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BBC podcast host Deborah James, who has incurable bowel cancer, has said the ‘trauma’ of nearly dying in an acute medical emergency is still ‘very raw and real’ as she returned home after three weeks in hospital.

The former deputy head teacher turned cancer campaigner, 40, from London, has been living with stage four bowel cancer since she was diagnosed in December 2016, and was told early on that she might not live beyond five years – a milestone that passed in the autumn. 

Earlier this month, the mother-of-two announced she had ‘nearly died’ in hospital, calling it the ‘hardest’ part of her 5-year cancer battle.

Last night, Deborah revealed on Instagram she has now been discharged as an in-patient, and said it had been ‘the scariest period’ her life, adding: ‘Two and a half weeks ago it was touch and go if I made it through the night.

BBC podcast host Deborah James, who has incurable bowel cancer, has said the 'trauma' of nearly dying in an acute medical emergency is still 'very raw and real' as she returned home after three weeks in hospital

BBC podcast host Deborah James, who has incurable bowel cancer, has said the ‘trauma’ of nearly dying in an acute medical emergency is still ‘very raw and real’ as she returned home after three weeks in hospital

‘Today after 18 days across two hospitals I walked down the steps of the @royalmarsden discharged from life as an in-patient. 

‘I’m not out of the woods yet, and I’ll be back in soon, but I’ve reach a point that seemed insurmountable weeks ago. I cried on my last IV treatment today.

‘The trauma of it all is very raw and real. I’m realising I’ve been through a lot. 

‘A lot of everything – seeing my life slip away, being brought back to life, hairy moments, operations, general anaesthesia, antibiotics, pain relief, nervously awaiting blood tests, failured canulars, curve balls, tears.

The mother-of-two posted a snapshot of her dog as she relaxed on her sofa at home, and confessed she felt 'shattered'

The mother-of-two posted a snapshot of her dog as she relaxed on her sofa at home, and confessed she felt ‘shattered’

Deborah shared a selection of clips as she was discharged from hospital, but said she is 'not out of the woods yet'

Deborah shared a selection of clips as she was discharged from hospital, but said she is 'not out of the woods yet'

Deborah shared a selection of clips as she was discharged from hospital, but said she is ‘not out of the woods yet’

‘It’s been the scariest time of my life – of my whole families lives.’

She continued: ‘I don’t even know where to begin to thank every single medical person who saved me, who got me through the days, the nights, who did all they can to give me more time. Thank you doesn’t even touch the sides.

‘I’m unsure right now of my next steps, but I have options. And I have to recover first. Get some normality, see the outside world! Eat! 

‘But right now, I’m back home, a place I left not thinking I’d see it again. For that, I feel beyond greatful.’

Last night, Deborah revealed on Instagram she has now been discharged as an in-patient, and said it had been 'the scariest period' her life

Last night, Deborah revealed on Instagram she has now been discharged as an in-patient, and said it had been ‘the scariest period’ her life

She went on to share a series of images and clips as she was discharged from hospital, including as she was wheeled along a hospital corridor and having an IV canular removed.

The mother-of-two also posted a snapshot of her dog as she relaxed on her sofa at home, saying: ‘I have to say I’m shattered. Think I have weeks of sleep to catch up on.

‘And I’m still taking lots of meds. Already had three naps today. And that’s after waking up at 10am!’ 

Last week, Deborah said there had been ‘a lot of tears’ for days while she was in hospital, saying: ‘Today has been one of those days where I feel like we are going round in circles. It’s the small things that break you sometimes when you are in hospital for too long.’

Last week, Deborah said there had been 'a lot of tears' for days while she was in hospital (pictured)

Last week, Deborah said there had been ‘a lot of tears’ for days while she was in hospital (pictured)  

She continued: ‘It’s the failed canulars, being unable to move freely, not feeling like you are making progress, the daily worry about each test, the daily analytics of every bodyily function.

‘Wondering if you will ever get a break. Or that golden window for me to get treatment. 

‘I’m just in a place where I’ve been able to get the big cracks together (just), but I realised as I started my day off sobbing at our lack of being able to get blood from me, that underneath I’m still smashed to pieces.

Earlier this week she revealed she had an 'awful night' in hospital after she was 'rushed back into theatre'

Earlier this week she revealed she had an ‘awful night’ in hospital after she was ‘rushed back into theatre’

Deborah, who has incurable bowel cancer, revealed how she 'nearly died' last month in an 'acute medical emergency'. She shared this photo from hospital

Deborah, who has incurable bowel cancer, revealed how she ‘nearly died’ last month in an ‘acute medical emergency’. She shared this photo from hospital

‘Tomorrow will be a new day, and with that we will find strength to carry on.’

However earlier she updated fans to say that she had been told her  bloods had ‘finally’ improved. 

Last week, Deborah filmed herself walking down a hospital hallway. She said she is ‘making progress’ and tasking her recovery step by step after enduring the ‘hardest, most heartbreaking and scariest’ period of her cancer battle in the last week, which has involved three operations and ‘a lot more procedures’ to come.

Sharing the video on Instagram, Deborah wrote: ‘Today I walked – it’s the first time in nine days I’ve been able to try. 

The mother-of-two was told early on that she might not live beyond five years - a milestone that passed in the autumn (pictured)

The mother-of-two was told early on that she might not live beyond five years – a milestone that passed in the autumn (pictured) 

‘It’s never been so hard to muster the strength and conviction to do so. I’ve had four operations this week (with more to come), am beyond shattered with a very weak body,’ she revealed.

In the video, Deborah can be seen walking tentatively in a hospital hallway.

‘But somehow my body is still ploughing on. Sometimes all we can do is take things step by step. The nurses and doctors are being incredible – I’ve cried on pretty much everyone that pops their head around the door,’ she went on in her post.

‘I’m making progress, it’s slow, but steady. I’m still being monitored very closely. No idea what the next plan is- it’s just taking things bit by bit. 

‘It’s hard when you just want a plan, but the plan is really to try to get me better, whatever pathway that takes. My drains are to do with my bile duct – which they finally stented (well we are in the middle of that process), and acities, which I’ve had 10 litres drained already hence why I’m don’t look pregnant anymore,’ she explained.  

Days ago, Deborah shared a video as she took her first steps through hospital after her difficult week

Days ago, Deborah shared a video as she took her first steps through hospital after her difficult week  

Sharing the video on Instagram, Deborah wrote: 'Today I walked - it’s the first time in nine days I’ve been able to try.'

Sharing the video on Instagram, Deborah wrote: ‘Today I walked – it’s the first time in nine days I’ve been able to try.’ 

The podcaster shared she is making progress on her Instagram and updated her followers on her condition

The podcaster shared she is making progress on her Instagram and updated her followers on her condition 

Posting on Instagram earlier this month, the mother-of-two spoke of enduring the ‘hardest, most heartbreaking and scariest’ period of her cancer battle in the last week, which has involved three operations and ‘a lot more procedures’ to come. 

She told how her husband watched as doctors fought to save her life after she ‘crashed’ in resuscitation. 

‘A week ago at this time in the evening I nearly died in what was an acute medical emergency,’ she wrote. ‘I’m not ready to discuss what happened yet as the trauma of it all has been incredibly intense – but it’s thanks to an unbelievable team of NHS specialists who worked all through the night and the next day to save me.  

‘I cannot be more grateful. I’m still not out of danger and I have a lot more procedures to deal with. But I’m now out of intensive care. And for the first time felt able to briefly update you.’

Sharing a photo of her giving a thumbs up from a hospital bed, she continued: ‘This is me yesterday having just come round from my 3rd operation this week. I have another operation tomorrow.

‘In 5 years of having stage 4 Cancer – this has been the hardest, most heartbreaking and scariest of them all. I’d always prepared for my death, but I wasn’t prepared for something so blindsiding and traumatic to happen. 

‘I can’t quite believe I’m here to write this. A week ago my whole family was praying I’d pull through the night. I’m getting a lot of help and support to come to terms with the trauma I’ve been through. 

‘My family have been incredible. I don’t know how my husband held it together seeing me crash as an army of doctors stabilised me in resus.’

In new series of cancer podcast, You, Me and the Big C, Deborah revealed she had to learn how to walk again after being bed-bound with colitis in December

In new series of cancer podcast, You, Me and the Big C, Deborah revealed she had to learn how to walk again after being bed-bound with colitis in December

Posting on Instagram overnight, the mother-of-two spoke of enduring the 'hardest, most heartbreaking and scariest' period of her cancer battle in the last week, which has involved three operations and 'a lot more procedures' to come

Posting on Instagram overnight, the mother-of-two spoke of enduring the ‘hardest, most heartbreaking and scariest’ period of her cancer battle in the last week, which has involved three operations and ‘a lot more procedures’ to come

After thanking followers for their support, she added: ‘Do me a favour and go tell your loved ones how much you love them. To realise in a sudden split moment that you are unlikely to see the next day is utterly heartbreaking. Have no regrets.’

