Tuesday 31 March 2020

Pandemic Denial

Like everyone I suspect, I'm trying to get my head around what's happening, but it's all moving so fast and there's so many angles to try and understand. There's so much I want to say, but the enormity of it all just seems so daunting. Like a rabbit caught in the headlights, I feel frozen to the spot. But I feel I must try and it might as well be on a topic I'm still frankly wrestling with, that of denial and minimisation, something we're familiar with particularly in relation to sex offending of course. 

We all know Holocaust denial exists and to be frank it's always baffled me. We're all familiar with conspiracy theorists and I think I'm right in saying there's still a Flat Earth Society. What I'm finding really scary is what I'll loosely term as 'pandemic denial' and it's already ubiquitous, takes many forms, masquerades as scientific but of course is political. From the guy in the US who asked why the economy was being 'tanked' in order to save a lot of old 'unproductive' people who were dying a bit earlier than they might, to Norman Tebbit suggesting in the Telegraph that it's all a bit 'overhyped'. 

One of the most worrying aspects of all this is that 'experts' are coming out of the woodwork in order to question the global response, such as a retired professor of pathology writing recently in the Spectator. Now there's a funny thing - that particular right-wing magazine is owned by the Barclay Brothers, who also own the Telegraph. 

We know the first instinct of Dominic Cummings and the Tory government was to push the idea of going for 'herd immunity', rather than social-distancing, but then baulked at the prospect of likely casualties being politically risky, not to say killing-off a lot of Tory voters. Which brings us back to the issue of politics, not least because COVID-19 is changing everything, everywhere and the realisation that things could be done differently has really rattled vested interests as they become increasingly scared about that prospect. We can expect considerable 'push-back' and denial in the coming months I think:-  

How deadly is the coronavirus? It’s still far from clear

There is room for different interpretations of the data

In announcing the most far-reaching restrictions on personal freedom in the history of our nation, Boris Johnson resolutely followed the scientific advice that he had been given. The advisers to the government seem calm and collected, with a solid consensus among them. In the face of a new viral threat, with numbers of cases surging daily, I’m not sure that any prime minister would have acted very differently.

But I’d like to raise some perspectives that have hardly been aired in the past weeks, and which point to an interpretation of the figures rather different from that which the government is acting on. I’m a recently-retired Professor of Pathology and NHS consultant pathologist, and have spent most of my adult life in healthcare and science – fields which, all too often, are characterised by doubt rather than certainty. There is room for different interpretations of the current data. If some of these other interpretations are correct, or at least nearer to the truth, then conclusions about the actions required will change correspondingly.

The simplest way to judge whether we have an exceptionally lethal disease is to look at the death rates. Are more people dying than we would expect to die anyway in a given week or month? Statistically, we would expect about 51,000 to die in Britain this month. At the time of writing, 422 deaths are linked to Covid-19 — so 0.8 per cent of that expected total. On a global basis, we’d expect 14 million to die over the first three months of the year. The world’s 18,944 coronavirus deaths represent 0.14 per cent of that total. These figures might shoot up but they are, right now, lower than other infectious diseases that we live with (such as flu). Not figures that would, in and of themselves, cause drastic global reactions.

Initial reported figures from China and Italy suggested a death rate of 5 per cent to 15 per cent, similar to Spanish flu. Given that cases were increasing exponentially, this raised the prospect of death rates that no healthcare system in the world would be able to cope with. The need to avoid this scenario is the justification for measures being implemented: the Spanish flu is believed to have infected about one in four of the world’s population between 1918 and 1920, or roughly 500 million people with 50 million deaths. We developed pandemic emergency plans, ready to snap into action in case this happened again.

At the time of writing, the UK’s 422 deaths and 8,077 known cases give an apparent death rate of 5 per cent. This is often cited as a cause for concern, contrasted with the mortality rate of seasonal flu, which is estimated at about 0.1 per cent. But we ought to look very carefully at the data. Are these figures really comparable?

Most of the UK testing has been in hospitals, where there is a high concentration of patients susceptible to the effects of any infection. As anyone who has worked with sick people will know, any testing regime that is based only in hospitals will over-estimate the virulence of an infection. Also, we’re only dealing with those Covid-19 cases that have made people sick enough or worried enough to get tested. There will be many more unaware that they have the virus, with either no symptoms, or mild ones.

That’s why, when Britain had 590 diagnosed cases, Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, suggested that the real figure was probably between 5,000 and 10,000 cases, ten to 20 times higher. If he’s right, the headline death rate due to this virus is likely to be ten to 20 times lower, say 0.25 per cent to 0.5 per cent. That puts the Covid-19 mortality rate in the range associated with infections like flu.

But there’s another, potentially even more serious problem: the way that deaths are recorded. If someone dies of a respiratory infection in the UK, the specific cause of the infection is not usually recorded, unless the illness is a rare ‘notifiable disease’. So the vast majority of respiratory deaths in the UK are recorded as bronchopneumonia, pneumonia, old age or a similar designation. We don’t really test for flu, or other seasonal infections. If the patient has, say, cancer, motor neurone disease or another serious disease, this will be recorded as the cause of death, even if the final illness was a respiratory infection. This means UK certifications normally under-record deaths due to respiratory infections.

Now look at what has happened since the emergence of Covid-19. The list of notifiable diseases has been updated. This list — as well as containing smallpox (which has been extinct for many years) and conditions such as anthrax, brucellosis, plague and rabies (which most UK doctors will never see in their entire careers) — has now been amended to include Covid-19. But not flu. That means every positive test for Covid-19 must be notified, in a way that it just would not be for flu or most other infections.

In the current climate, anyone with a positive test for Covid-19 will certainly be known to clinical staff looking after them: if any of these patients dies, staff will have to record the Covid-19 designation on the death certificate — contrary to usual practice for most infections of this kind. There is a big difference between Covid-19 causing death, and Covid-19 being found in someone who died of other causes. Making Covid-19 notifiable might give the appearance of it causing increasing numbers of deaths, whether this is true or not. It might appear far more of a killer than flu, simply because of the way deaths are recorded.

If we take drastic measures to reduce the incidence of Covid-19, it follows that the deaths will also go down. We risk being convinced that we have averted something that was never really going to be as severe as we feared. This unusual way of reporting Covid-19 deaths explains the clear finding that most of its victims have underlying conditions — and would normally be susceptible to other seasonal viruses, which are virtually never recorded as a specific cause of death.

Let us also consider the Covid-19 graphs, showing an exponential rise in cases — and deaths. They can look alarming. But if we tracked flu or other seasonal viruses in the same way, we would also see an exponential increase. We would also see some countries behind others, and striking fatality rates. The United States Centers for Disease Control, for example, publishes weekly estimates of flu cases. The latest figures show that since September, flu has infected 38 million Americans, hospitalised 390,000 and killed 23,000. This does not cause public alarm because flu is familiar.

The data on Covid-19 differs wildly from country to country. Look at the figures for Italy and Germany. At the time of writing, Italy has 69,176 recorded cases and 6,820 deaths, a rate of 9.9 per cent. Germany has 32,986 cases and 157 deaths, a rate of 0.5 per cent. Do we think that the strain of virus is so different in these nearby countries as to virtually represent different diseases? Or that the populations are so different in their susceptibility to the virus that the death rate can vary more than twentyfold? If not, we ought to suspect systematic error, that the Covid-19 data we are seeing from different countries is not directly comparable.

Look at other rates: Spain 7.1 per cent, US 1.3 per cent, Switzerland 1.3 per cent, France 4.3 per cent, South Korea 1.3 per cent, Iran 7.8 per cent. We may very well be comparing apples with oranges. Recording cases where there was a positive test for the virus is a very different thing to recording the virus as the main cause of death.

