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  • No Deal Brexit could be catastrophic for health, says BMA

    The British Medical Association says a no deal Brexit could have could have potentially catastrophic consequences for patients, the health workforce, services and the nation’s health.

    The British Medical Association (BMA) has warned that a no deal Brexit could have could have potentially catastrophic consequences for patients, the health workforce, services and the nation’s health.

    In a new briefing paper, the BMA outlines what is at stake for health services if the UK and the EU fail to reach a deal on the Withdrawal Agreement by March 2019. The paper warns that, in a worst-case scenario, a no deal scenario could:

    • Cause real disruption for almost a million patients receiving treatment for rare diseases as the UK would be excluded from the European Rare Disease Network
    • Cause delays in diagnosis and treatment for cancer patients because the UK would have to source important radioisotopes from outside of EURATOM
    • End reciprocal healthcare agreements which could disrupt patient care and increase insurance costs. If 190,000 UK state pensioners currently signed up to the S1 scheme and living within the EU return to the UK it could cost the health services between £500 million and £1 billion per year
    • Weaken the UK’s response to pandemics and increase the chances of diseases spreading as we lose partnerships with key EU bodies, such as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control
    • Risk the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland which could see doctors leaving the profession and patients having to travel miles to receive care
    • See fewer doctors and other medical staff, at a time when there are already huge shortages of these roles, due to uncertainty over future immigration status and confusion around the mutual recognition of medical qualifications across the EU.

    At the BMA’s Annual Representative Meeting in June, doctors made it clear that they believe Brexit poses a major threat to the NHS and the nation’s health. With less than eight months to go until the UK leaves the EU, there is still far too much uncertainty and confusion around the implications of Brexit for patients, doctors and wider health services.

    The BMA supports the idea of the public having a final say on the Brexit deal, now that more is known regarding the potential impact of Brexit on the NHS and the nation's health.

    Commenting on the briefing paper, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: “The consequences of ‘no deal’ could have potentially catastrophic consequences for patients, the health workforce, services and the nation’s health.

    “The UK Government has finally started planning to ensure the health sector and industry are prepared in the short term for a no deal Brexit, but this is too little, too late and quite frankly, proof that the impact on the NHS has not received the attention it deserves in the Brexit negotiations.

    “Some will say we are scaremongering by warning of the dangers of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, but this is not the case. We aren’t shying away from being honest about what is at stake for health services if the UK and the EU fail to reach a deal. As experts in delivering health services and providing care for our patients, we have a duty to set out the consequences of leaving the EU with no future deal in place.”

    * British Medical Association https://www.bma.org.uk/

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  • Pre-election crackdown in Mauritania

    People campaigning against slavery in Mauritania face restrictions on their attempts to speak and work freely, says Amnesty International

    The authorities in Mauritania must immediately put an end to the wave of arrests of journalists, opposition figures and anti-slavery activists in an apparent pre-election crackdown on dissent, says Amnesty International.

    The president of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA) and former presidential candidate, Biram Dah Abeid, was arrested at his home on 7 August 2018 while Abdellahi el Housein Mesoud an IRA member was arrested two days later. Online journalists Babacar Ndiaye and Mahmoudi Ould Saibout were also arrested on 8 August after posting an article critical of a France-based lawyer close to the Mauritanian government which was initially published on another platform.

    “These arrests and detentions send a worrying signal of intimidation, harassment and crackdown on dissenting voices by the Mauritanian authorities ahead of September’s parliamentary, regional and local elections”, said Francois Patuel, Amnesty International’s West Africa researcher.

    Biram Dah Abeid and Abdellahi el Housein Mesoud have been arrested following a complaint by a journalist who accused Biram of threatening him. The arrest took place on the same day as nominations were submitted for the country’s upcoming parliamentary election, in which Biram Dah Abeid is a candidate. No warrant was produced at the time of his arrest and he was told it was based on “an order that came from above”.