It comes days after Deborah returned to her popular podcast You, me and the Big C and revealed how she’d been ‘absolutely floored’ by ‘big gun chemo’ during the summer and then a serious infection at the year’s end –  which saw her carried into a London hospital at 1am by her husband for treatment.

She told co-hosts Lauren Mahon and Steve Bland on the newest episode of the BBC podcast that she’d had to learn to walk again after being forced to remain in bed for almost a month.  

She said: ‘After colitis, I had to relearn to walk again because I had so much fluid.

‘I’d been bed-bound for three weeks and just learning how to walk to the end of the drive or whatever, is just impossible essentially.’  

Discussing how difficult the last six months have been, James said while she was really happy that the ‘big gun chemo’ she endured has slowed her cancer’s growth, which had been ‘on the march’, it had been an exhausting time. 

James marked five years since her 2016 diagnosis - a milestone she thought she wouldn't make - in December but was in hospital with infectious colitis

James marked five years since her 2016 diagnosis – a milestone she thought she wouldn’t make – in December but was in hospital with infectious colitis 

She explained: ‘I have to be honest with you, going from targeted therapy back onto chemo, it was hardcore, big gun chemo, and it absolutely utterly floored me.

BOWEL CANCER: THE SYMPTOMS YOU SHOULDN’T IGNORE 

Bowel, or colorectal, cancer affects the large bowel, which is made up of the colon and rectum.

Such tumours usually develop from pre-cancerous growths, called polyps.

Symptoms include:

  • Bleeding from the bottom
  • Blood in stools
  • A change in bowel habits lasting at least three weeks
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme, unexplained tiredness
  • Abdominal pain

Most cases have no clear cause, however, people are more at risk if they: 

  • Are over 50
  • Have a family history of the condition
  • Have a personal history of polyps in their bowel
  • Suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease
  • Lead an unhealthy lifestyle  

Treatment usually involves surgery, and chemo- and radiotherapy.

More than nine out of 10 people with stage one bowel cancer survive five years or more after their diagnosis.

This drops significantly if it is diagnosed in later stages. 

According to Bowel Cancer UK figures, more than 41,200 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK. 

It affects around 40 per 100,000 adults per year in the US, according to the National Cancer Institute.

‘I would say my quality of life was just hideous.’

Updating listeners on the current state of her health, she said: ‘Some days I feel fine, my quality of life is OK right now, but I’m not the person people have known for the past four years where I’m running around exercising everyday.’ 

‘It’s just stable in a really b****y awkward place.’

The campaigner revealed that because of her reduced liver function and the colitis, she’s not likely to qualify for a clinical trial. 

She admitted she’d been ‘procrastinating’ over potential treatment options during the Christmas break.   

In the summer, James was told she had an aggressive new tumour that had wrapped itself around her bile duct – requiring a life-saving stay in hospital – and a stent fitted to stop her liver from failing. 

The stent fitted to stop her liver failing ‘stopped working’ in December. 

She explained to her followers at the time how hopes at having a ‘quick replacement operation’ had turned into a ‘nightmare’. 

She said: ‘I’m now at the mercy of hopefully some super ‘magic medicine miracle’ – but then I always have been, and any chance is a chance right? 

‘All I ever say Is all I want is hope and options.’ 

In April, James shared that her cancer, which has been kept at bay by pioneering treatment, was back again and she was forced to endure a 12th operation.

The West London mother-of-two, a deputy head, was diagnosed ‘late’ with incurable bowel cancer in 2016.

She has frequently said that as a vegetarian runner, she was the last person doctors expected to get the disease.

After sharing her experiences on living with the disease on social media, Deborah became known as the ‘Bowel Babe’ and began writing a column for the Sun.

In 2018, Deborah joined Lauren Mahon and Rachael Bland to present the award-winning podcast You, Me and the Big C on Radio 5 Live. 

Bland tragically died of breast cancer on September 5th that year; her husband Steve Bland now co-presents the show. 

HOW DEPUTY HEAD TURNED SOCIAL MEDIA STAR HAS TRANSFORMED BOWEL CANCER AWARENESS

In 2018, Deborah (left) joined Lauren Mahon (front) and Rachael Bland (right) to present the award-winning podcast You, Me and the Big C on Radio 5 Live. Bland tragically died of breast cancer on September 5th that year; her husband Steve Bland now co-presents the show

In 2018, Deborah (left) joined Lauren Mahon (front) and Rachael Bland (right) to present the award-winning podcast You, Me and the Big C on Radio 5 Live. Bland tragically died of breast cancer on September 5th that year; her husband Steve Bland now co-presents the show

  • In December 2016, the West London mother-of-two, a deputy head, was diagnosed ‘late’ with incurable bowel cancer
  • After sharing her experiences on living with the disease on social media, Deborah became known as the ‘Bowel Babe’ 
  • In 2018, she became one of three presenters on Radio 5 Live’s You, Me and the Big C, which was conceived by her late co-host Rachael Bland 
  • On September 5th 2018, Welsh journalist and presenter Bland, diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, died at the age of 40
  • Deborah and her co-host Lauren Mahon continue to present the show, with Steve Bland, Rachael’s husband, joining the duo
  • On social media and in her column for the Sun newspaper, Deborah has documented the many chemo, radiotherapy sessions and surgery she’s had since
During her treatment, Deborah told followers on Instagram 'By my general lack of being on here (dancing!), that Things have moved (in the wrong direction) very quickly cancer wise.' Pictured: Deborah James undergoing a scan at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London

During her treatment, Deborah told followers on Instagram ‘By my general lack of being on here (dancing!), that Things have moved (in the wrong direction) very quickly cancer wise.’ Pictured: Deborah James undergoing a scan at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London

  • In 2019, she had a procedure known as CyberKnife, a highly targeted form of radiotherapy to attack an inoperable lymph node close to her liver
  •  The pandemic’s impact on cancer services saw her campaign for care to continue as normal and, earlier this year, she launched the ITV’s Lorraine’s ‘No Butts’ campaign, raising awareness on bowel cancer symptoms 
  • Since last year, she has been taking new experimental drugs as part of a trial after her oncology team gave her the green light to do so
  • August, Deborah revealed that scans she’s had in recent days have revealed her cancer has gone in the ‘wrong direction very quickly’  
  • She told followers she would be taking a break on social media over the weekend to ‘snuggle’ with her family ahead of more scans
  • The mother-of-two said a new ‘rapidly-growing’ tumour near her liver had wrapped itself around her bowel 
  • On October 1, Deborah celebrates her 40th birthday 
  • By October 18, the mother-of-two told her followers her chemotherapy is working
  • Days later, she was rushed to A&E with ‘spiking 40 degree temperatures’  

 



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Will NHS jab refuseniks get new jobs in Wales? Medical staff who face being fired for not getting Covid vaccine could work over the border instead

  • All front-line workers are required to have had two vaccines by April 1 
  • But more than 80,000 – 6 per cent of the workforce – are not fully vaccinated  
  • Mark Drakeford said he would ‘not rule out’ hiring unjabbed staff from England










Wales could recruit NHS workers from England who lose their jobs because they refuse to be jabbed.

Labour’s Welsh First Minister, Mark Drakeford, said he would ‘not rule out’ hiring unvaccinated workers from across the border.

Vaccines are not compulsory for NHS staff in Wales because a ‘vast majority’ of workers have taken up the ‘protections that vaccination offers’, he said.

When asked if he would take on NHS staff from England, Mr Drakeford told the BBC: ‘I don’t expect us to go looking for people who have not been vaccinated but, if people apply, then they would be interviewed the normal way.

‘We’d look to see what lay behind their decision. We wouldn’t rule them out but we certainly wouldn’t go out there looking for them.’

All front-line workers are required to have had two vaccines by April 1 but more than 80,000 ¿ 6 per cent of the workforce ¿ are not fully vaccinated. Staff on a hospital ward are pictured above

All front-line workers are required to have had two vaccines by April 1 but more than 80,000 – 6 per cent of the workforce – are not fully vaccinated. Staff on a hospital ward are pictured above

There is no jabs mandate for NHS staff in Scotland either, raising the prospect that staff who can no longer work in the NHS in England because they do not meet the vaccination requirements could simply head north to secure a job.

Mr Drakeford’s comments followed claims that England’s mandatory jab deadline could be delayed by six months to avoid a sudden exodus of staff.

All front-line workers are required to have had two vaccines by April 1 but more than 80,000 – 6 per cent of the workforce – are not fully vaccinated.

Those who do not comply risk losing their jobs or being moved to non-patient-facing roles.