Early evidence from Iceland, a country with a very strong organisation for wide testing within the population, suggests that as many as 50 per cent of infections are almost completely asymptomatic. Most of the rest are relatively minor. In fact, Iceland’s figures, 648 cases and two attributed deaths, give a death rate of 0.3 per cent. As population testing becomes more widespread elsewhere in the world, we will find a greater and greater proportion of cases where infections have already occurred and caused only mild effects. In fact, as time goes on, this will become generally truer too, because most infections tend to decrease in virulence as an epidemic progresses.

One pretty clear indicator is death. If a new infection is causing many extra people to die (as opposed to an infection present in people who would have died anyway) then it will cause an increase in the overall death rate. But we have yet to see any statistical evidence for excess deaths, in any part of the world.

Covid-19 can clearly cause serious respiratory tract compromise in some patients, especially those with chest issues, and in smokers. The elderly are probably more at risk, as they are for infections of any kind. The average age of those dying in Italy is 78.5 years, with almost nine in ten fatalities among the over-70s. The life expectancy in Italy — that is, the number of years you can expect to live to from birth, all things being equal — is 82.5 years. But all things are not equal when a new seasonal virus goes around.

It certainly seems reasonable, now, that a degree of social distancing should be maintained for a while, especially for the elderly and the immune-suppressed. But when drastic measures are introduced, they should be based on clear evidence. In the case of Covid-19, the evidence is not clear. The UK’s lockdown has been informed by modelling of what might happen. More needs to be known about these models. Do they correct for age, pre-existing conditions, changing virulence, the effects of death certification and other factors? Tweak any of these assumptions and the outcome (and predicted death toll) can change radically.

Much of the response to Covid-19 seems explained by the fact that we are watching this virus in a way that no virus has been watched before. The scenes from the Italian hospitals have been shocking, and make for grim television. But television is not science.

Clearly, the various lockdowns will slow the spread of Covid-19 so there will be fewer cases. When we relax the measures, there will be more cases again. But this need not be a reason to keep the lockdown: the spread of cases is only something to fear if we are dealing with an unusually lethal virus. That’s why the way we record data will be hugely important. Unless we tighten criteria for recording death due only to the virus (as opposed to it being present in those who died from other conditions), the official figures may show a lot more deaths apparently caused by the virus than is actually the case. What then? How do we measure the health consequences of taking people’s lives, jobs, leisure and purpose away from them to protect them from an anticipated threat? Which causes least harm?

The moral debate is not lives vs money. It is lives vs lives. It will take months, perhaps years, if ever, before we can assess the wider implications of what we are doing. The damage to children’s education, the excess suicides, the increase in mental health problems, the taking away of resources from other health problems that we were dealing with effectively. Those who need medical help now but won’t seek it, or might not be offered it. And what about the effects on food production and global commerce, that will have unquantifiable consequences for people of all ages, perhaps especially in developing economies?

Governments everywhere say they are responding to the science. The policies in the UK are not the government’s fault. They are trying to act responsibly based on the scientific advice given. But governments must remember that rushed science is almost always bad science. We have decided on policies of extraordinary magnitude without concrete evidence of excess harm already occurring, and without proper scrutiny of the science used to justify them.

In the next few days and weeks, we must continue to look critically and dispassionately at the Covid-19 evidence as it comes in. Above all else, we must keep an open mind — and look for what is, not for what we fear might be.

John Lee is a recently retired professor of pathology and a former NHS consultant pathologist.

Monday 30 March 2020

Lockdown Week One

As we head into week two of 'lockdown' and heavy hints from government that restrictions may even tighten, concerns amongst probation staff being required to see clients face to face remain with 3,041 visits recorded yesterday. An improvement on Saturday, but I notice  discussion once again became fractious after I turned the computer off last night so I've decided it will probably be in all our best interests to suspend unmoderated commenting over night from now on.

Everyone is having to deal with this in their own way and at some point I intend to publish some of my own more discursive thoughts, as much for therapy as anything else. In the mean time here's Jonathan Pie's take on things:-   

Sunday 29 March 2020

Ideological Constipation

We seem to have fallen into a new regular pattern of activity with 3,314 visits yesterday and basically opinion divided over the issue of face to face office contact with clients or not and especially in the absence of any PPE. The exchanges were tetchy at times, understandable given the possible consequences of our actions and high levels of anxiety. Lets try and not just rehash everything that was said yesterday, but possibly broaden the discussion? 

The issue of how the MoJ intend to deal with the prison situation remains disgracefully unresolved. During a time of unprecedented national edeavour, it seems remarkable to me that it appears beyond the wit of anyone to sort a release programme that could intelligently make use of information, assessment, testing, tagging, mobile phone issuing and remote supervision. With so much of the COVIS-19 response, it just seems to boil down to political judgement and willingness.

Today I want to publish two contributions that arrived by email yesterday:-

After a week of such unprecedented change in delivering case management in the NPS it is interesting to reflect on how remarkable it is. Command and control demands that cases are seen, OASYS is completed, forms are filled in again and again and if you want to book an AP bed for a potential release you follow an over complex maze of screens and forms at least 12 months in advance.....and of course there are no vacancies. 

The job of case managers is relentlessly demanding and unnecessarily complex. The purpose and drivers of our work with our cases and other agencies is to try to assist them to move away from offending and if they cannot, to protect the public and not spend so much time on the computer.

So now we are NOT 'seeing' all but a critical few & working at home in isolation and relying on phones and laptops. Of course a year or so ago we did not have laptops, so it would be interesting to reflect on how the situation would have been managed then! Naturally our leaders still want us to record changes to the type of reporting in duplicate, in both Ndelius and OASYS.

These are difficult times for staff but even more so for our cases and especially those in prison. Of course the worst is yet to come with prisons and APs likely to be overrun by the virus and more staff to become ill. What will happen if Ndelius and the IT goes down as it has in the past and what becomes of the emotional health of staff who are self isolating for 12 weeks because of SUMC or stuck working remotely for days and weeks? Probation will never be the same again but we must support one another and find ways to support colleagues at home.

Finally, a week ago civil servants could not be seen to have any 'perks'. £4.20 lunch allowance even if you are out most of the day and have to buy a coffee at a motorway services. This week LDU heads (who you feel are just following orders anyway) are to receive a £1500 monthly bung. For many colleagues this seems obscene when many of our cases as well as many of the public are desperately trying to survive, especially those trying to claim Universal Credit.

Hopefully, many colleagues will consider whether the bonuses they might receive could be donated, at least in part, to a charity or organisation helping out those who are struggling to survive out there in this crazy new order.


In The Name of Humanity

Whilst probation staff are categorised by the government as keyworkers. Clearly some keyworkers are regarded as more essential than others. I too stood on my door step on Thursday clapping for the "carers", but unlike most of the public I was also banging my pot lids for probation staff as well as other frontline staff.

There has always been public wariness of us probation staff as being "do-gooders" for working with people who have transgressed the criminal code. As a profession we have always been treated with suspicion even by other similar professions such as medical staff and social workers simply because of the people with whom we have chosen to engage with on our caseloads. Last year before I retired, our dedicated local authority housing officer explained that her colleagues were frankly apprehensive when recently released prisoners turned up at the homeless persons unit. Even these allied professionals harboured negative stereotypes common in the press and in their canteen culture due to a lack of familiarity and knowledge.

Therefore please do not judge that private landlord too harshly in the above article. I have encountered this attitude when I have been advocating for over 30 years on people on my caseload when trying to support them accessing mental health treatment and local authority housing.

One of my abiding principles is that to assess how humane any society is we need look no further than how the modern day social lepers are treated. This includes people with experience of institutions such as mental health hospitals and prisons. It is all too easy to categorise people into us and them. It is a natural instinct but one we constantly need to guard against to reduce the barriers between us all.