    “The timing of Biram Dah Abeid’s arrest, days before the legislative elections to which he is a candidate, is highly suspicious and given the pattern of judicial harassment against him and members of IRA – Mauritania, it would come as no surprise if these charges were politically motivated”, said Francois Patuel.

    Biram Dah Abeid and Abdellahi el Housein Mesoud’s lawyers have repeatedly been prevented from meeting their clients in detention. On 13 August, Biram Dah Abeid was charged with ‘voluntary assault on life and integrity of the person’, ‘incitement to voluntary assault on life’ and ‘threats of violence’. Abdellahi el Housein Mesoud was charged with ‘complicity’. Their lawyers were denied access to the police report and to the incriminating evidence referred to by the prosecution.

    The proceedings brought against Biram Dah Abeid and Abdellahi el Housein Mesoud are already marred with irregularities, including being detained without charge over 48 hours and not being able to access their lawyers. The lawyers were also not being able to access pieces of the files used by the prosecution to maintain them in detention.

    Babacar Ndiaye, the webmaster of news portal Cridem, and Mahmoudi Ould Saibout, a journalist with the news website Taqadoum, were arrested following a complaint from a Mauritanian lawyer based in France about an article they published. They have not yet been charged.

    “The authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Babacar Ndiaye and Mahmoudi Ould Saibout. All journalists must be able to freely express their opinions without fear of reprisals, including in the context of elections”, said Francois Patuel.

    Activists and NGOs campaigning against slavery in Mauritania have long faced restrictions on their attempts to speak and work freely. Opposition senator Mohamed Ould Ghadda remains in detention on corruption-related charges and his trial proceedings continue to be delayed. He was arrested without a warrant on 10 August 2017 by men in civilian clothes who turned up at his home claiming to be police. Ould Gaddha has indicated his wish to stand in September’s elections but has been unable to get his candidacy validated as his case is pending in court. In July 2018, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that the detention of Ould Ghadda was arbitrary and called for his immediate release.

     * Amnesty International https://www.amnesty.org/en/

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  • Programme to reduce women’s imprisonment gets funding boost

    The Prison Reform Trust's Transforming Lives Programme has received £520,000 of National Lottery funding.

    Efforts to reduce the number of women in prison for non-violent offences have received a significant boost, with £520,000 of National Lottery funding. Announced on 16 August 2018, the funding will extend the Prison Reform Trust's Transforming Lives Programme.

    The UK-wide programme has over the last three years successfully advocated for early intervention and more effective responses to women in trouble with the law – working with national and local governments, statutory agencies, and voluntary and community sector organisations.

    Women are more likely to be in custody for non-violent offences, and as a result many serve short spells behind bars which do little to tackle the causes of their offending. But community options, which have been shown to have better outcomes, including for the women themselves, are both underused and under resourced.

    This continuation funding from the Big Lottery Fund, the UK’s largest funder of community activity in the UK, will extend the programme for a further two years, allowing the Prison Reform Trust (PRT) to maximise its impact and build on its successes to date. The programme has identified and encouraged the spread of good practice in working with women in contact with the criminal justice system; gathered and disseminated evidence, and ensured that the voices of often-marginalised women are heard.

    Work during the first three years has laid the groundwork, building a strong case and widespread support for a more effective response to women's offending through evidence and advocacy. But further support for the programme by the Big Lottery Fund comes at a critical point. The programme has been influential to the development of the long-awaited Female Offender Strategy in England and Wales as well as informing and supporting progress in Scotland and Northern Ireland. But ensuring that promises translate into meaningful action will require continued vigilance and pressure and a concerted focus on working with local areas with high levels of custody.

    Commenting, Jenny Earle, Director of the PRT'sTransforming Lives Programme to Reduce Women’s Imprisonment said: "I am delighted that our important work can continue. This National Lottery funding will enable us to build on our successes to date and sustain the momentum during this critical moment, delivering better responses to women's offending that help us all. Too many women are still being sent to prison for non-violent offending, often for short periods, that can blight their lives forever."