Ministers are considering last-minute plans to push the deadline back by half a year, in a bid to avoid mass staff shortages, The Sunday Telegraph reported.

While some health bodies have welcomed news of a possible delay, others say it is ‘not the answer’.

Martin Marshall, the chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said mandatory vaccination for NHS workers in England was ‘not the right way forward’ and barring tens of thousands of staff from the workplace could have ‘massive consequences’ for the health service.

The Royal College of Midwives also called for a delay to mandatory vaccination plans over fears of a ¿catastrophic impact on maternity services¿

The Royal College of Midwives also called for a delay to mandatory vaccination plans over fears of a ‘catastrophic impact on maternity services’

Mr Marshall said a delay to the April deadline would allow time for booster jabs and a ‘sensible conversation’ about whether vaccines should be compulsory.

Pat Cullen, general secretary and chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, echoed the concerns, saying: ‘Nothing matters more to a nurse than caring for their patients safely.

‘Right now, our members are telling me they can’t always do that.

‘We are calling on the Government to recognise this risk and delay a move which by its own calculations looks to backfire.

‘To dismiss valued nursing staff during this crisis would be an act of self-sabotage.’

The Royal College of Midwives also called for a delay to mandatory vaccination plans over fears of a ‘catastrophic impact on maternity services’.

But NHS Providers – which represents all NHS trusts in England – said trust leaders had backed the mandatory jabs policy.

Deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery said: ‘Some organisations are calling for a delay in the implementation of this policy but we don’t think that is the answer.

‘Our survey of trust leaders found that while there was a range of views towards a policy of mandatory vaccinations, a majority backed this policy as a means of protecting colleagues, patients, and visitors from cross infection by unvaccinated staff.’

On Saturday, NHS workers joined anti-vaxxers across the country as they protested against mandatory jab rules. In London, dozens of health workers were seen throwing their scrubs at police outside Downing Street, while others laid down their uniforms in Trafalgar Square. Government sources said there was currently no change in position on the jab deadline date.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: ‘Health and social care workers look after the most vulnerable people in society, who could face serious health consequences if exposed to the virus.

‘Ensuring staff are vaccinated is the right thing to do to protect patients and those in care. The vast majority of NHS staff have had the vaccine which is our best defence against Covid-19.’

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bbc licence fee scrapped alternative funding plans netflix subscription

With the BBC licence fee set to be culled, what will replace the funding model in the UK? (Image: GETTY)

The future of the licence fee has been thrown into doubt, following an announcement by Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries. The UK Government has already announced plans to freeze the BBC licence fee for the next two years – resulting in a real-terms pay cut to the BBC due to the spiralling inflation, that’s also set to trigger record-breaking price increases for those with broadband contracts. The BBC licence fee will remain at £159 a year until April 2024 when it will begin rising in line with inflation until the end of the existing Royal Charter on December 31, 2027. And after that?

The UK Government will introduce a new Royal Charter – the constitutional basis for the BBC, which is designed to set out the broadcaster’s mission and funding model – that will last for the next decade, with a review by ministers at the mid-point. Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries hopes to introduce an entirely new funding model for the Beeb. An ongoing review by the Government will look into whether “a mandatory licence fee is appropriate” in the 21st Century.

Politicians have spoken about ditching the BBC licence fee for decades, but the latest moves from Boris Johnson’s cabinet suggest its days could be numbered. If the UK Government decides to see off the funding model from January 1, 2028 …what could replace the BBC licence fee?

Funded Directly By The Government

This cuts out the middleman, replacing the need for viewers to set-up a Direct Debit and pay the BBC licence fee themselves. Instead, the Beeb receives its funding direct from the Treasury, with the cost coming from taxation on income of all workers in the UK. This is the model used in a number of countries around the world, including Sweden, Croatia and Finland. Like any of the options – including the current BBC licence fee system – it’s not perfect.

Unlike the licence fee, there’s no way to check whether or not the person being taxed listens to BBC radio stations, podcasts, watches the terrestrial channels, reads the BBC website or uses iPlayer. Of course, that’s the nature of general taxation. Taxing PAYE workers would mean there’s no need to hunt down licence fee evasion, which would save the corporation a lot of time and hassle.

Some have raised concerns that funding the public broadcaster from the Government could give politicians greater influence over editorial decisions and strategy – undermining the core principle of impartiality.

bbc licence fee scrapped alternative funding plans netflix subscription

Could we begin to see advertising appears on the BBC website and breaking up shows like Strictly? (Image: UNSPLASH)

Advertising

The most obvious alternative funding model for the Beeb is to allow the corporation to air advertisement breaks during its shows. Other public broadcasters, like ITV and Channel 4, already include ad breaks in their shows. So, what’s the problem? First of all, the rise of streaming services like Netflix, Prime Video and Disney+ has resulted in a decline in revenues from TV advertising, so there’s no guarantee that the BBC would be able to maintain the same breadth of content with funding from advertising alone.

In a bid to bolster its coffers, the BBC could prioritise high-yield programming to sell more advertising. For example, Strictly Come Dancing is a Saturday night juggernaut with 11 million people across the UK tuning in. Those advertising spots are going to bring in some serious cash for the broadcaster, but what about the more niche content – like the GCSE BiteSize shows produced to help teenagers revise for their upcoming exams? These won’t bring in huge viewing figures and could be ditched – or at the very least, have their budgets greatly reduced – as the Beeb follows the money in order to sustain itself.

Using Advertising to fund its programming could cause new frictions for the Beeb, which doesn’t currently have to worry about maintaining relationships with advertisers. Shows like BBC Newsnight or Panorama are likely to trigger headaches for the sales team inside the BBC trying to sell ad spots in the latest episode of Strictly Come Dancing with critical coverage of multi-national conglomerates. If the Beeb depends on those ad breaks to secure its future, it could shift the balance of power. Of course, it’s perfectly possible to maintain editorial independence while being funded by advertising – Channel 4 has revealed some of the biggest scoops of the last decade, including the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandal – but it’s something that the BBC doesn’t have to consider at the moment and would require some of its stretched resources.

What Is The BBC Licence Fee?

Introduced by the Labour Government in 1946, Prime Minister Clement Attlee made the annual BBC licence fee a requirement for any household in the UK that consumed content from the Beeb via live transmission. In exchange for funds provided by the licence fee, the BBC is required to provide public service broadcasting. This includes live television shows, podcasts, radio stations, online news and sports via the BBC website, educational shows for children, mobile apps, and much more.

Today, anyone who listens to radio shows, watches channels streamed via BBC iPlayer on a tablet or smartphone, as well as terrestrial channels watched on Freeview-equipped Smart TVs, Sky Q or Virgin Media set-top boxes is required to pay the BBC licence fee. You’ll also need to pay the fee to download boxsets and movies from BBC iPlayer, stream live content from the BBC via third-party websites like YouTube, or record shows onto a hard-drive, like Sky+ or Sky Q.

Anyone who does not pay the licence fee can be taken to court. In 2019, there were a total of 122,603 prosecutions and 114,531 people were convicted for TV licence evasion.

The BBC licence fee currently costs £159 a year, or £53.50 if you only watch via black-and-white TVs.

Paid By A Tax On Broadband

As more viewers turn away from traditional terrestrial channels and enjoy BBC shows via on-demand platforms like BBC Sounds and BBC iPlayer, surely it makes sense to fund the Beeb from the broadband connections that enable access to all of that content? This tax could be paid by consumers or by the internet service providers. According to research by media analytics firm Ampere, an annual fee of £138 a year on all broadband customers across the UK would maintain the current funding achieved by the £159 a year licence fee. So, everyone would have a little extra cash in their pocket, the Beeb would remain independent and would not need to worry about only funding its most mainstream, advertiser-friendly shows. Everyone is happy, right?

Well, not quite.

If internet service providers, like BT, Sky and Plusnet, passed the £138 a year charge onto customers, it could be harder for deprived households to access the internet. While it’s possible to sign-up to a broadband connection from around £20 a month right now (with concessions available to those on Universal Credit), the extra £138 a year licence fee would add around £11.50 extra to each broadband bill.

That means you might not be able to sign-up a broadband contract with average download speeds for under £31.50 a month. With families across the UK already stretched due to the cost-of-living crisis, that’s a hefty rise.

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bbc licence fee scrapped alternative funding plans netflix subscription

As more people access BBC content over an internet connection, could funding be linked to broadband? (Image: UNSPLASH)

A Netflix-Style Subscription

Netflix has revolutionised how many of us enjoy boxsets and movies. From as little as £5.99 a month, subscribers can stream and download an unlimited amount of telly across a wide range of devices. Due to its mind-boggling scale – Netflix is available in 190 countries worldwide – this relatively small monthly fee enables the streaming service to fund dazzling shows with high production values, such as Bridgerton, The Crown and Stranger Things, as well as reality shows, award-winning documentaries, such as Making A Murderer, My Octopus Teacher, Athlete A, and Seaspiracy, as well as blockbusters with Hollywood A-listers. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s a huge library of syndicated content available too, with the likes of Friends and Seinfeld available to stream from any of your devices.

