the coronavirus pandemic was one of the worst public health failures in UK history, the minister doing the morning interview round on behalf of No 10, Steve Barclay, refused to apologise. It did not look good, and since then the line has changed. Oliver Dowden, the Conservative party co-chair, did say sorry on Wednesday, and Sajid Javid, the health secretary, has been using the same language in his interview round on Thursday. This is what he told the Today programme:

I am sorry for anyone that’s been hurt throughout this pandemic, and especially those people that would have lost their their loved ones, their brother or sister, or mum or dad, perhaps a close friend, and also those people that may not have lost their lives but they’re still suffering with long Covid, which is something I’m particularly concerned about. Of course I’m sorry about that.

But saying you are sorry about something is not an actual apology, which requires you to say you are sorry for something you did, and this was made clear when Today’s Martha Kearney asked Javid to explain what he was apologising for. Astonishingly, Javid could not say what lessons the government has learned from the Covid pandemic. This is how the exchange went.

MK: So what are the mistakes you are apologising for?

SJ: I’m always very straightforward with you Martha. I don’t know all the lessons that we are going to have to learn about this. I don’t think anyone does at this point. I think the best place to determine this will be the independent public inquiry.

MK: That’s going to a while off. You are health secretary now and you are prepared to offer an apology. So what is it you think the government got wrong?

SJ: What I’m what I’m saying sorry for is the loss that people have suffered and how they’ve been affected. I don’t think I’m in a position yet to go back and look at every decision that was made and how we can learn from that.

My focus so far, I think most people understand this, has been to try and focus on how we can keep the virus at bay, how we can deal deal with that massive backlog in elective care and how we can make the reforms that are necessary for the future.

This is surprising because there is near consensus in the medical and scientific community about multiple lessons that can clearly be learnt from the government’s handling of the pandemic. A good starting point was the report published on Tuesday (which was not over-harsh on the government), although Javid also told Today he had not read it in full yet.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: The latest NHS England waiting time figures are published.

Around 9.30am: Prof Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, speaks to the Royal College of General Practitioners’ annual conference.

10am: Lord Goldsmith, the environment minister, gives evidence to a Lords committee about the contributions being made by government departments to the success of Cop26.

11.30am: Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, is expected to respond to a private notice question in the Lords about the Northern Ireland protocol.

12pm: Peers debate the problems facing social care.

And Sir Keir Starmer is on a visit to a steel plant today to highlight the problems faced by energy intensive industries.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at andrew.sparrow@theguardian.com

Updated

Contributor

Andrew Sparrow

The GuardianTramp

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