    Joe Ferns, UK Funding Director at the Big Lottery Fund, said: “The Prison Reform Trust’s work is vital to improving the lives of women across the UK. They put women who have been in contact with the criminal justice system at the heart of their work, ensuring their voices are heard in order to deliver real, effective change. This National Lottery funding will enable the programme to grow from strength to strength, helping even more women to be supported in the future.”

    * Read Transforming Liveshere

    * Prison Reform Trust http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/

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  • Northern Ireland workers more likely to be stuck in low paid work, says IPPR

    Workers in a low paid job in Northern Ireland are more likely than in any other part of the UK to stay in low paid work for the rest of their career.

    Workers in a low paid job in Northern Ireland are more likely than in any other part of the UK to stay in low paid work for the rest of their career.

    That is a finding of a new report, published by think-tank Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), which sets out that Northern Ireland has a career progression rate of just 2.5 per cent, compared to an average of six per cent across the UK.

    In particular, those with low qualification levels in Northern Ireland are less than half as likely to progress to a higher skilled job as people with equivalent skill levels in the UK as a whole.

    The report also highlights other challenges to Northern Ireland’s economy, in addition to Brexit, which include:

    • Inactivity rates in Northern Ireland are the worst in the UK, with a spike in inactivity from the mid-40s onwards compared to the rest of the UK
    • Pay rates in Northern Ireland remain the lowest in the UK despite improving over the last decade
    • Productivity rates in Northern Ireland are poorest in the UK - poor productivity underpins poor pay and progression rates and poor economic growth
    • 48 per cent of jobs in Northern Ireland are at high potential for change from automation: the highest in the UK

    The think-tank has called for a focus on, and investment in, skills, to be central to tackling these challenges in order to deliver prosperity for Northern Ireland.

    Russell Gunson, a Director at IPPR, said: “Low paid workers in Northern Ireland are more likely to stay in low paid work for the rest of their careers than any other part of the UK. While this isn’t the fault of the skills system alone, boosting career progression rates should be a key priority. 

    "To tackle Northern Ireland’s current economic problems, and the future challenges of automation and Brexit, Northern Ireland needs to prioritise investment in skills and renew its focus on lifelong learning in particular. Doing so could bring big rewards in boosting productivity, pay and economic growth.

    “By bringing business, learners and the skills system together, Northern Ireland can begin to tackle the economic problems of the present, and prepare for the challenges coming down the line through automation and Brexit. Failing to do so would run the risk of entrenching existing inequalities and creating new ones.”

    * Read The skills system in Northern Ireland: Challenges and opportunities here

    * Institute for Public Policy Research https://www.ippr.org/

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  • Access for humanitarian agencies blocked in Myanmar

    Independent humanitarian agencies remain largely blocked from accessing vulnerable communities in northern Rakhine, raising major concerns about unmet medical and humanitarian needs.

    Independent humanitarian agencies remain largely blocked from accessing vulnerable communities in northern Rakhine, raising major concerns about unmet medical and humanitarian needs.

    On 11 August 2017, two weeks prior to attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) and the Myanmar Army’s so-called 'clearance operations' that followed, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) lost government authorisation to carry out medical activities in northern Rakhine. One year on, MSF remains unable to operate in the area.

    “The lack of sustained independent assessments in northern Rakhine means that no one has a comprehensive picture of the situation on the ground and the medical and humanitarian needs”, said Benoit De Gryse, MSF’s operations manager for Myanmar. "MSF once again requests the government grant immediate and unfettered access to northern Rakhine to all independent and impartial humanitarian actors, to ensure that the healthcare needs of the population can be evaluated and addressed."

    MSF has repeatedly requested that the Myanmar government grant it the necessary travel and activity authorisations to provide medical care to those in need, but administrative red tape has made this impossible.