So, surely the Beeb can continue to produce its high-production documentaries, like David Attenborough’s Blue Planet, Dynasties, and Louis Theroux shows, as well as its Saturday night entertainment, educational content, and radio stations with a similar – or even a little costlier – subscription fee?

According to calculations by the BBC, this is possible. However, the corporation would need approximately 24 million customers signed-up and paying £13 a month to maintain the same level of funding as it currently enjoys. Perfect, right? Well, there are a number of issues with that plan. If you don’t subscribe to Netflix, you can’t login to the video on-demand app or website to access any of its content …and that’s that.

The BBC licence fee currently funds a number of national radio stations, which are available to anyone who tunes into the correct frequency. It also funds the BBC website and terrestrial channels, like BBC One and BBC Two. While it’s possible to enforce a pay wall (a required login screen that checks whether you’ve paid the latest subscription fee) for BBC iPlayer and BBC Sounds in exactly the same way as Netflix does, the BBC website could also be put behind similar checks (a number of news organisations have gone down a similar route, with readers required to subscribe to access the articles posted online) …there’s currently no technology that could prevent car infotainment systems or DAB radios from tuning into a certain frequency. Also, those who listen to BBC radio stations via a smart speaker, like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, would need to find a way to verify their identity and login in order to tune-in.

And what about television viewers? It’s tough to imagine a way for the Beeb to ensure that all viewers are paying subscribers while also allowing its channels to remain on services like Freeview. Instead, the Beeb would have to follow in Netflix’s footsteps and go all-in on streaming. Unlike today, anyone who wants to access content from the BBC – including radio and live terrestrial channels – would need to subscribe to an internet package. That means you’d not only have to pay £13 a month for access to the Beeb, but you’d also need to add a Direct Debit to an internet service provider. As mentioned earlier, the minimum speeds you’d need to stream video content will cost around £20 a month.

That brings the total cost to roughly £33 a month, compared to the current BBC licence fee cost of £13.25 a month. Of course, the advantage of this model is, like Netflix, viewers would be able to unsubscribe whenever they wanted. Like Netflix, you could subscribe for a month when your favourite show is airing, then leave for a few months, and return when friends or colleagues tell you about a new must-watch boxset. That offers much more friendly than the current all-or-nothing licence fee.

Unfortunately, there is one more issue with the Netflix-style model …for now, at least. According to research from Ofcom, there are more than one million homes across the UK that are unable to access sufficiently fast broadband to stream video content, like that available from Netflix. These people would be unable to access any content from the country’s public broadcaster, which means it wouldn’t be fulfilling its mission as set out in the Royal Charter.

bbc licence fee scrapped alternative funding plans netflix subscription

For a comparatively low subscription, Netflix produces a stream of high-quality TV shows and film (Image: NETFLIX )

Worse still, a solution to this was on the horizon. Early last year, UK Government quietly confirmed plans to water down its commitment to bring full-fibre broadband connections to the entire country by 2025. The pledge to connect every home in the UK with gigabit-capable cables – more than fast enough to stream video content in ultra-crisp 4K Ultra HD picture quality as well as maintain video calls, download software updates and more at the same time – was a key part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s manifesto during the election in late 2019.

In its latest national infrastructure strategy, the Government has walked back its commitment – stating that faster internet speeds will now only be available to 85 percent of premises within the next five years. That means a number of rural areas will still be stranded with slower broadband speeds. The UK has some of the slowest home broadband speeds in Europe, with the average speed only hitting 70Mbps last year.

For those who want to download Call Of Duty on their PC – a video game that takes up more than 200GB of space – players with the average connection in this country can expect to wait six and a half hours. It will take almost 20 minutes to upgrade to the latest version of Windows 11. For comparison, Call Of Duty would take just 27 minutes on a gigabit full-fibre broadband connection, while the Windows update would take a mere 45-seconds.

…And What If The Licence Fee Stayed After All?

There are still five years before we reach the December 31, 2027 deadline. Based on recent political events, a lot can happen in that time. Five years this month, Prime Minister Theresa May was preparing to host a state visit from US President Donald Trump – which had sparked a petition signed by 1.8 million people who wanted to see the event cancelled.

With an election due before 2024 and potentially a new Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in position – either from the Conservative party, or another Political party, attitudes towards the BBC licence fee could have changed. Nobody believes the current funding model is perfect, but it has sustained the corporation for over 75 years. That’s some pretty thorough road-testing. With full-fibre broadband upgrades still taking place and the way we listen to radio, consume the news, and watch telly changing so quickly… the existing model might not be the best way to move forward. But we’ll need to see the lay of the land in 2027 to make that decision.



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BBC iPlayer enjoyed record-breaking viewing figures between Christmas and New Year, with 141 million shows streamed during the week from December 27 to January 3, 2022. That’s a six percent increase on the same period last year, with the New Years Eve celebrations, The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast, and the new Jamie Dornan-led thriller The Tourist all contributing to the boost in people watching on iPlayer, which is available online, on iOS and Android, tablets, Sky Q, Apple TV, Fire TV, Chromecast, Roku and dozens more.

The single biggest day for iPlayer over the festive period was Sunday January 2, 2022. Boosted by the launch of The Tourist, which was made available in its entirety on iPlayer à la Netflix, the Beeb recorded 22 million streams within the 24-hour period. Since then, The Tourist alone has been viewed more than 18 million times, enough to make it the third most successful drama launch of all time on the streaming service.

Other standout successes from the festive period include the first instalment of A Very British Scandal, which topped the list of most-streamed episodes across the festive period with 2.3 million streams for its first episode. The first episode of outback amnesia thriller The Tourist (1.6 million) and finale of psychological thriller The Girl Before (1.6 million) also proved hugely popular, along with Christmas Day staples including the Call the Midwife Christmas special (1.6 million) and EastEnders (1.5 million). Drama in the Square was a hit throughout Christmas and New Year, with EastEnders streamed 15.9 million times between December 21 and January 3, making it the most streamed brand one iPlayer.

The record-breaking festive viewing figures are a huge vote of confidence in iPlayer, which recently saw a dramatic redesign as part of a corporation-wide refresh by the Beeb after internal audience research revealed that viewers considered its designs to be “old fashioned” compared with flashier American streaming services.

The fresh coat of paint started with a new logo for BBC iPlayer, which is now comprised solely of simple graphic shapes. This style is shared across a wide range of services, including BBC Sounds, BBC News, BBC Weather, BBC Sport and BBC Bitesize, which will all use three differently-configured blocks in various colour combinations. For iPlayer, that colour is a graduated shade of pink. The shapes are configured into a triangular ‘Play’ symbol. The redesign also implements the new BBC-owned font Reith, named after the BBC’s founder John Reith. This same font will be used across all of the new designs, including the main BBC logo, BBC One, and others.

In November last year, the redesign continued with an all-new BBC iPlayer app for Smart TVs. Unsurprisingly, the new iPlayer design takes a leaf from Netflix’s playbook, with the Beeb relocating the menu to the left-hand side of the screen in a new vertically-stacked list.

Pressing the left arrow on your remote (or swiping, depending on what model of set-top box you’re using) will let you quickly browse through categories, like comedy, drama, or sport. The BBC has also shrunk the size of the menu to make more room for the content on-screen. With the new design, BBC iPlayer has more breathing room to display high-resolution artwork for its latest shows and movies. It also means “viewers are more likely to spot something new to watch,” the Beeb adds.

The company is keen to stress that its new menu design isn’t only about beautifying the interface, it’s also designed to improve usability. In a blog post about the changes, the broadcaster said: “it’s important to us that any changes we make to iPlayer work for everyone, so our new menu has been usability tested with adults, children, and people with accessibility needs to ensure people can continue to find and explore our many programme genres and channels with ease.”

The new look is available on Smart TVs, Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast with Google TV, Sky Q and other versions of the BBC iPlayer app designed to watch on the big screen. If the changes haven’t appeared on your version of BBC iPlayer yet, you can force the app to adopt the shiny new design by heading to the Settings menu within iPlayer, then selecting “switch to iPlayer beta”.

The facelift on your TV is only the first step in a wider redesign for iPlayer, so expect similar changes to roll out to the iPhone, iPad, Android, and other versions of the video on-demand service in the coming months. This should ensure consistency across the various versions of BBC iPlayer, which is also available in your web browser.