To give a personal example, I was working at the Stockwell Road probation office in South London on July 7th 2005, the day of the London bus bombings. I vividly remember a phone call one of my service users made to me explaining he was in East London and would try to make his way to his office appointment that day. When I told him on no account should he be attending the appointment and definitely not put himself in danger by using public transport, he was shocked. He asked me outright, "you're not going to recall me?". I said "we are are all Londoners aren't we?"

This is a plea to all the probation policy makers and senior managers and trade union officals to remember they have a duty of care to frontline staff and the people whom we work with. In the name of humanity, everyone, including their families, take care.

Saturday 28 March 2020

Virus Roulette

With 3,324 visits to this platform yesterday, clearly probation staff remain concerned with their safety and many will no doubt be at home for the weekend, reflecting on the extraordinary situation they find themselves in. Those pesky EDM's are certainly taking time to sort out aren't they:- 
"This is taking a frustratingly long time to be agreed as there can be multiple versions before getting final agreement with the centre."
and one has to wonder what exactly is going on behind the scenes at the MoJ as they steadfastly refuse to release any prisoners and at the same time insist probation staff carry on with 'business as usual'. And here's a funny thing. Despite many attempts to get the main stream media interested in this story, they're not biting. Now why might that be exactly? I notice this has not gone unnoticed by at least one reader:-

Come on, media people. Richard Ford, Angus Crawford, Danny Shaw, Krish Gurumurthy, Adam McQueen. There's a story here about systemic negligence & what's happened - Mail & Torygraph have faithfully run the Govt's press release + Guardian has run a nasty-landlord story with inaccuracies that suggest probation officers see people from behind a screen.

HMPPS via NPS & CRCs are still debating deeply flawed policy directives which means that public health is currently severely compromised by unprotected contact between and unnecessary movement of people in towns & cities across England & Wales.

In Derbyshire the police have employed drones to shame people walking their dogs in the middle of nowhere. BUT... Probation staff, those they supervise & anyone else in their chains of contact have to play Virus Roulette.

Cabinet Ministers & other senior figures have contracted the virus in the last week or two, presumably asymptomatic whilst they've been shut in strategy meetings. Assuming there were significant efforts to limit the risk of infection to these senior figures it shows just how ubiquitous & amenable to transmission this virus is.

So why insist that people who are statistically more likely to have had exposure to the virus - for example those who may have just been released from prison, people with proven disregard for rules and laws, people from multi-occupancy accommodation, sofa-surfers or the homeless - have to travel to appointments in probation offices - where there are no bio-hazard facilities, no deep-cleaning, no screens in interview rooms, no capacity for 2-metre distancing - to meet with staff who are not equipped with PPE & thus have already had a high likelihood of exposure to the virus themselves?

It's a bit like filling several leaky jerry cans with petrol & diesel, placing them in the boot of a car with a known electrical fault, then getting a chain-smoker to drive that car through a packed city centre... and insist that if anyone is maimed or dies it was the fault of those who were too close to the vehicle when it exploded: "They were expected to keep their distance."


Another contribution poses this scenario:-

As with SFO’s, when it all goes wrong probation workers will be thrown under the bus by the top brass:-

"They were expected to keep their distance."
“They did not request PPE, although offices are frequently cleaned.”
“They agreed to continue to work despite warnings about self isolation and social distancing.”
“The local office managers implemented the exceptional delivery model without risk assessing the building first.”

“The Exceptional Delivery Model was supported by trade unions.”

Friday 27 March 2020

Thought Of The Day

Having woken at a more reasonable hour, I see there were 3,395 visits yesterday and concern by staff for their safety continues pretty much unabated. The situation in prisons is of particular concern, but clearly the government has no appetite to consider any executive release, despite almost universal calls to do so. Ignoring all the rhetoric about us 'being in this together', it's still a right-wing government running things. 

I thought it would be good to re-publish the following from regular contributor 'Getafix today:- 

Like everyone else I'm terrified by Coronavirus. Especially as I have a family link to an NHS doctor working on the frontline in a hospital, and I'm afraid that the calm reassurences given to the gereral public by Government isn't reflected in what the doctors and hospitals are being told. The next 14 to 21 days apparently will show just how serious and deadly the situation is, and the 1.5 million most at risk because of serious underlying health conditions that received an NHS letter really need to keep themselves safe, as that letter also means that if you do get sick, it's highly unlikely you'll get access to a ventilator.

But as frightened as I am, I'm also fascinated by the rapid and liquid changes occurring to our social structures and what those changes are exposing. Richard Branson, Philip Green, Mike Ashley and Tim Martin have all caused outrage this week by their self interested response to the pandemic. Branson takes considerable amounts of money from Government contracts, many of them within the NHS, but he wants a £7.5 billion bail out for Virgin Atlantic, whilst at the same time telling his considerable workforce to take 8 weeks unpaid leave. Green has got rid of any staff he could without any renumeration, and Martin has told all his staff to go and apply for jobs at Tesco. He's also publically criticised the government decision to close pubs. There's no evidence he says that the virus can be spread by people going to pubs.

I'm sure that when this is over people will remember that those whose extreme wealth affords them access to political platforms, showed in a time of Global crisis that their primary concern wasn't for the safety and wellbeing of the public, but rather the protection of their own wealth.

We've also had a decade of austerity, and the mantra used for that was "we're fixing the roof whilst the sun shines". They've shrunk the State dramatically, and told us they've to sell off so much of our public services to the private sector to enable them to fix the roof. But now the weather's changed and the roofs OK but there's no walls left to put it on.

The State has been shrunk so much it's in a wholly inadequate position to deal properly with this crisis. But the call to Arms has gone out none the less, it's been sounded in the public sector, the third sector, a call for a huge voluntary contribution, and even to those that have retired from public service, all being asked to step up to the plate. The same call to Arms hasn't gone out to the private sector, and in fact much of the private sector are still being allowed to flaunt the rules, but they do so with the lives of employees, the CEOs just sit in their ivory towers. I'm sure many will remember all this when we come out the other side of this.

People too are beginning to realise just how important is is to be able to trade across boarders without restriction. Building the numbers of ventilators needed by the NHS to help combat the virus has been hampered as many of the components needed are manufactured in other countries that are also on lockdown. The same with our food supplies. Do we really want to live in a world where we create obstacles to essential supplies in exchange for some concept of national identity? It's terrifying, all of it, but I can't help being fascinated at the same time.


Thursday 26 March 2020

The Dilemma

I've been up since 3am listening to the World Service, unable to sleep. I bet I haven't been alone. It's another day and I see there were 3,529 visits to this platform yesterday, mostly by worried and concerned staff, in many instances trying to reconcile a whole number of competing duties, demands, responsibilities and fears. I suspect today will be no different as the drama continues to unfold and the realities of what it actually means for probation to have been very unwisely merged with a uniformed service, all under direct civil service control become all too clear.  

A dilemma is "a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, especially ones that are equally undesirable" and this tweet from Sonia Flynn yesterday rather neatly illustrates the tensions that being part of the HMPPS/MoJ monolith brings:- 
"The social distance club is our priority .. but as essential Key workers the probation service has to walk the line between PH guidance and Public Protection ... not easy"
I'm sure I'm not alone in pondering how differently the current situation would have been dealt with had probation remained an independent service, locally controlled and delivered. We certainly wouldn't have been faced with the current prison nightmare of OMiC where probation staff now find themselves basically helping to cover for some prison officer duties and subject to Governor directions. But it was all so inevitable given the forced marriage with HM Prison Service, an organisation with an entirely different culture and ethos. 