    MSF has provided healthcare to all communities in northern Rakhine since 1994. At the time operations were suspended on 11 August 2017, MSF was operating four primary healthcare clinics in northern Rakhine – three of which were subsequently burnt down – and was providing over 11,000 primary and reproductive healthcare consultations per month, as well as emergency transport and assistance for patients requiring hospitalisation.  

    With over 700,000 Rohingya fleeing targeted violence in northern Rakhine from 25 August 2017 onwards, many areas have been depopulated. Yet there are still 550,000 to 600,000 stateless Rohingya across Rakhine state.

    "The medical needs of the remaining Rohingya population in northern Rakhine, as well as those of ethnic Rakhine and other minorities, must be thoroughly and independently assessed,” says De Gryse.

    MSF maintains staff presence in Maungdaw despite being unable to run medical activities, and their teams continue to hear from the Rohingya community there about the difficulties they face accessing healthcare. Muslim patients continue to face restrictions on their freedom of movement and unaffordable medical fees.

    One person MSF spoke to was forced to seek medical care in recent months for their mother in Bangladesh, who died there. “We don’t have access to Sittwe or Yangon so the only option is to cross the border to Bangladesh,” they told MSF. “This is a very risky route. If I could take my mother’s body back to my village and have a funeral next to my father, I would be very happy. But that is not going to happen due to the situation of my country. If we had been able to see a specialist here, we wouldn’t have had to go to Bangladesh.”

    The Myanmar government has claimed that healthcare needs are being met, but the severe limitations on humanitarian access to northern Rakhine underline the lack of independent information on conditions.

    “Humanitarian access is key to understanding the situation on the ground; without credible information there is no way to assess conditions for return”, said De Gryse.

    * Médecins Sans Frontières https://www.msf.org/

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  • Lutherans launch new peace initiative in Ethiopia

    The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is set to launch a new initiative to reduce escalating religious tension in Ethiopia, in an expression of its mandate to promote peace.

    The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is set to launch a new initiative to reduce escalating religious tension in Ethiopia, in an expression of its mandate to promote peace. Peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians has eroded in recent years with violence in some parts of the country.

    The two-year project, funded by Norwegian development agency Norad, will be implemented by LWF member The Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY), in collaboration with the Inter-Religious Council of Ethiopia and will be launched in September 2018. EECMY has more than 15 years’ experience working on ethnic and religious conflict.

    The project will host forums and meetings to discuss inter-religious issues. Inter-religious councils will be set up in the two target districts of Oromia regional state and an early warning mechanism will be put in place so problems can be resolved early on.

    Dr Ojot Ojulu, LWF Assistant General Secretary for International Affairs and Human Rights, said the situation in Ethiopia was complex.

    “In some regions where Muslims are minorities they might face discrimination from local authorities and the same is true in regions where Christians find themselve minorities. There are growing fundamentalist tendencies to not tolerate the other. Sometimes politics – competition for power and positions - is used to instigate violence. Religious identities are manipulated.”

    By bringing religious groups together, it is hoped they will learn from one another. “When there is no interaction, even little things get out of control. We want to help establish or re-establish peaceful channels for handling grievances so people can easily come together and resolve misunderstandings.”

    The project would also work with local authorities to create better understanding of separation between state and religion, as well as freedom of religion in the Ethiopian constitution and international standards that Ethiopia had ratified.

    Women and youth would be involved. “It will empower them to take their rightful place in peacebuilding among their respective ethnic or religious groups.”

    In addition to reduced tension, success will include greater awareness by pastors on Islam and by Muslim leaders on Christianity and positive inter-religious narratives. Local authorities, would better understand the constitutional division between state and religion and how to handle religious conflict.

    Dr Ojulu said the political environment had change dramatically in last five months. New prime minister Dr Abiy Ahmed has promised to change restrictive laws on civil society organizations, media and political freedoms. “Peace-building and human rights advocacy were severely restricted before but with the new leadership, there is hope this will change,” Dr Ojulu said.