Speaking about the latest viewing figures, Charlotte Moore, BBC’s Chief Content Officer says: “2022 on the BBC has started with a bang with record viewing across Christmas and New Year on BBC iPlayer. Millions of people chose to watch our unrivalled range of box-sets and Christmas specials live on our channels, or binge on-demand across the festive season – paving the way for the BBC’s centenary, a landmark year that will look forward and celebrate British creativity across the whole of the UK.”

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Helena Merriman woke with a start and patted the empty space in the bed. 

‘I glanced at the baby monitor and saw my husband holding our four-month-old baby, Sam,’ she recalls. ‘It was strange because I hadn’t been alerted by his cries.

‘It happened again, once or twice a week, but I just put it down to fatigue from being a new mum,’ says Helena, 40, a BBC radio presenter and producer.

‘But after several weeks, it became even more regular. I found that if I slept on my right side, with my left ear up, I could hear Sam’s cries, but not if my right ear was uppermost.

Struggle: Helena Merriman with her son, Sam

Struggle: Helena Merriman with her son, Sam

‘Yet I still had good enough hearing to be able to manage when I was up and about, so I didn’t notice it much. And when I did, I’d come up with reasons why it couldn’t be a hearing problem.

‘For example, I was forever apologising to my husband, Henry, for turning on the subtitles on the TV, but thought it was maybe because I was obsessed with seeing the dialogue.’

While Helena was on maternity leave, daytimes weren’t a problem because of the good hearing in her left ear and the baby monitor, which amplified sounds.

But in the summer of 2017, as she started going out more, she was horrified to find that she couldn’t hear conversations, particularly in crowded, noisy places.

‘I’d be in the pub and become very reliant on lip-reading,’ says Helena, who lives in South-West London with her husband Henry Hemming, 42, a best‑selling author, and their children Matilda, eight, and Sam, now four.

‘I’d be slightly smiling and nodding when I couldn’t hear and then I’d see the bemused look on people’s faces which meant I wasn’t making sense. I felt embarrassed and awkward.

While Helena was on maternity leave, daytimes weren’t a problem because of the good hearing in her left ear and the baby monitor, which amplified sounds. But in the summer of 2017, as she started going out more, she was horrified to find that she couldn’t hear conversations, particularly in crowded, noisy places

While Helena was on maternity leave, daytimes weren’t a problem because of the good hearing in her left ear and the baby monitor, which amplified sounds. But in the summer of 2017, as she started going out more, she was horrified to find that she couldn’t hear conversations, particularly in crowded, noisy places

‘I’d always been the first to say yes to a night out, but over the following few months I stopped, as it wasn’t enjoyable feeling like I was a bystander.’

After nearly three months of ignoring it, she made an appointment with her GP. She was sent to an audiologist in June 2017, who said Helena had lost ‘a bit’ of her hearing, possibly due to congestion, and advised using a steroid nasal spray for six weeks.

But the treatment didn’t work. Helena saw another audiologist in late summer who took more detailed hearing tests, including one where she pressed a button whenever she heard a beep.

‘I could hear them well at first but they gradually died away,’ she says. ‘I had a sick feeling in my stomach. The audiologist showed me a graph of my left ear, and there was a line at the top showing it had good hearing.

‘On the graph for the right ear, the line was about half-way down and he said I’d lost a significant amount of hearing in that ear.’

She was diagnosed with otosclerosis and told that she would gradually lose her hearing.

‘I felt numb,’ she says. ‘That night I lay awake with so many questions in my head. I hadn’t even asked how soon I might lose my hearing; I was just in shock.’

Otosclerosis is a degenerative ear condition, normally on both sides, which causes gradual hearing loss and even deafness.

It affects up to 1.3 million people in the UK and generally develops between the ages of 15 and 35. 

It occurs when abnormal bone growth prevents movement of the stapes (or stirrup) — one of three tiny bones in the middle ear that vibrate to amplify and transmit sounds.

Warning signs include a gradual loss of hearing, difficulty hearing low sounds and speaking quietly, as your voice sounds loud to you.

It’s thought the condition may be caused by a combination of genetic factors or complications from a virus. But, as Helena discovered, the hearing loss can be accelerated by other factors, including pregnancy. She may have had some deterioration in her hearing when expecting her first child, but not enough to notice.

‘There can be a rapid acceleration of the condition with hormonal change,’ says David Golding-Wood, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon at the private Chelsfield Park Hospital, in Bromley, Kent. ‘It’s most characteristic in the later stages of pregnancy.

‘Here, it’s principally due to oestrogen, which is involved in certain kinds of bone formation.’

After her diagnosis, Helena returned to work in October 2017 as she mulled over her treatment options. ‘By that point, I could hardly hear people when doing interviews,’ she says. ‘I’d put my headphone volume right up in desperation.’

In February 2018, Helena returned to her GP, who referred her to Jeremy Lavy, an ENT surgeon at the Royal National Throat, Nose & Ear Hospital in London. He suggested she try a hearing aid or choose surgery, where the stapes are removed and replaced with a prosthesis between 3mm and 6mm long.

Surgery produces a more natural sound, but comes with a 1 per cent chance of total or partial hearing loss.

‘Tinnitus can also occur,’ says Mr Golding-Wood. This may be triggered by the trauma of surgery.

Helena found hearing aids too ‘loud and metallic’, and decided surgery was the only viable option. She had the operation in March 2019 under local anaesthetic.

‘There was an incredible moment when the prosthesis was put in and I could hear everything in the room so loudly,’ she says. ‘I could hear the sound of the instruments in the tray, people walking around, the odd laugh. It was all so sharp and clear.’

But two hours later she developed tinnitus. ‘This noise like a whistling kettle suddenly came on.’

She was told it might subside, but it didn’t. ‘At home that night, I couldn’t sleep and this incredibly loud noise wouldn’t stop.

‘Two days later the hospital gave me a course of steroids [thought to reduce perception of tinnitus by increasing blood flow to the ear], but the noise was still maddening. It turned out I was one of the 10 per cent of patients where tinnitus gets worse after surgery.

‘That stage was really hard as Sam was saying his first words,’ adds Helena. ‘I was recording him, but not always quite hearing what he was saying.’

Meditation, which is said to reduce the stress of the tinnitus, by training the brain to accept the sounds, has since helped her.

‘I’m now habituated to the tinnitus, though it can be draining,’ she says. ‘I have trouble with lower frequencies and still need the subtitles on TV, but overall my hearing isn’t too bad.’

She and Henry have, however, come to a tough decision.

When Helena discovered that pregnancy could fast-track a deterioration in her hearing, she made what many would consider a difficult decision not to have a third child 

Since her diagnosis, Helena has devised a new Radio 4 series, Room 5, about people who have received real-life shock diagnoses. 

‘I thought of the idea on the bus on the way home from my own life-changing diagnosis,’ she says.

Room 5 begins on Radio 4 and on the BBC Sounds app from January 11 at 9am.

Looking glass

This week: Depression

Short-sightedness may be linked to depression, according to a study by the First Affiliated Hospital of Soochow University, in China, involving more than 4,500 adults.

Another, a five-year study of more than 7,500 Americans aged 65 and older, found those with sight problems at the start were more likely to experience symptoms of depression, reported the journal JAMA Ophthalmology in 2019.

This effect can be partly explained by ‘reduced social interaction’, suggests Badrul Hussain, a consultant ophthalmic surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital, London. ‘If your vision is impaired, you can’t do the things you love — you can’t even read your book for company — and you can become more depressed.

‘If you can’t even see the TV, you might think: “If I go outside, will I be safe?” and anxiety increases.

‘First, try to get treatment. If it’s not a treatable problem, ask your consultant about eye clinic liaison officers, who can help arrange counselling, and sort out vision aids.’

He suggests some simple tweaks can also help, such as putting your iPad or tablet screen on high contrast, or making the font size on your computer larger.

 

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An NHS leader today revealed he would support slashing Covid self-isolation to five days amid an escalating staffing crisis that has engulfed hospitals and led some to cancel routine operations. 

Matthew Taylor, head of the NHS Confederation — an organisation which represents trusts, said two more days should be shaved off the period as long as it was backed up by the science.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the situation was ‘desperate’ and any way of getting staff back to work was a ‘good thing’. But he said it would be ‘completely counterproductive’ to have infectious staff return to wards because it would exacerbate the spread of Omicron.

Last month ministers cut the self-isolation period to seven days, providing someone tested negative using a lateral flow on days six and seven. But pressure is mounting on Boris Johnson to follow the US, which has squeezed quarantine to only five days for anyone without symptoms.

Around 1.3million Britons are currently thought to be languishing under house arrest as the NHS, rail services and bin collections all buckle under the weight of staff absences.

