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Gazette letters: Dominic Cummings, NHS and Happy Man Tree

PUBLISHED: 08:30 30 May 2020

Did Dominic Cummings break lockdown rules by taking a trip to Durham? Picture: PA images/Kirsty O'Connor

Did Dominic Cummings break lockdown rules by taking a trip to Durham? Picture: PA images/Kirsty O'Connor

PA Wire/PA Images

When it was discovered that Catherine Calderwood, Scotland’s chief medical officer, had twice broke the Covid-19 lock-down to visit her second home in April it cost her job, writes Sasha Simic, Stoke Newington, full address supplied.

Earlier in May Professor Neil Ferguson, the epidemiologist whose work shaped the state’s lock-down strategy, had to resign as a government adviser when it was revealed that he had repeatedly broke lock-down to visit his girlfriend.

We now know that on March 31 Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, drove 260 miles to his family farm in Durham a day after Downing Street “confirmed” Cummings was self-isolating after exhibiting symptoms of Covid-19 infection. Cummings went on to develop a severe case of coronavirus.

In The Spectator on April 25, his partner, Mary Wakefield, wrote: “Dom couldn’t get out of bed…Day in, day out for 10 days he lay doggo with a high fever and spasms that made the muscles lump and twitch in his legs. He could breathe, but only in a limited way.”

Cummings’ criminally antisocial trip to Durham not only broke government protocols for dealing with the pandemic, it exposed any number of vulnerable people to a serious bout of Covid-19. What will be the consequences? Speaking on Professor Ferguson’s departure Matt Hancock said: “I think he took the right decision to resign.”

In contrast several members of the Tory cabinet - including Michael Gove, Rishi Sunak and Dominic Raab - are defending Cumming’s irresponsible actions. Cummings seems to have acquired immunity from accountability.

If Boris Johnson doesn’t sack Cummings the government will find it impossible to maintain the lockdown and will be directly responsible for a new wave of Covid-19 deaths.

The fear of privatisation of the NHS that Marion Macalpine and Hackney Keep Our NHS Public express is only too well founded, write Mary Pimm and Nik Wood, Gore Road, Hackney.

Before 1948 health care was provided two ways. By private, profit driven, firms whose income came from patients. Or by charities whose income came from widows’ mites in the collection plate or from philanthropists. Both sorts of income were unreliable, both sorts of service were poorest for the poorest and both types of organisation were accountable to nobody but themselves.

The NHS replaced this with a consistent taxation-based income and a national and local structure of democratic accountability. But over the past four decades politicians of all political parties have allowed this to erode. The concoction of the internal market resulted in fragmentation and competition between business units while constricting local initiative within micro-management by targets. This privatised ethos resulted in the balance sheet becoming the purpose of the exercise.

In such a world things like PFI/PPP debts for hospital building, agency fees for night nursing cover and private firms providing things ranging from social care to laboratory testing all seemed a really bright idea. And this concept of efficiency meant that any spare capacity looked like slackness. We are now paying for this because the pandemic has revealed no capacity held as insurance, no national level rationality in things like procurement of PPE (or international co-operation in buying ventilators, which Brexit buffoons vetoed) and no managerial capacity to respond to the local initiatives of front line staff.

We will have to make sure that these failures by our whole political class do not excuse a further destruction of what is vital to our NHS’s contribution to the health of those most vulnerable in our society.

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Count the thousands who have signed the petition to “Save the Happy Man Tree” from destruction by Berkeley Homes, writes Elaine Gosnell, Woodberry Down, full address supplied.

We sense that we are all the custodians of this beautiful tree which has been growing on the pavement for over 150 years.

In addition, my neighbours and I are distressed at the possibility of losing this tree because it means more than just one tree.

Four generations of my family have lived in Woodberry Down and contributed to community life in paid and voluntary work since 1954, at the Comprehensive School, St Olave’s church, the Jewish Youth Club, the Tenants’ Association, the Community Club and in the long campaign which saved the Stoke Newington Reservoirs and New River, now forming Woodberry Wetlands.

Before the post-war LCC housing estate and pioneering school were built, large houses stood here with extensive gardens, as recalled by council tenants in the book, Woodberry Down Memories. Now, I will share my memories with you.

When I was aged seven years, I was admitted to Hackney Children’s Hospital. I was either there or indoors for about a month. My only abiding memory of my recovery is after my first day back at school, walking towards the shops and being struck by the transformation of the magnificent horse chestnut tree that stood on the corner of the Woodberry Down Comprehensive School. Spring had arrived and it was crowned in brilliant green with white candles. It also formed the backdrop in a photo taken of a friend, when covered in celebratory powder paint, we left school.

I adored my grandparents who lived on the ground floor of Nicholl House near the church.

On the small lawn between their entrance and the road there was a mature London plane tree.

On occasions, my sister and I would ask to cross Spring Park Drive, step over the concrete wall and play on the lawn where at times we would find acorns and conkers from the four or more mature trees there. Further along where the lawn widened in front of Peak House, a lovely blossoming pear tree was prominent.

Outside of Martin’s newsagent’s and the Council Area Base in Woodberry Grove, there grew a row of Lime trees in raised beds built of grey stone bricks. My grandfather is photographed here in 1954 on his first day in Woodberry Down, having moved from Fulham.

As well as attending the Comprehensive, I later worked there writing and producing learning resources. I often worked in the first floor Media Resources Office.

On numerous occasions staff would enter and remark on, and ask about, the interesting and beautiful tree which one could almost touch from this room. It was a mulberry tree. These trees associated with the silk industry are now recognised as being significant to the history of east London. Another used to stand in the garden of a house opposite the church hall. Between the girls’ gym, which remains and Woodberry Down, another very broad horse chestnut spread which had pink candles.

Living in Bewdley House until the age of four, I discovered a crab apple from a tree on the lawn at nearby Ombersley House and learnt what this was. One day unusually, my grandmother met me from the infant school. On our way to Nicholl, I found what I learned was a caterpillar, on one of the lime trees that lined Seven Sisters Road until the mid 1960s.

I stress, I had no interest in nature conservation and knew nobody who did; it was dull. Even the significance of the children’s programme Magpie was lost on me - Well, I’d never seen a magpie.

I’m assured the buildings had to go in the “regeneration”, but the trees? Yes, all the above trees were destroyed by Berkeley Homes in the early part of the redevelopment, fracturing my “sense of place”. My neighbours and I mourn the loss of these trees.

So, standing up for the Happy Man Tree, standing up to be counted, are its custodians.


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