    Last month, the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments signed a peace declaration formally ending 20 years of war, which the LWF commended them on in a letter written by General Secretary the Rev Dr Martin Junge.

    The LWF carried out a similar peace-building program in Indonesia, encouraging young people of different religions to come together and use communications tools, such as social media, to promote inter-religious relations and diffuse tension.

    * Read Martin Junge's letter here

    * Lutheran World Federation https://www.lutheranworld.org/

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  • ACLU responds to Trump's revocation of Brennan's security status

    President Trump has revoked the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan.

    President Trump has revoked the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan.

    Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, issued the following statement in response:

    “The First Amendment does not permit the president to revoke security clearances to punish his critics. John Brennan’s record is full of grave missteps, and we have been unsparing in our criticism of his defence of the CIA torture program and his role in unlawful lethal strikes abroad. But Trump’s revocation of Brennan’s clearance, and his threats to revoke the clearances of other former officials for the sole reason that they have criticised his conduct and policies, amount to unconstitutional retaliation. They are also part of a broader pattern of seeking to silence or marginalise critics, which includes forcing staff to sign unconstitutional non-disclosure agreements.”

    * American Civil LIberties Union https://www.aclu.org/

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  • Lack of training on learning disability may contribute to avoidable deaths

    Almost half of healthcare professionals think lack of training on learning disability might be contributing to avoidable deaths.

    Almost a quarter of healthcare professionals have never attended training on how to meet the needs of patients with a learning disability, according to new research released to launch Mencap’s Treat Me Well campaign.

    Treat Me Well calls for Government and NHS to ensure no healthcare professional can set foot in a hospital without proper training on learning disability.

    The new research from YouGov and Freedom of Information Requests to NHS Trusts has revealed that healthcare professionals and hospital trusts have been failing to make simple, reasonable adjustments to the care of someone with a learning disability that are legal duties under the Equality Act 2010 and can save lives.

    A significant proportion of healthcare professionals surveyed (45 per cent) believe a lack of proper learning disability training is contributing to the 1,200 avoidable deaths every year of people with a learning disability; that this issue does not receive enough attention from within the NHS (59 per cent); and that they would like more training specifically focussed on patients with a learning disability (66 per cent).

    The YouGov survey of more than 500 healthcare professionals found that:

    • Over one in three (37 per cent) of healthcare professionals think the quality of healthcare received by patients with a learning disability is worse than that received by patients without a learning disability
    • Almost half (45 per cent) of healthcare professionals think that a lack of training on learning disability might be contributing to the avoidable deaths of people with a learning disability

    Freedom of Information requests sent to NHS Foundation Trusts and English universities offering courses in medicine, or adult nursing revealed:

    • Almost half (47 per cent) of hospitals do not include information on learning disability in their induction training for clinical staff
    • Almost a quarter (22 per cent) of universities do not include training on making reasonable adjustments to the care of someone with a learning disability (which are a legal duty under the Equality Act.

    * Read Treat Me Well: Simple adjustments make a big difference here

    * Mencap https://www.mencap.org.uk/

    * Disability Rights UK https://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/

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  • New poll shows fewer young people think university education important

    The proportion of young people who think it’s important to go to university when they are old enough has fallen steadily over the past six years, according to newIpsos MORI polling of young people published by the Sutton Trust.

    The proportion of young people who think it’s important to go to university when they are old enough has fallen steadily over the past six years, according to newIpsos MORI polling of young people published by the Sutton Trust on A-level results day (16 August 2018)

    Three-quarters (75 per cent) of the 2,381 11 – 16 year olds surveyed this year think it is important to go to university to do well and get on in life, down from a high of 86 per cent in 2013 and 78 per cent in 2017. A similar proportion felt that having connections was crucial, with 77 per cent saying that ‘knowing the right people’ was important for success in life.

    Despite this, 77 per cent think they are likely to go on to university after school. Less than a third (32 per cent) of the young people polled said that they were ‘very likely’ to go into higher education, down from a high of 41 per cent in 2009), while 45 per cent said it was ‘fairly likely’ they would do so.