It should be entirely different in the community of course, but several years of centralised command and control by NPS/HMPPS/MoJ management has had its effect in engendering low morale, disillusionment and poor retention, even amongst newer recruits who can see the inherent incompatability of centralised direction in dealings with troubled, chaotic and challenging individuals. The once distinctive culture of the probation service has come under sustained attack from within, but joyously refuses to die and it's noticeable that in the current crisis, individualism and resistance to diktat is reappearing like the early shoots of spring.

When this is all over, the world is never going to be the same again and I'm optimistic about that. Why should it be? Isn't this just the opportunity to use enforced isolation in order to think about doing things better? The canals of Venice are running crystal clear; the smog has lifted in India and China; the homeless are being accommodated in hotels; the railways are nationalised: the Tories have realised the importance of the NHS and BBC and we will all realise that putting probation in bed with the prison service was a very bad idea indeed. 

Take care everyone.         

Wednesday 25 March 2020

Latest From Napo 206

C19 - Update 25-03-2020 (bulletin 3)

Following substantial contact from members yesterday the general guidance on operations has been updated on our webpage, this is the HMPPS EDM (Exceptional Delivery Model) that all Probation providers (NPS and CRCs) are expected to follow. There will also be EDMs for APs, Courts, Electronic Monitoring and Probation in prisons. Each Division and CRC will then produce their specific EDM based on the HMPPS guidance and this will be signed off by the centre. Already we have made representations about one CRC owner’s EDM not being properly in line with the HMPPS guidance and we will continue to monitor and act on these to ensure that CRCs and NPS divisions are all working in line with the national model.

Clearly this process takes time and not all of the EDMs have been signed off yet. If any members are in a position where they feel they are being asked to work in a way that does not meet the HMPPS general model they should first take it up locally with their managers and seek support from local reps who can escalate to the national team if necessary. Over the past two days we have seen many issues resolved thanks to the proactive and persistent approach of our local reps who have managed to pull back attempts (however well-meaning) to pre-empt guidance or introduce different versions. As soon as we have any updates we will post them to the webpage so please check it regularly.

NPS staff working in prisons

We are still awaiting the specific EDM for this, and have made Senior leaders aware of the significant impact the delay is having on members. We expect the EDM to be with us by the end of the week, but in the meantime members should not be seeing any clients face to face except in the most urgent and extreme of circumstances and then only when social distancing protocols can be observed. Prison regimes should all now be in lockdown which should help in this. Staff based in prisons can, if they need to because of an underlying health issue, work at home and this can be agreed by their line manager. We have heard from some members that there is tension between the decisions being made by Probation managers (in line with NPS guidance) and the very real urgency for Prison management to make the establishment as safe as it can be in the face of a staffing crisis. We have made it clear to HMPPS Senior Leaders that this is unacceptable and that staff working in prisons remain employees of the NPS or CRC and not the prison.

Suspension of most disciplinary, grievance and attendance management cases in NPS

We have secured agreement that, during this crisis, all of these cases will be suspended (so no hearings or investigations will be taking place) until we return to “business as usual”. The only exception will be some gross misconduct cases and those cases where it is decided, very exceptionally, that to not proceed would cause too many difficulties. New allegations of gross misconduct where suspension is unavoidable will proceed to suspension and then a decision will be made in line with the above whether to proceed with the case or not. HMPPS will issue an instruction on this in the next day or two and we will share it once we have it.

What About Prisons?

As many probation staff continue to try and reconcile new operating instructions being issued by NPS and CRC managements, both with government instruction and common sense, this platform received 4,495 visits yesterday. (It should be noted that union guidance has been amended, but good luck spotting the changes.) Today attention inevitably turns to the prison estate with news of increasing numbers of prison staff not reporting for duty either due to sickness or self-isolation. This from BBC website:-

Coronavirus: Inmates could be freed to ease virus pressure on jails

The government is considering releasing some offenders from prisons in England and Wales to ease pressures caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said the virus poses an "acute" risk in prisons, many of which are overcrowded.

Some 3,500 prison staff - about 10% of the workforce - were off work on Tuesday because they were ill or self-isolating, a committee of MPs was told. Mr Buckland said releasing some inmates could help to "alleviate" pressures.

The justice secretary told the Commons justice committee he was "keen" to make use of release on temporary licence - where prisoners are let out for short periods, after a risk assessment. Mr Buckland said he was looking "very carefully" at whether or not 50 pregnant prisoners could be released. He also indicated some of the 9,000 inmates who are on remand, awaiting trial, could be transferred to bail hostels, if it was safe to do so.

Mr Buckland said the prison service must "balance the protection of life with the need to protect the public", but releasing prisoners early could help to "alleviate some of the pressures" the virus was having on the system. However, he pointed out that releasing more prisoners would be a "challenge" for probation staff.

Amnesty International UK's head of policy and government affairs, Allan Hogarth, said elderly prisoners and those with underlying medical conditions should "immediately" be considered for release "if they do not pose a threat to themselves or society".

Mr Buckland's appearance before the committee came as all visits to prisons were cancelled, as part of measures to curb the spread of the virus. Outside visitors, group activities and education classes have all been banned and inmates have been confined to their cells for 23 hours a day.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said 55 prisons across England and Wales would be given 900 phones to allow prisoners to stay in touch with family members during the ban. The phones will not have internet access and would only be handed out to risk-assessed prisoners on a temporary basis, the MoJ said.

The justice committee also heard from Jo Farrar, chief executive of the Prison and Probation Service, who said 13 inmates had tested positive for coronavirus. The confirmed cases were in nine prisons although more jails are suspected to have had cases.

According to the latest Department of Health figures, there are now more than 8,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK - although the actual number cases is likely to be far higher. Some 422 of those patients have died. Mr Buckland said more tests for the virus were needed in prisons, and more personal protective equipment (PPE) was needed for staff. About 50,000 protective masks have been delivered for staff to use and a ban on bringing hand sanitiser into prisons has been lifted.


This from Eric Allison in the Guardian yesterday:-

Coronavirus is a disaster for UK prisons. Releasing the harmless now will save lives

The Prisoners’ Advice Service (PAS), a charity of which I am a trustee, asked the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) last week to release groups of prisoners in order to lessen the impact of coronavirus in the penal estate. They have done it in Iran, so why not here?

The UK government has already announced that it intends to ease pressure on prisons by increasing the number of prisoners released on home detention curfew with a tag. But the PAS is calling for those inmates who are old or infirm; or have long passed their tariffs – if they are serving a wretched imprisonment for public protection (IPP) sentence; or simply do not pose a threat, to be released immediately. These include the more than 1,700 prisoners, mostly men, aged 70 and over – some of whom are 80 or older, with a growing number in their 90s.

Releasing these prisoners, who are now completely harmless, will undoubtedly save lives, not just of prisoners but also of prison officers and other staff, especially in jails where there are wings full of elderly inmates. We have already had the first case of Covid-19 in a prisoner at Strangeways in Manchester. Make no mistake, this virus will take hold. Nowhere more so than in our antiquated local jails, such as Strangeways, where two or more prisoners are crammed into cells Victorian prison planners designed for one. Please tell us, justice minister, how such inmates can self-isolate?

Only last month a report from the National Audit Office on the physical state of prisons revealed a shocking state of disrepair, from leaking roofs and failing heating systems to broken cell windows and rat infestations. So, how can they possibly provide the hygienic conditions needed – particularly for frail, elderly prisoners – to fight this virus. Last year inspectors found that 10 out of 35 men’s prisons weren’t meeting minimum standards of cleanliness and infection control compliance.

When serving time, I experienced a few hairy moments, occasions when I felt my actions would lead to my physical harm. But my biggest fear, always, was suffering a serious illness. Of all the myths peddled by the MoJ, the line that prisoners receive healthcare comparable with that they would receive in the community is the hardest one to swallow.