One in ten NHS employees are estimated to be off sick or self-isolating, and Mr Johnson yesterday revealed plans are being drawn up to call in the Army if the crisis continues to worsen.

Some 10 out of 137 hospital trusts in England have declared ‘critical incidents’ in recent days — or eight per cent, signalling that they may struggle to deliver vital care to patients in the coming weeks because so many medics are off isolating. Seventeen hospitals in Greater Manchester have also started shelving operations.

At the same time, the number of Covid-infected patients being hospitalised is rising.

Business leaders today warned that they too were struggling, with the managing director of supermarket chain Iceland saying their absence graph was ‘almost vertical’ and more than double the previous peak.

He told Sky News: ‘I think it is fair to say that business is under strain as never before. This new variant seems to be a lot more contagious and that is having a big impact.’

Train services and bin collections are also grinding to a halt as the virus spreads, while schools are warning that they may not have enough teachers in work to run their normal timetables. 

Health minister Gillian Keegan admitted that the Government knew this was to be one of the most ‘pressurised winters’ yet. But she praised doctors and nurses for doing an ‘amazing job’, despite the spiralling pressures. 

Mr Johnson yesterday said Britain would stick with Plan B restrictions after a record 218,724 cases were recorded, although these included several days of tests done over the holidays but not previously reported. 

Matthew Taylor, head of the NHS Confederation, said he would back a reduction in self-isolation to five days providing it is backed up by the science

Health minister Gillian Keegan said the NHS faced one of its 'most pressurised' winters yet

Matthew Taylor, head of the NHS Confederation, said he would back a reduction in self-isolation to five days providing it is backed up by the science. Health minister Gillian Keegan said the NHS faced one of its ‘most pressurised’ winters yet

At least half a dozen trusts across England have declared ‘critical incidents’ indicating that they may be unable to deliver vital care to patients in the coming weeks because so many medics are off isolating

Boris Johnson (pictured out running this morning) has said that he would recommend to Cabinet that Plan B restrictions stay unchanged

Boris Johnson (pictured out running this morning) has said that he would recommend to Cabinet that Plan B restrictions stay unchanged

Covid testing rules could be relaxed in an effort to combat the havoc wreaked on essential services across the country by thousands of key workers being stuck in self-isolation. Pictured: A deserted Waterloo Station at 08.15 yesterday morning

Covid testing rules could be relaxed in an effort to combat the havoc wreaked on essential services across the country by thousands of key workers being stuck in self-isolation. Pictured: A deserted Waterloo Station at 08.15 yesterday morning

As the number succumbing to the virus reached a record high, there were fears that staff absence due to Covid could become just as big a problem, with bin collections delayed, trains cancelled and several hospitals in Greater Manchester saying they would suspend non-urgent surgeries. Pictured: Overflowing bins in the Walton area of Liverpool

As the number succumbing to the virus reached a record high, there were fears that staff absence due to Covid could become just as big a problem, with bin collections delayed, trains cancelled and several hospitals in Greater Manchester saying they would suspend non-urgent surgeries. Pictured: Overflowing bins in the Walton area of Liverpool

Nicola Sturgeon could FINALLY cut Covid self-isolation period from 10 days to seven in Scotland 

Nicola Sturgeon is expected to announce today whether Scotland will follow the lead of England, Wales and Northern Ireland by cutting the coronavirus self-isolation period.

The Scottish First Minister has been under growing pressure to slash quarantine for people who test positive from 10 days to seven as critical services and businesses feel the strain caused by staff absences.

Ms Sturgeon has previously said the Scottish Government was still examining the issue and last week said she hoped to give an update early in the New Year.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said yesterday that the government is ‘actively considering’ reducing the self-isolation period.

Ms Sturgeon will deliver a virtual Covid statement to MSPs at Holyrood this afternoon as the nation continues to be battered by a surge in Omicron cases.

As stringent Covid isolation rules again threatened to cripple the nation:

  • SAGE modeller Dr Mike Tildesley today backed the Prime Minister’s plan to ‘ride out’ the Omicron wave, saying ‘we’re starting to see things turn around;
  • Asymptomatic people in England who test positive will not be asked to get a PCR from January 11;
  • But this could force more Britons wrongly into self-isolation because a small proportion of lateral flows give a false result; 
  • Covid cases in Omicron hotspot London are rising in over-60s, official figures show — but experts say these should peak within a week;
  • South African scientists said today they are now in a ‘good place’ and that the wave is subsiding;
  • Keir Starmer tests positive for Covid for the second time in just ten weeks, making it the sixth time he has been forced to isolate. 

Asked if he could support such a change to self-isolation rules, Mr Taylor told BBC Radio 4: ‘As long as it is based on the science.

‘Because on the one hand we do need to try to get staff back to work as soon as possible.

‘Hospitals who have declared critical incidents, for example, are essentially reaching out to staff who are on leave, on rest days or even recently retired and asking them to come back to wards, so the situation is desperate — any way of getting staff back into hospital is a good thing.

‘But on the other hand, if staff come back into hospital and are infectious, that’s completely counterproductive because that is going to mean more sickness in the hospital and for staff, so this can’t be led by politics or blind hope — it has to be led by the science.

‘If the science says it is possible for people to go back to work earlier, then of course NHS leaders will want that to be possible.’

He suggested that people in quarantine could test themselves on days three, four and five, and come out of isolation on day five if they test negative. 

The Prime Minister said last night that the NHS was now on a ‘war footing’. He called on Britons to exercise ‘utmost caution’, but made it clear he was determined to avoid fresh restrictions — stressing Omicron is milder. 

Business leaders joined Mr Taylor’s call for self-isolation to be cut today, with the managing director of Iceland, Richard Walker, saying the absence graph was now ‘almost vertical’ — with levels already double last year’s peak.

He told Sky News: ‘I think it is fair to say that business is under strain as never before. This new variant seems to be a lot more contagious and that is having a big impact.

‘My call on government would be firstly to prioritise lateral flow tests for key workers including food retail front line shop workers, but also to revisit the onerous isolation rules.

‘Seven days is a long time for people who are triple jabbed when the symptoms are for the vast majority of people not more than a common cold or mild flu.’

The UK Health Security Agency recommended the reduction in self-isolation to seven days last month after finding it posed no greater risk of spreading the virus than completing the full ten days.

Scientists at the agency fear a further reduction could be ‘counterproductive’ because it could lead to staff returning to work while they are still infectious, and spreading it to other employees.

But evidence showing most people who catch the virus are not infectious from five days after symptoms develop has been available for months. 

University of St Andrews’ scientists found in November 2020 that the vast majority of transmission occurs in the first five days after symptoms develop.

And last summer Oxford University’s Pathogen Dynamics Group said just two per cent of transmission occurred five days after symptoms developed.

NHS workers left empty-handed in scramble for LFDs

NHS staff have said they cannot get hold of any lateral flow tests – with some unable to work despite not testing positive for covid at a time when hospitals are routinely cancelling appointments and procedures due to Omicron, it was revealed today.

The British Medical Association and Royal College of Nursing have urged the Government to put health workers first for rapid tests to ease staffing issues in the health service.

One in ten NHS staff are currently off sick or isolating – but there are even higher absence rates at individual hospitals, but the NHS does not break down absence by cause, meaning many may be off with other illnesses including stress.

With the Government’s website out of LFTs again today, at least half a dozen NHS trusts across England have indicated they may be unable to deliver vital care to patients – and doctors and nurses say that they are scrambling for tests because they have to go online like millions of other Britons. 

Pharmacies have also said it could be up to a fortnight before they get new kits in due to shortages in the supply chain over Christmas, when the company given sole responsibility for distributing them shut down for four days over the festive period.

Hospital doctors, GPs, and cancer care nurses and have all said they are stuck at home having come into close contact with covid cases but unable to get enough lateral flow tests for check daily if they are also infected. 

Ministers today eased testing requirements so that people who test positive using a lateral flow no longer need to get a confirmatory PCR.  

It comes as a staffing crisis sparked by the spread of Covid left hospital leaders in Greater Manchester no choice but to cancel some operations. 

A spokesman said the cancellations were ‘temporary’, although cancer and heart surgery would be protected.

Chief executive of Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, Fiona Noden, said the cancellation was done ‘so we can keep people safe, can maintain the very best infection control measures, can make sure we deploy staff to where they’re needed most and can keep looking after people who need urgent and emergency care’.

The North West — where the hospitals are based — has seen the number of Covid patients in its wards surge 94 per cent over the last seven days to 2,618.

A GP in Oldham, one of the areas affected, warned today that the decision will lead to ‘more suffering’.

Dr Zahid Chauhan, who is also a Labour councillor for the area, told BBC Radio 4: ‘A non-urgent operation might be non-urgent for a hospital administrator or the state, but they are not non-urgent for the patient.