    The polling highlights how university aspirations differ by gender and by social background. Disadvantaged pupils are less like likely than their peers to believe that they are likely to go into higher education (67 per cent vs 79 per cent) while girls are more likely than boys to expect to enter higher education (81 per cent  vs 73 per cent).

    In reality, a third of 18 and 19 year-olds will go on to Higher Education in England and Wales, whilst 49 per cent of young adults do so by the age of 30. But this aspirations barometer, monitored by the Sutton Trust since 2003, is an important indicator of 11-16 year olds expectations of going to university.

    Today’s polling also finds that nearly half (46 per cent) of young people who are likely to go to university are worried about the cost of higher education. Money worries are particularly pronounced for young people from the least affluent families (58 per cent compared with 41 per cent in ‘high affluence’ households), and those in single parent households (52 per cent compared with 44 per cent for two-parent households).

    Among pupils who are likely to go into higher education, or are not yet sure and are worried about the cost of higher education, the most common financial worry is about tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year (38 per cent). Having to repay student loans for up to 30 years is the second most common concern at 24 per cent, while 16 per cent cited the cost of living as a student.

    Of all the young people who said it was unlikely they would go into higher education, the most common set of reasons – given by over half (58 per cent) of those across England and Wales who are unlikely to attend – was that they do not like the idea / do not enjoy learning or studying.  A financial reason was cited by 44 per cent, while 35  per cent do not think they need to go to university to get the job they would like. Recent Sutton Trust polling has highlighted increased interest among young people in undertaking an apprenticeship, at 64 per cent, up from 55 per cent in 2014.

    To make sure that the cost of going to university is not a barrier to anyone, the Sutton Trust is calling on the Government to restore maintenance grants and review the case for means-testing tuition fees, ensuring that the cost of university reflects the financial circumstances of young people.

    Sir Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust and chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said today: “It’s no surprise that there has been a fall in the proportion of young people who think it’s important to go into Higher Education. Young people face a dilemma. If they go on to university they incur debts of over £50,000 and will be paying back their loans well into middle age. And in a number of cases they end up with degrees that don’t get them into graduate jobs. On the other hand, degree-level apprenticeships are almost non-existent with less than 10,000 available each year compared with over 300,000 university places. There is effectively no viable alternative to university.”

    “That is why the Sutton Trust has mounted a campaign to dramatically increase the number of degree-level apprenticeships by working with government, for-profit and not-for profit organisations and universities.”

    * Read the Ipsos MORI polling here and the Sutton Trust Apprenticeship Polling here

    * The Sutton Trust https://www.suttontrust.com/

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  • Amnesty International Turkey Chair to be released after more than a year behind bars

    The Honorary Chair of Amnesty International Turkey, Taner Kilic, has spent more than fourteen months behind bars.

    Following a decision by a court in Istanbul to release the Honorary Chair of Amnesty International Turkey, Taner Kilic, after more than fourteen months behind bars, Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s new Secretary General said: “We are overjoyed at this news. It has taken us more than a year of campaigning and struggle to get here, but it appears that Taner will finally be freed. Whilst we rejoice at this decision, our celebrations will only truly begin when he is safely back at home in the arms of his wife and daughters.

    “But beneath the smiles of joy and relief there will be sorrow, anger and a steely determination. Sorrow for all the things Taner has missed during his cruel incarceration. Anger that the baseless charges against him and the Istanbul 10 have not been dropped. And determination to continue our fight for human rights in Turkey and for the release of all those human rights defenders, journalists and others who have been unjustly jailed in the vicious crackdown.

    “Today we take a moment to celebrate, but tomorrow our struggle will continue, re-energised by the example set by Taner himself: a man who knows the importance of human rights and is willing to dedicate his life to defending them.”

    * Amnesty International https://www.amnesty.org/en/

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