Writing about the state of the prison system in England and Wales, my inbox is full of horror stories of medical neglect in the penal estate. They include prisoners who have died in hospital, more often than not in chains, after prison medical staff had ignored signs of serious illness until it was too late. The one I recount here did not end in death, but the scale of the neglect still shocks me.

A prisoner in a Midlands jail complained of severe pains in his leg. He was given paracetamol. Then his leg began to turn black and started to smell. The man did not have great mental capacity and simply accepted his pain. He was discharged from a relatively small sentence and his son immediately took him to their GP, who referred him immediately to a specialist. It was, of course, gangrene and there was nothing to be done but amputate. I put them in touch with a lawyer and the man eventually received compensation. But no treatment, on a leg that had turned black and smelly?

Ironically for the hang ’em and flog ’em brigade, the least dangerous prisons in terms of coronavirus will be the high security ones, which house those who have committed the most serious crimes. They are not overcrowded and all inmates have single cells. The local jails may well transform into charnel houses if nothing is done to release those who represent at worst a nuisance, rather than a danger to society.

On Saturday night I spoke to a pal from the old days, who is now retired from the game but keeps abreast of prison matters. He’s a Londoner and we discussed the impact this virus may have on the local jails he and I know well: Pentonville, Wandsworth and Wormwood Scrubs. We discussed our chances of survival if we were back inside any of them. Would we get the medical care our ages (we are now in our 70s) and our underlying medical conditions (I was a heavy smoker) required?

“More likely to be struck by lightning,” he said. “In Pentonville, we’d be lucky to get a mattress to sleep on.”

As many as 60% of prisoners could become infected with coronavirus, according to Prof Richard Coker at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who has looked at the potential spread of the virus in locked establishments.

Those who say criminals deserve what they get should bear in mind that, in life, as in prisons, there is a pecking order. The poor and disadvantaged, who have committed no crimes, will be the next in the line of fire of this disease.

Eric Allison is the Guardian’s prisons correspondent. He spent 16 years in prison for theft-related offences

Tuesday 24 March 2020

Latest From Napo 205

COVID 19 Guidance – 24.03.2020

Additional Guidance in light of the most recent Government Covid 19 Guidance

Caseload Considerations

  • The majority of offenders can be supervised by telephone/ Whatsapp/Skype (video messaging should be used wherever possible).
  • Given that telephone/ Whatsapp/Skype supervision is inferior to face to face contact, it is a requirement that contact frequency for each offender doubles for those who are being supervised via this means.
  • Face to face contact should be retained for the following groups: 
  • TACT offenders 
  • Offenders without recourse to a phone 
  • Prison leavers reporting for their initial appointment (subsequent appointments can be done via telephone/ Whatsapp/Skype where appropriate) 
  • For other high and very high risk of harm assessed offenders Doorstep visits should be the first consideration as a risk management strategy (it is recognised that this will not be appropriate in all cases). In order to keep staff safe this will involve a visit by car to the offender’s address and a telephone call being conducted from outside the property. (one of the additions to the guidance will be to always do ‘doorstep’ visits in pairs and where necessary with a police colleague). The will allow staff to have sight of the offender at the address whilst also facilitating a discussion. It is expected that this occurs once every four weeks for each offender assessed as presenting a high or very high risk of causing serious harm as a minimum this frequency should be specifically discussed with SPOs and the rationale recorded appropriately. For those offenders presenting a medium risk of serious harm or below, these should be used on a discretionary basis but no less than once every 3 months. Please note these are exceptional measures, that will be reviewed in 3 weeks time, in line with the message given by the Prime Minister on 23rd March. 
  • Every risk management plan and sentence plan will need to be reviewed quickly to reflect the new supervision regime. Those plans associated with offenders presenting the highest risk should be prioritised for completion. All plans for medium risk of serious harm and above will need to be endorsed by an SPO. Whilst this will be automated for high and very high risk of serious harm cases, a manual review and Delius entry will need to be made for medium risk of serious harm cases. Specific attention should be paid to medium risk of harm cases where there are Safeguarding or Domestic Violence concerns present. 
  • PDUs should arrange daily calls with Police and Local Authority Social Services Departments to review relevant call outs or intelligence from the past 24 hours. It is suggested that these calls should be with local agency MAPPA leads. 
  • Where cases are managed on a multi-agency basis, ongoing contact with partner agencies should be maintained. 

Estate Considerations 
  • Where possible, Probation Offices should be closed in order to support social distancing. It is likely that each office will not be able to close entirely, rather, judgements will need to be made about which day an office should open to receive those requiring face to face contact. 
  • Senior Probation Officers will need to review the list of offenders requiring face to face contact in conjunction with their PDU Head and make a judgement about how many days per week the office will need to be open. In order to minimise the number of offices open, PDU Heads will need to review options including whether offenders can report to alternative offices. The availability of public transport will be an important consideration in making this decision. 
  • When an office is closed, a sign should be placed on the door advising of the next day the office is open and providing a duty telephone number for emergency contact. The duty number can be shared between officers through use of the call forwarding function.
Administrative Considerations
  • The extent to which administrative functions can be completed virtually will vary between PDUs.
  • Business Managers will need to conduct a review of administrative functions and identify which cannot be completed virtually e.g. the production of enforcement packs for uploading to Court Store requires a printer and scanner in some Divisions.
  • Where administrative functions require office hardware that is unavailable at home, arrangements will need to be made for access to offices to perform these tasks.

What Happens Now?

First off a big thankyou to everyone who has contributed to this blog over the last few days, either publicly or privately. Although we may never know for sure, I think it helped us all arrive at a situation where NPS and CRC Senior Management had no option but to change their absurd and dangerous 'business as usual' policy. 

Once again in times of great concern, this platform is proving to be a 'go to' source of information and support with hits rising to 4,467 yesterday. As of right now and following the PM's announcement of national 'lockdown', there are more questions than answers of course, so please keep sharing information so we can all keep safe, both clients, staff and the general public. 

The following statement has been brought to my attention from the Probation Institute, but I have no idea when it was published:-

Dear Readers,

We at the Probation Institute work mainly from home. In that sense at least our operation is not disrupted.

Safe Working

We have a real concern for the safety of front line staff in NPS, CRCs and essential Justice Services as the risks of Covid 19 have so rapidly become very severe. We have been surprised at the absence of mention of Probation in news about essential services but it is very clear that Probation Staff are essential workers. Indeed if there is early release of serving prisoners this will be even more critical.

There is comment on social media about insufficient safe arrangements for the supervision of individuals. We are confident that HMPPS will be addressing this.... However, some thoughts from us.......we remember during the TR appointments reading the Working Links operating model which involved not only a huge reliance on telephone contact and some reliance on versight in families. It seemed bizarre at the time - as indeed it was - in normal times. But these are not normal times.

The expectation that Probation staff should continue with face-to-face supervision must surely be reduced towards zero with immediate effect. Placing front-line staff in harms way with little or no personal protective equipment would be reckless, as indeed would any requirement for clients to travel to and from appointments, often using public transport.

MoJ must develop safer ways of working without delay - safer in the sense of minimising the risks of infection.There are ways of achieving a level of supervision commensurate with both the risks of the case and the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Mobile phone contact, where possible with visual contact by way of cameras on phones is one. Landlines may be better in terms of establishing whereabouts, though fewer people now have these. Staff should be allowed (and facilitated) to work from home wherever possible supported by the NPS Homeworking Policy. GPS trackers on mobile phones might be considered although this could require some emergency regulations if not already in the bill. Needs must. Maybe even some form of oversight by trusted persons with appropriate physical distance could be considered. MoJ must act to reduce the risks of infection transmission in the Probation world.