‘If you are waiting for a hip replacement, that means you are in pain, so it might be non-urgent for someone, but for the person who is suffering that is not non-urgent for them.’

Yesterday Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust in neighbouring Lancashire also declared a critical incident.

And there are mounting concerns that hospital trusts in Cumbria could also hit the panic button in response to rising pressures.

Colin Henderson, public health director for the county, said it ‘seems very likely’ that trusts in Cumbria will start to shelve non-urgent operations.

He said: ‘We always knew that January was going to be a tough month.

‘The case rates that we’ve seen so far with the rising hospitalisation rates and the large staff absences and the pressure on social care… are coming together to create a really difficult time for our health and care services.’

Several hospital trusts across the country have already declared critical incidents in response to pressures.

A critical incident allows them to start working with neighbouring NHS trusts to share the workload and avoid becoming overwhelmed. 

Asked about the pressures faced by trusts, Ms Keegan said: ‘Right now, they are under extreme pressure with the Omicron variant, with the number of positive cases and the increase in hospitalisations, and at this point in time when they always have extreme pressure.

‘We knew that and we actually knew that going into this period — that’s why we’ve put an extra £5.4billion of investment to try and get extra staff, get some extra capacity to be able to put virtual wards in place, extra beds and extra capacity with the Nightingales, etc, all of which we anticipated, that this was going to be really difficult.

‘We’ve had two years of a pandemic, there is a build-up of people who haven’t come forward who need electives — there is a backlog we need to deal with — and then you have got the unknown of Covid — we now know we have Omicron — and also flu was a big unknown as well, how much flu we would have this year.

‘We always knew that this was going to be one of the most pressurised winters and they are doing an absolutely amazing job.

‘Part of one of the procedures we have with our NHS contingency and resilience plans is actually to declare this critical state, and then they will work with NHS regional colleagues and the local resilience forums to make sure that mutual aid is provided, or whatever support is required, so it is part of the escalation process.

‘These are tried and tested plans, we have these plans in place every winter.’ 

A record 218,724 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases were announced in England and Scotland on Tuesday, though the figure will have been inflated by delayed reporting over the holiday period.

Mr Johnson confirmed he would stick with the Plan B measures including work-from-home guidance, mask-wearing and Covid health passes ahead of Wednesday’s review of the regulations scheduled to expire on January 26.

At a Downing Street press conference, he argued the booster roll-out has given substantial protection and added: ‘So together with the Plan B measures that we introduced before Christmas we have a chance to ride out this Omicron wave without shutting down our country once again.’

Mr Johnson accepted the weeks ahead are going to be ‘challenging’ and said ‘some services will be disrupted by staff absences’ as he pledged to ‘fortify’ the NHS to withstand the pressures and protect supply chains.

Under the measures, he said 100,000 ‘critical workers’ including those in transport, policing and food distribution will get lateral flow tests on every working day starting on Monday.

The Prime Minister added: ‘I would say we have a good chance of getting through the Omicron wave without the need for further restrictions and without the need certainly for a lockdown.’

Mr Johnson’s administration in Westminster has stuck with the Plan B restrictions, announced four weeks ago, despite tougher restrictions being in other UK nations. 

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will update the Scottish Parliament on the pandemic in the afternoon. 

The areas worst affected by the self-isolation rules include: 

THE NHS

One in ten NHS staff are off sick or self-isolating. Bosses claim the shortages are making it ‘almost impossible’ to maintain basic patient care.

An ambulance trust yesterday asked patients with heart attacks and strokes to get a lift to hospital because it did not have enough fit paramedics.

The North East Ambulance Service Foundation Trust said call handlers should ‘consider asking the patient to be transported by friends or family’.

A message to staff said they were also having to ferry patients to hospital in taxis due to ‘unprecedented demand’.

Meanwhile at least eight hospital trusts have declared ‘critical incidents’, which means routine patient care is suffering and staff are being redeployed.

Plymouth’s Derriford Hospital had nearly 500 staff absent due to Covid. Morecambe Bay NHS Trust in Lancashire declared a critical incident due to the number of staff testing positive for coronavirus. Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, public health director for the region, said: ‘We are bracing ourselves for a tsunami of Omicron cases in Lancashire.’

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the staffing situation meant it was ‘becoming almost impossible’ to deal with ‘the most urgent and pressing needs’.

He told Times Radio that ‘the most pressing element of all’ is the number of staff who are absent due to the virus, rather than the number of Covid patients needing treatment.

Manchester, Birmingham, London, Cheshire and parts of Essex and Cumbria announced that bin collections would have to be missed or rearranged. Pictured: Festive period rubbish and recycling in Birmingham

Manchester, Birmingham, London, Cheshire and parts of Essex and Cumbria announced that bin collections would have to be missed or rearranged. Pictured: Festive period rubbish and recycling in Birmingham

BIN ROUNDS

Manchester, Birmingham, London, Cheshire and parts of Essex and Cumbria announced that bin collections would have to be missed or rearranged.

In Birmingham, rubbish was left to pile high in the streets.

Pavel Bartos, 23, of Aston, said residents had been waiting since before Christmas to have their bins emptied. ‘It’s been a nightmare and the place has been left looking like a complete tip,’ he said.

‘It is an absolute eyesore and we thought they would be collected by now, but they haven’t. It’s like living in a slum.

‘We were told the Christmas collections would be missed due to staff shortages but to be four days into the New Year and is still look like this is really bad.’

North Somerset Council was unable to pick up 1,000 recycling bins on New Year’s Eve because of staff illness. A spokesman for the Local Government Association called for council workers to be prioritised for Covid tests.

Operators had already been forced to slash dozens of daily services due to around one in ten rail staff calling in sick. Some train firms will now run reduced services for several weeks. Pictured: Victoria train station yesterday

Operators had already been forced to slash dozens of daily services due to around one in ten rail staff calling in sick. Some train firms will now run reduced services for several weeks. Pictured: Victoria train station yesterday

Rail commuters were hit with disruption on the first working day of the year thanks to staff shortages, slashed timetables and faults with trains and tracks

Rail commuters were hit with disruption on the first working day of the year thanks to staff shortages, slashed timetables and faults with trains and tracks

TRAINS

Rail commuters were hit with disruption on the first working day of the year thanks to staff shortages, slashed timetables and faults with trains and tracks.

Operators had already been forced to slash dozens of daily services due to around one in ten rail staff calling in sick. Some train firms will now run reduced services for several weeks.

TransPennine Express cancelled 24 trains yesterday, while CrossCountry has removed around 50 daily services until next week.

LNER, which runs on the East Coast Main Line, has slashed 12 services a day between London and Leeds until Friday.

Southern is not running any services in and out of London Victoria until January 10.

The Gatwick Express, which resumed only three weeks ago after an 18-month closure, has been suspended indefinitely. ScotRail will cut around 160 trains from its normal 2,000 a day until January 28, meaning fewer services in and out of Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Meanwhile Transport for Wales cancelled almost 100 trains, including services between Newport and Crosskeys and Chester and Liverpool Lime Street.

CARE HOMES

Mike Padgham, chairman of the Independent Care Group, which represents care homes in Yorkshire, said the staffing challenge ‘is now at the worst it has been throughout the pandemic’.

He said some care homes and home care providers are struggling to operate and called on the Government to appeal for retired nurses, doctors, and carers to come forward so they can help struggling social care services.

In a letter to ministers, he said: ‘As you know, we need a fully functioning social care sector to ensure that NHS hospital care can function effectively and not be overwhelmed because people cannot be discharged to care settings.

‘At the moment, that cannot be guaranteed and I fear the setting up of surge hubs is not a long-term solution as they too will be struggling for staff.’

Pupils are returning to the classroom after the Christmas break, with advice for secondary school pupils in England to wear face masks in lessons due to a rise in coronavirus cases. Pictured: Pupils work in a classroom at The Fulham Boys School on the first day after the Christmas holidays

Pupils are returning to the classroom after the Christmas break, with advice for secondary school pupils in England to wear face masks in lessons due to a rise in coronavirus cases. Pictured: Pupils work in a classroom at The Fulham Boys School on the first day after the Christmas holidays

SCHOOLS

School leaders told of their worries that staff shortages could worsen and cause further disruption to children’s education.

Union leaders warned of a ‘stressful time’ ahead as existing teacher absences on the first day of term could become even more ‘challenging’ in the weeks ahead. Some schools are reporting that around one in five staff members could be missing at the start of term.

Pupils are returning to the classroom after the Christmas break, with advice for secondary school pupils in England to wear face masks in lessons due to a rise in coronavirus cases. Secondary and college students are also being encouraged to test on site before going back to class.

Some could end up wearing coats in lessons in the weeks ahead as heads and academy leaders increase ventilation to help keep classrooms safe.