I suspect this sentiment may speak for many:-

After years of disruption and upset this has been been the final straw for me in terms of goodwill towards senior management. E3. Forced moves. Months of 150% upwards workload. Blame culture. Low morale. Not paying promised pay increase. Today, in the midst of a deadly virus the message that they can see no need to close offices. Perhaps some intention not to kill us all in order to do a task which in these circumstances can be done over the phone might have built a few bridges. The fact they didn’t even offer us that speaks volumes really.

Monday 23 March 2020

Napo At Work in the North East

Many thanks to the reader for forwarding the following:-

Dear Members,

We’d like to keep you fully up to date with what action Northumbria branch is taking about our safety at work in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic and provide you with some reassurance that NAPO is doing all that we can in this extremely difficult time. If any NAPO members asks what we are doing and haven’t read this e-mail please direct them to it as a reminder of all the hard work that happens on their behalf. Can I please ask that you take a couple of minutes to read this e-mail it as it highlights significant issues that we are all facing some of which you may not have considered.

Below is an e-mail compiled by Ben Cockburn which is a summary of the concerns that has been sent to the senior managers in CRC and NPS asking for an immediate response. Please continue to get in touch to give us some feedback about what has been implemented in your workplace and if any of the suggested measures below are being introduced.

Kind Regards

This current situation places many of our members, and their families, at risk of significant harm given the possibility we will become infected with this virus, and then spread this to others, including our loved ones, colleagues and service users. At this time we are writing to you to request an urgent response to some operational questions. 

  • Can you confirm that all necessary Health & Safety Workplace Inspections have been reviewed to consider the risks posed by continuing to require employees and service users to attend work locations 
  • What information has been requested, and how will this be reviewed, from individual offices/work locations in relation to the numbers of employees a) who have reported symptoms of COVID-19 b) who are otherwise self isolating (including those who are working from home due to underlying health conditions) c) who are attending workplaces (including where the frequency this is expected is reduced)?
  • What information has been requested, and how will this be reviewed, from individual offices/locations to ensure that Government guidance in relation to ‘social distancing’ is being adhered to? How is this being managed in specific settings such as open plan offices, prisons or Courts?
  • Specific to Approved Premises, what measures as regards ‘social distancing’ have been taken to safeguard workers in these properties, and distributed to them, given significant anxiety expressed by members working in these buildings staff who effectively share the same space for the duration of their shifts, which presumably increases the likelihood of infection over and above other NPS workers. Also, has a clear plan been developed and issued to all staff yet regarding the scenario of a resident displaying COVID-19 symptoms – how are AP Managers and staff to manage this situation, especially if an individual refuses to self-isolate as required (presumably in their room for the whole duration)?
  • What consideration has been given to the indefinite suspension of all performance measures and targets for the duration of this pandemic, and what mechanism is in place to review this as the situation develops?
  • What steps are being taken in relation to individuals being released from prison, for example requiring these individuals not to attend offices for an appropriate post-release ‘self isolation’ period? What work has been undertaken with your counterparts in the prison system (public and private) as regards the potential pre-release testing of prisoners immediately prior to their release into the community?
  • Will you consider the urgent introduction of the following measures for staff who currently use public transport – an activity which it is accepted increases the risk of infection and it’s spread – and who you require to continue to commute to work a) to fully reimburse pay car parking costs (at a nearby public car park to their office) if this will enable workers to use their own vehicles to travel b) to enable workers with a valid driving licence, but without access to their own vehicle, to use hire cars, with all costs – including parking near the office as discussed above – fully met by the employer c) to pay in full for taxis for any workers without a valid driving licence or access to a vehicle who no longer wish to use public transport on the grounds of their own safety.
  • Has an increased cleaning regime/schedule been introduced in all areas of properties used by service users and where workers are located in close proximity to each other? If not, when will this commence? If there are no plans to introduce such a regime/schedule in all properties what is the justification for this?
  • Have additional washing facilities or other products (i.e. hand sanitizers) been ordered for, delivered to and replenished as required at all properties where service users attend and have direct contact with workers, or where workers sit in close proximity? If not, when will this commence? If there are no plans to order, distribute and replenish as required such products what is the justification for this?
  • Have appropriate items of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) been ordered for all staff who will be required by the employer to have continued direct contact with service users, others (for instance Court staff or employees of other agencies/companies visiting work locations) or those who work in close proximity to colleagues? If not, when will this commence? If there are no plans to access and distribute PPE to these workers immediately what is the justification for this?
Thank you in advance for your response.
Sent on behalf of Napo Northumbria Branch Executive

Napo at Work in London and Thames Valley

Many thanks to the reader for forwarding the following:-

23 March 2020

Subject: Napo Members Covid -19 Napo's Position and Advice

Dear Napo Members

Many of you have contacted Napo requesting guidance regarding the current Covid-19 situation as you can imagine Napo’s priority is the health and safety of probation staff whilst ensuring that arrangements that impact on our work do not result in more work and complications later on down the line. MTC have been keeping both Napo and UNISON in the loop in both London and Thames Valley and have so far taken a robust line regarding safety of staff whilst trying to keep pace with the changing situation. You will appreciate this has been a challenge for them with new announcements daily from central government and a complex and changing landscape.

As you know probation staff are designated key workers by the government. ‘A key worker is a public sector or private sector employee who is considered to provide an essential service.’ MTC and other probation service providers have been in constant communication with their client that, we know as HMPPS/MoJ, about what constitutes an acceptable operating model during the crisis.

It is a fact that what MTC may propose may not be acceptable to their client particularly if it is not a good fit with the clients plans in respect of the NPS and prison service. I am reassured by Napo’s General Secretary and MTC management that all CRC’s are having this conversation at the various command levels and will no doubt continue to do so in the coming weeks and months. I will not repeat the company’s view here as every one of you will have access to the intranet and will see the various updates from the centre including a message from MTC MD David Hood on MTC FUSE. I do not for one minute doubt the sincerity of David’s message. Some services have already been suspended or part suspended, however, the situation does appear to be deteriorating and unlikely to improve for some time.

However, I feel duty bound to say that it is my view, as Napo London Branch Co-Chair and Health and Safety Convener, that I have serious reservations about the NPS Exceptional Reporting Strategy that is scheduled to be implemented next week. If implemented this will result in a number of offices closing across London and the establishment of area reporting facilities where high risk SUs will be required to report to probation staff. These staff will rely on the self-reporting of viral contact/infection by SUs, washing their hands, and an air gap of 2m for protection with no PPE.

I am advised that the National Unions have today made strong representations that these plans should be revisited and I will be advising the Co-Chair of Napo London Branch NPS of this view later today, making clear that the assessed risk to staff is simply too high. Without going into detail here I am concerned about any plan that involves face to face work taking place putting frontline staff at risk. I am also skeptical about any measure that requires staff and SUs to travel further than they would normally be required to do so. My view is that instead of the NPS plan local offices should be kept open with a minimal number of staff using them if absolutely necessary and required. It should be acknowledged that these staff are potentially at risk from each other and should maintain safe distances. No SUs should attend those offices for face to face meetings. The ideal at present is that all staff should be facilitated to work from home to avoid exposure to or transmission of the virus as anything short of this adds to existing risk.

It is also noted that those of you who have been travelling in to probation offices will have inevitably found that offices are not designed or equipped to follow the governments guidance (NHS, PHE) regarding hand sanitisation and maintaining safe distances and some may already have been infected. For example the need to operate secure doors to lead SUs from shared waiting rooms to interview areas that are often small, inadequately cleaned, and/or poorly ventilated. Probation offices as we know become unclean and unhygienic very quickly. We know for instance that reception glass and surfaces that face waiting areas are often saliva spattered and in this kind of situation would need to be cleaned after every SU with a strong disinfectant cleaning solution by someone wearing PPE. This type of cleaning is not a job for our dedicated customer service staff or for that matter any of our staff who are not trained in specialist cleaning.

The uncomfortable truth is that in most cases our workplaces whether offices or project placements are not very clean and in some cases do not even provide adequate safe hand washing facilities despite matters being reported. It is also the case that a number of our service users do not have personal access to adequate washing and cleaning facilities. As we know SUs often live in overcrowded living conditions and do their best to survive on low incomes that can seriously impact on their general health and resistance to disease – even under normal circumstances. This places both staff and SUs at risk of transmitting the virus to each other and to others.

In the meantime it remains for me to re-state Napo’s current position as clearly and as simply as possible. Napo General Secretary Ian Lawrence has made Napo’s views very clear to Gold Command. The position is that we do not believe that members should be required to have any face to face contact with service users and that this should rather be carried out by phone or text messaging or by other electronic means. Napo believes that anything short of zero contact will inevitably place staff at foreseeable risk. If staff are not seeing SUs then it seems logical that the default position should be to undertake work from the relative safety of home that will avoid travel and contact with others.

This is a difficult and worrying time for us all particularly when those we know and care about are at risk of contracting a potentially fatal disease and when we are told that our precious NHS will be placed under unprecedented pressures that have seen better resourced healthcare systems struggle. We are doing our bit by keeping our essential part of the criminal justice system going. Napo will continue to do our bit to encourage and support the employers to do all that is possible to look after the health and safety of employees and urge the HMPPS/MoJ to do the right thing quickly and not place any probation staff at risk.

Napo can only give advice about your health and safety but ultimately every member has a responsibility of care for both themselves and towards others. The employer also has a duty of care to you and also to SU’s. In the present health crisis face to face contact with SUs in probation offices, or out on project placements, in Napo’s view is not reasonable, safe or practicable. Should anyone decide to take Napo’s advice and subsequently be required to see service users face to face, or be required to instruct others to see or work directly with SUs face to face during this crisis, this will certainly not be considered reasonable by Napo for reasons of safety. If any member having decided to refuse to see a SU or to instruct anyone else to see a SU face to face, is then informed that they will face disciplinary action because they have refused to see a service user face to face, or instruct anyone else to see a SU face to face, then they should contact me at Napo as soon as possible for advice. You should of course otherwise maintain suitable contact with your SUs and colleagues during this time and if you are a manager member carry out your duties as best you can and if you choose to follow Napo’s advice, this will be short of instructing others to see SUs face to face.

Please feel free to share this with your colleagues and contact me if you have any questions.

David A Raho

Latest From Napo 204

Issued a short time ago:-


Further to Friday's mail out explaining the work that the unions had undertaken across all employers to in respect of the current C19 crisis, this mailing brings you up to date with the demands that the Probation Unions made at this morning’s strategic discussion with the HMPPS Director General Probation. As you would expect, we have also maintained contact with senior employer leads over the course of the weekend. Cafcass members should know that your elected Officers are also in regular touch with senior Cafcass management and their latest advice appears on the employer’s intranet.

Our aim is to issue regular updates to members following these high level representations which are currently taking place twice weekly, or as circumstances dictate.


The NPS has drawn up exceptional delivery models (EDM) for all aspects of service delivery and staffing. These have been shared with the unions on a confidential basis and are forming the subject matter for on-going discussions between the unions and NPS on how to keep staff and service users safe. During the call with Amy Rees this morning, the unions made the following demands

  • the closure of all NPS offices to service users with similar instructions to be issued to CRC providers
  • London Service Hub plans to be withdrawn
  • home working for all staff who can work from home
  • special leave for staff with health vulnerability who should be self-isolating for their own protection, but who cannot work from home
  • provision for proper social distancing for operational staff who remain at work
  • supervision to be carried out by phone or off-site face to face with social distancing for high risk service users and those assessed at medium risk where the current crisis potentially increases risk to others or self for example DA perpetrators or victims or those with specific health or mental health issues that could be exacerbated by social distancing / isolation.
  • the provision of soap and hot water in any offices which remain open for staff along with appropriate cleaning of workplaces
  • closure of any offices which cannot provide basic hand washing facilities or appropriate cleaning
  • appropriate PPE for all staff who come into close contact with service users, e.g. in approved premises
At the time of writing we are awaiting a response to these reasonable demands and will keep members posted at the earliest opportunity.


To discuss the above protection measures requested by the unions, the NPS are to convene an emergency meeting of the NPS Health and Safety Committee which will take place on 24 March. If you have any health and safety concerns about Covid 19 and your work, speak with your local Napo representative, Napo Branch or e-mail your Link Officer who will feed in concerns to the Napo team.


The NPS wishes to introduce a package of exceptional pay arrangements to pay staff extra money in certain circumstances arising from the Covid 19 crisis. This package has been shared with the unions and whilst we have been able to improve them around the edges we have not reached formal agreement. These will be published later today and will appear on the staff intranet. .

Please note, this is a voluntary package – i.e. members are free to choose to take up the opportunities, or not. It is up to members to decide whether the offer is one they wish to accept in relation to their own individual circumstances. You cannot be compelled to undertake any of the additional work responsibilities set out in the exceptional pay package. A number of members have made valid observations about the fact that the employer is seeking the goodwill of staff despite the delay in implementing the agreed Pay Progression arrangements under the 2018 NPS Pay Agreement.


As also explained in last week’s member’s mail out, Napo’s National Executive Committee met last Thursday. Whilst the C19 crisis (and two related Emergency Motions) provided the main focal point, there was an important opportunity to discuss the decision to delay the NPS pay progression arrangements. The meeting heard NEC representatives register their abject anger and disgust that members had asked them to convey, about the interference by HM Treasury which had delayed the payout of the expected remuneration.

The General Secretary advised the NEC that the Napo leadership shared this anger and had made it clear to the Director General and Ministers some time ago that members would be livid if there was a delay in paying out the expected pay progression. The unions had been invited to engage with Pay and Reward and senior NPS leaders as soon as possible to discuss the next steps.

The NEC also heard that further representations were being made to the NPS in terms of the employer’s failure to apply the necessary training and support for staff who were downgraded as a result of the E3 Project. Should the union’s latest representations be rejected, members would be advised to submit grievances using material prepared by Napo and our sister unions.

On a brighter note, the NEC heard from the Napo Co-Vice Chairs that along with the General Secretary, they had met with the new CEO Cafcass Jacky Tiotto. There had been a very positive response to Napo’s concerns around Workloads and how the current partnership working arrangements could be improved. It was also noted that the employer had also responded quickly and in consultation with the unions on the advice that it was issuing to staff on the C19 crisis.

Ian Lawrence General Secretary 
Katie Lomas National Chair

Something Has To Be Done

After an unprecedented couple of days of activity on here with 3,638 hits yesterday, on top of 3,351 on Saturday, it's fair to say many staff are extremely concerned at the conspicuous lack of guidance, support and leadership from senior management both in NPS and the CRCs. The following is what I've distilled from this first weekend of increasing national lockdown:-

"The solution is social distancing, cancel face to face appointments, stop dragging hoards of offenders across towns for appointments and full protective gear for those that must be in a room together. Senior Probation managers and justice officials can decide this. Unions of probation can demand this."

"The NPS and CRC Senior Management Teams are not taking advice from those on the frontline. They have no viable plan or contingency to deal with this situation. Burying their heads in the sand is an easier option and hope the probation workers believe putting themselves at risk is doing their duty. Made easy while they are not the ones sitting in potentially infected prisons and supervising potentially infected probationers."

Sunday 22 March 2020

Is Anyone Listening?