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Two years ago, the BBC gave the green light to 12 half-hour programmes in which I would make a journey from the top of Scandinavia, around central and eastern Europe, down the Adriatic coast and end up in a garden I’ve been working on for the past five years on the Greek island of Hydra. 

The purpose would be to visit gardens in places where we don’t normally look for them and to reveal hidden horticultural splendours.

Then Covid came to town and it was shelved for a year. But last spring we got production going again, although it was now three hour-long programmes covering the second half of the original journey – starting in Venice and wending our way down the Dalmatian coast of the Adriatic, through Greece and ending in Hydra.

We began filming in May, the day after travel restrictions were eased and the final filming trip was at the beginning of September just after compulsory quarantine was lifted for visitors to Italy.

We were very lucky; travelling under the shadow of Covid was stressful, frustrating and difficult, but the privilege of visiting gardens I would never have otherwise seen made it all worthwhile.

Monty Don (pictured) starts in Venice and travels down the Dalmatian coast of the Adriatic, through Greece and ending in Hydra in three hour-long programmes airing on the BBC

Monty Don (pictured) starts in Venice and travels down the Dalmatian coast of the Adriatic, through Greece and ending in Hydra in three hour-long programmes airing on the BBC

Although it was the last section to be filmed (in fact the whole thing was shot in reverse order), the story begins in Venice. Venice is, of course, one of the most beautiful and romantic cities on earth but few people associate either its beauty or romance with Venetian gardens. 

However, they do exist – by the hundred – although most are private and hidden away, often down tiny side canals and behind high walls.

There are some wonderful public gardens such as the recently renovated Giardini Reali just by St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco) with its wonderfully harmonious planting of billowing cream hydrangeas spilling out under the shade of a long wisteria-covered pergola that runs the length of the site. 

The superb, subtle and yet invigorating planting is a model of using limited colours and textures to achieve a really dramatic effect.

It was the secret gardens that felt most special, such as the ‘orto’ or allotment created on an ex-rubbish dump at the base of a huge campanile (bell tower) or the swags of roses hanging over the balustrade on the Grand Canal of the Palazzo Malipiero which, after days of negotiations, we were allowed in to see from the inside.

Covid restrictions meant our planned visits to gardens of the Veneto (the region of which Venice is the capital) were limited to one garden – but what a garden!

Villa Barbarigo in Valsanzibio, near Padua, is a baroque gem, practically unchanged since it was made in the late 17th century with its original maze, fountains, scores of statues, a rabbit island and long hedge- lined avenues.

From Venice we travelled to Trieste, with the nearby gardens at Miramare castle created for doomed Maximilian of the Habsburg family.

Monty said planned visits to gardens of the Veneto were limited to one because of covid restrictions. Pictured: the Palazzo Malipiero in Venice

Monty said planned visits to gardens of the Veneto were limited to one because of covid restrictions. Pictured: the Palazzo Malipiero in Venice

Then we headed down the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, visiting a nursery run by an ex-DJ who was so in love with his plants that he did everything he could not to be parted from them, the impossibly stony island of Pag and the turquoise lakes and waterfalls of Plitvice.

Most Croatian gardens are focused on growing food but, gradually, flowers are starting to be cultivated as the privations of the terrible war in the Balkans in the 90s recede in memory, and I visited one of the best exotic gardens I’ve ever seen – on a housing estate on the outskirts of a provincial town.

Plants were brought in by mule – very efficient 

I ended this Croatian stage of the journey on the island of Lopud, a ferry’s ride from Dubrovnik.

There are no cars, its local population is dwindling but it’s favoured by wealthy Europeans and Americans who are creating superb gardens around the half-ruined hillside houses they’re restoring.

The third and final trip began in Corfu where I had special access to the Rothschild estate overlooking the narrow straits to Albania, with possibly the most glamorous swimming pool in any garden, as well as groves of huge olive trees pruned in the manner unique to Corfu.

Monty said he visited one of the best exotic gardens he has ever seen while travelling through Croatia. Pictured: a private garden visited by Monty in Croatia

Monty said he visited one of the best exotic gardens he has ever seen while travelling through Croatia. Pictured: a private garden visited by Monty in Croatia

I spent a day with Lee Durrell, widow of Gerald Durrell, who took me up into the mountains on the north of the island where we walked in wildflower meadows among ancient oak forests. 

Corfu’s climate is atypical for Greece – the rainfall is nearly twice that of London – so up in the hills it is lush and green and various plants prosper that could not survive on the mainland just a few miles away.

In Athens there was the incongruity of two gardens at opposite ends of the financial spectrum. 

One was the Niarchos Cultural Centre on the outskirts of the city, which houses the Greek National Opera and the National Library of Greece and includes a 50-acre park and a vast roof garden. 

The other was an allotment built on a car park in the centre of Athens, divided into 45 small plots for people receiving state aid. 

Every one of these plots was producing tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, cucumbers and beans to eat more than for horticultural fun.

Monty said Valsanzibio is a baroque gem, practically unchanged since it was made in the late 17th century. Pictured: the 17th-century fountain at the Villa Barbarigo in Valsanzibio

Monty said Valsanzibio is a baroque gem, practically unchanged since it was made in the late 17th century. Pictured: the 17th-century fountain at the Villa Barbarigo in Valsanzibio

Outside Athens, I visited the Mediterranean Garden Society garden at Sparoza which is filled with rare and indigenous plants, all chosen for their ability to thrive in the harsh Greek sun. 

But back in the early 1960s when Jaqueline Tyrwhitt bought the land, it was so stony she used dynamite to create planting holes for the cypresses that were to act as a windbreak.

But my favourite garden was the last, on Hydra. I have a deep personal attachment to it.

It belongs to a friend who asked me to help transform it. 

It started as a neglected plot with a few lemons, a dead almond tree and an awful lot of rubble, and over the years we’ve transformed it and I’ve learnt a great deal about what a Mediterranean garden is really like, as opposed to our northern European idea of one.

Monty said because of rainfall the hills are lush and green and various plants prosper that could not survive on the mainland in Corfu. Pictured: The Rothschild estate in Corfu

Monty said because of rainfall the hills are lush and green and various plants prosper that could not survive on the mainland in Corfu. Pictured: The Rothschild estate in Corfu

Though the garden is relatively modest, we did plant half a dozen large cypresses. There are no cars on Hydra, so the cypresses were brought over from the mainland by boat, walked through the narrow medieval streets, then squeezed in the entrance before being manoeuvred into place and planted. 

The other plants were all brought in by mule – very low-tech but very efficient.

What I’ve learnt from these journeys is that spirit cannot be quelled by lack of space, resources or a brutal climate. 

Despite the watery intensity of Venice, the war-hit past of Croatia or the sun-shrivelled climate of Greece, gardens are central to the human experience. 

Good gardens make a good life and ‘good’ isn’t measured by money or grandeur but by how much love and attention goes into them and the pleasure they give back.

Will I make the first part of the original plan, going up from Venice through Europe and into Scandinavia? I don’t know. Would I leap at the chance? Absolutely. 

ANCIENT OLIVE TREES FOR EVERYONE 

Venice ruled Corfu for more than 400 years, from 1386 to 1797. There were no olive trees in Venice so, when they realised that Corfu olives made especially good olive oil, the Venetians paid the local people to plant millions of trees.

They remain one of the great features of the landscape, not least because they are pruned rather differently from those in the rest of Greece, being allowed to become much bigger. The Corfu olive groves are also some of the oldest in the world.

Monty said the trees in the Olive Gardens of Lun, on the Croatian island of Pag (pictured) have a unique system

Monty said the trees in the Olive Gardens of Lun, on the Croatian island of Pag (pictured) have a unique system

The trees in the Olive Gardens of Lun, on the Croatian island of Pag, have a unique system of ownership and harvest. The 60 acres they grow on is communal with no known owner. However, the 80,000 olive trees are all individually owned by separate families and handed on from generation to generation.

Each family harvests the olives of their own trees, which might be in different parts of the gardens, and make their own olive oil. Some of these magnificently gnarled trees are more than 1,000 years old.

I planted a number of olive trees in the garden on Hydra and, having observed carefully how they are pruned in different parts of the Adriatic, have pruned them in various forms. 

A couple of large trees were cut right down to the roots and allowed to regrow before being clipped as large topiary balls. They look great with their silver mass of leaves that need trimming a couple of times a year.

Other trees are trained as standards and then pruned hard so that they have a very open structure of branches, letting in light and air and encouraging the new growth that will bear fruits.

In my garden at home I have olives growing in pots which are very handsome, although they need protection from the cold – and will never provide ripe fruits. For that I need to return to Hydra!

Monty Don’s Adriatic Gardens, Friday, 8pm, BBC2. 

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