The response to yesterday's blog post, submitted by a Probation Officer, continues to grow having been viewed 1,152 times already and this site 3,351 times in total over 24 hours. There is unprecedented concern and alarm building amongst staff demanding that probation cannot carry on with 'business as usual' given the current situation and at variance with government policy regarding the urgent need for 'social distancing' in order to protect the NHS. The question essentially boils down to this - is anyone listening and has enough been done? 

Given the mailout from Napo late on Friday, a number of readers have noted the incongruity of the situation:-
“Napo is urgently raising issues relating to lack of handwashing/drying facilities, hand sanitiser, etc. in workplaces.” But Napo have all cancelled face to face meetings and are working remotely. This so they don’t catch the virus. Why are they not demanding the same for probation workers? 
It was another reader who drew our attention to this from Friday morning:-

Received on 20/03/2020, 11:19 from Napo HQ

SUBJECT: - Urgent help needed with info about workplace hygiene standards at this time

Let Napo HQ know about problems with hygiene standards in your workplace
Napo is urgently raising issues relating to lack of handwashing/drying facilities, hand sanitiser, etc. in workplaces. We have been asked to complile a list for HMPPS and we will also take up problems with individual CRCs.

We URGENTLY need your help to gather this info quickly. Please send details of the situation in your office/workplace. We need the name and location of your workplace (that includes prisons and courts). Also if reporting a CRC office please specify that this is the case.

Send this info urgently to XXXXXXX at Napo HQ


Given the strident tone of Friday's mailout, I think many staff are hoping that there might be similar demands for 'emergency measures to protect your employees' to be directed towards HMPPS by a Trade Union:-

"Napo has been doing, is doing, and will continue to do, absolutely everything we can to work with your employers to enact the necessary measures demanded by the social distancing policy that was announced by the Prime Minister this week. As you would expect we will lead by example within our sphere of influence.

Our work, and the considerable achievements over the space of a few days to try and reduce risk to staff and service users would not have been anywhere near as effective without the support of our members, who have been providing important real time information that has enabled us to engage early with senior leaders and, where needs be, to take a robust approach where we believe that action has been slow to happen. Much has been done, but there remains a lot more still to do.

In a week that has seen unprecedented partnership between the Government, the Official Opposition, TUC and Employers representatives, it’s only right that I express appreciation to senior HMPPS leaders for their willingness to listen and respond to your concerns as best they can especially following our demands that prioritisation be given to the suspension of Interventions and Programmes across the CRCs. Things are tough enough as it is, and the climate is not helped by endless media speculation about possible further initiatives by the Government. That said, we can be pretty confident that next week will see the announcement of major steps across the Criminal Justice and Family Court systems that will fundamentally change the way in which the majority of our members undertake their work. If and when that happens the Napo Officers and myself will issue further news to you as early as we possibly can.

The Officer Group have moved swiftly to authorise me to enact emergency measures to protect your employees at Falcon Road in respect of risk mitigation and business continuity."


So, any indication that Senior Managers are listening? This seen on Twitter from "Director NPS South West South Central, HMPPS. National lead for NPS work in prisons, with the Parole Board & ExArmed Service Personnel"
I know there’s been a lot about negative behaviour here and elsewhere but ... I can honestly say I’ve only seen & experienced acts of kindness & care today #GoodNewsSaturday

Saturday 21 March 2020

Emergency Message for NPS and CRC Senior Management Teams

The following has just been privately emailed to me, along with other material from other worried and concerned staff. I was going to publish it tomorrow as a 'Guest Blog', but do you know what, that simply doesn't do it justice and I want the content read widely now and action to follow speedily. Every probation worker expects Senior Management to do their duty now!

COVID19, Probation Workers and ‘duty of care’

Gracchus: “Have you ever embraced someone dying of plague, sire?”
Commodus: “No, but if you interrupt me again, I assure you that you will.”

Please can somebody explain to the ‘Commoduses’ Boris Johnson, Amy Rees, Sonia Crozier, Central Government and all the Probation Service (NPS and CRC) Directors that ‘probation workers’ are no longer able to work in a face to face setting as in relation to COVID-19, it is “dangerous and not advisable to do so”.

The government has listed probation workers as key-workers but this doesn’t mean we can be put at risk. We are not provided gloves, masks and hazmat suits. We are not allowed early in supermarkets. We are not provided immediate health care. We are not paid extra money. In fact the pay rise some colleagues were expecting has just been cancelled. We have a ‘duty of care’ in the job we do, but this does not mean we have a ‘duty’ to get sick and die for the job.

In the last week my probation colleagues have been dropping like flies. One by one they have been falling sick to suspected or actual Coronavirus. The offenders on probation have been falling sick, and many are oblivious and think it’s “just a cough”. The older ones think they’ll catch it regardless. The younger ones think they’re immune. Neither are washing their hands or using tissues. This is how part of my week went.

I started the week tired because I haven’t been able to buy enough food. I have to work 9-5 and shops are empty before and after. I have so far been lucky searching for stock first thing in the morning, but the queues are now horrendous and people are coughing in the queues. Lunchtime is the same, there is hardly any food in the shops and the queues. There’s rumours the workers at the local Greggs and Tesco have Coronavirus, who caught it from customers, so I can’t go there any more. Even if I had food to bring in I can’t store or heat it properly as a colleague who is sick with Coronavirus was using the work fridge and microwave. They’re now “out of order”.

This week started with a lot of concern of offenders coughing in the reception area. Most do not fully understand the threat. Some do not care. Some are unable to care. Offenders are congregating outside the office in groups. We have to walk through them to get into the office. Doors are not automatic. We don’t have masks, gloves or gel, except where self provided. There is no direction from managers except “business as usual”. We have tried to cancel most meetings, including team meetings, and are using Skype. We have tried to keep our distance from each other. We have been washing our hands for 20 seconds, but it’s not enough. I am now worried for myself and my family that I may not have done enough.

By midweek a number of colleagues have phoned in sick with suspected Coronavirus. The receptionist too. All believe they caught it by seeing offenders at the probation office. All have been mixing with other colleagues. This was the period offenders in probation hostels began phoning saying the virus is spreading there. There are too many people living together. Most have nowhere to go. They want somebody to help them but their probation officers are now sick and self isolating. Those in prisons are saying the same. Everyone’s trying to transfer cases, arrange prison releases and to get others to cover their face to face appointments. It’s not possible to keep up with the demands.

By the end of the week hardly any colleagues are left in the office. There are widespread rumours of colleagues in other offices falling sick. Every time one goes down there is a domino effect and others fall sick too. Managers continue to tell and email us it’s “business as usual”. Directors continue to email us “business as usual”. The other line they’re using is “we’re all going to catch it anyway”. I think they’d change their mind if they had to sit in front of an infected and coughing service user just released from prison. I phoned Napo Union for advice and they told me they were busy. Napo are not seeing members face to face and are working remotely. Why haven’t they instructed members to do the same?

I ended the week sitting in my office with a sign on the door “do not enter”. There were only two of us still at work and we were both worried for our own safety. I have gloves I bought myself. I have cancelled all my appointments. I have worked from home as much as possible this week. I have arranged to phone each offender once a week. I’ve told my manager I will do this from home. I fall into a vulnerable group. My colleagues across the area are not so lucky as they have been told to return on Monday, or when their 14 day self isolation ends.

There’s a rumour our probation office will be moved to a bigger office. This means increased numbers of colleagues and service users travelling to and working from a concentrated location. This is a shocking decision as even more colleagues and offenders will fall sick. I don’t think Probation managers and directors understand how serious this Coronavirus is. They do not understand what “social distancing” is. If I was not now working from home I would have to give up my job. I could not work another day in a Probation Office. There is no protective equipment. There is no proper cleaning of the buildings. There is no consideration of our health and safety. Many of us have health problems, children and elderly relatives, yet we are expected to sit with infected and potentially infected colleagues and offenders and those released from infected prisons.

Probation Officer