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Highest number of children with speech and language challenges ever recorded, report says | UK News

One in five primary and secondary aged children are estimated to be behind with their talking and understanding of words, a new survey by a charity suggests.

Speech and Language UK says this is the highest number of children with speech and language challenges ever recorded.

The report, based on a survey of teachers, also found that:

• 80% of teachers think children in their classroom are behind with their talking and/or understanding of words
• 73% of teachers surveyed think that children’s speech and language is not prioritised by the government
• 53% of teachers don’t believe they have enough training to support pupils’ speech and language in the classroom

The charity’s chief executive, Jane Harris, said: “That really shows us that what schools, nurseries the government are doing at the moment isn’t enough to help children to have the futures they deserve.”

She warned about the dangers of letting children fall behind.

Speech and Language UK charity chief executive, Jane Harris
Charity chief exec Jane Harris says not enough is being done to help children ‘have the futures they deserve’

“Teachers and teaching assistants can do an awful lot to help children. We also need the NHS to recruit enough Speech and Language Therapists so that children who have lifelong speech and language challenges get that specialist therapy that they really need.

“Without that extra support, these children are likely to fail in English and maths, they’re also likely to end up with mental health problems, they’re more likely to end up out of work, and they’re more likely to end up in the criminal justice system.”

Read more:
Children ‘struggling with talking and understanding words following pandemic’

Viral Bhundia’s son Jay is in nursery. He says the family played guessing games when Jay’s speech had not developed.

“If he wanted something he would scream, and it was up to us to kind of decode it and figure out what he wanted. Slowly, with different techniques, we were able to see… Does he want a cup? Does he want water? Initially it was a bit difficult.”

Father Viral Bhundia
Mr Bhundia says his son has now reached expected levels because of specialist support

Mr Bhundia explains that moving to another London borough helped get Jay specialist support.

“Because of the support we’ve had he’s reached the level that we expect him to be, but I know many other parents probably haven’t had that support and it’s quite difficult for them,” he told Sky News.

Jay’s nursery director blames lockdown and its effects.

“A lot of parents were keeping their children at home even after the country started to open up,” said Jennifer Lewis, director of Smarty Pants Nursery in east London.

“Communication was often done through things like laptops, iPads, tablets, whereby children watching a lot of things online.”

“It’s important to actually communicate with your child… actually talking to them, not just having something where they’re watching just on screen.”

Read more from Sky News:
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A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are conscious of the effect the pandemic has had on pupils’ education which is why we have made almost £5bn available for education recovery.

“Two-thirds of primary schools have benefitted from our £17m investment in the Nuffield Early Language Intervention, improving the speech and language skills of over 90,000 children in reception classes over three years.”

New COVID variant with ‘high number of mutations’ detected in UK | UK News

A new COVID variant with a “high number of mutations” has been detected in the UK.

The mutation, known as BA.2.86, was identified in the UK on Friday in an individual with no recent travel history, the UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) said.

This means there could already be “significant community transmission” among Britons, the agency said.

The “high number of mutations” – 33 to be precise – means that spike proteins, the membranes on the outside of the virus that allow it to enter and infect human cells, will change their shape.

Read more:
What is the ‘Pi COPVID variant – and should we be worried?

“Having changed their shape, they may become more infectious, they may become more disease-causing,” Dr Bharat Pankhania, an infectious disease control expert from the University of Exeter, told Sky News.

“On the other hand, they may not. We just don’t know yet,” he said.

The BA.2.86 mutation was first detected in Denmark on 24 July and has also been discovered in Israel and the US.

It is thought to be the likely ancestor of the BA.2 variant, nicknamed “stealth Omicron”, which originated in southern Africa and was first detected in the UK by late 2021.

Pic: UK Health Security Agency
Pic: UK Health Security Agency

It comes after a variant known as EG.5.1 was reported to be making up one in seven new cases in the UK.

The UKHSA said there is “insufficient data” to assess how serious the BA.2.86 strain might be, or how likely it is that current vaccines will protect against it.

It is “the most striking SARS-CoV-2 strain the world has witnessed since the emergence of Omicron”, Francois Balloux, professor of computational systems biology and director of the UCL Genetics Institute at University College London, said.

However, it is unlikely to cause a fresh wave of severe disease and deaths, or prompt fresh restrictions on people’s daily lives, because most people have some immunity to the illness.

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“Even if people get reinfected by BA.2.86, immune memory will still allow their immune system to kick in and control the infection far more effectively,” Prof Balloux said.

“It remains that a large wave of infection by BA.2.86, or any future comparable variant, would be an unwelcome event.”

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Why UK COVID rates are rising

It is likely to have emerged in an immunocompromised person – someone who has a weaker immune system – who later spread it, Prof Balloux said.

He said that global vaccination is the best thing to do to reduce infections.

The UKHSA said it is “undertaking detailed assessment” and will provide further information on the new variant in due course.

Record number of ambulances queue at A&E departments in England as NHS comes under increasing pressure | UK News

Almost half of ambulance crews were delayed by more than half an hour dropping off patients at England’s A&E departments in the week to New Year’s Day, new figures reveal.

Some 44% were delayed by 30 minutes or more – the highest proportion on record.

More than a quarter (26%) were delayed by more than an hour.

The figures lay bare the pressures hospitals have faced in recent weeks, with flu cases rising by 47%.

On Friday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak acknowledged the “enormous pressure” the NHS is under, and repeated his commitment to tackling waiting lists, which he first outlined during his first major speech of 2023 on Wednesday.

Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to a London school, Mr Sunak said that moving people out of hospitals into social care and communities, in order to free up hospital beds, is “one of the most powerful” ways to cut down ambulance waiting times and ease pressures on A&E departments.

He added that the government is also supporting the NHS “with billions of pounds of extra funding,” blaming the COVID-19 pandemic for current challenges.

On 1 January, Sky News counted 24 ambulances parked outside the A&E department at the Royal Stoke University Hospital.

A member of ambulance staff told Sky News that at one point in the day their official dashboard showed 32 ambulances were stuck waiting to transfer patients at the hospital, with additional vehicles waiting round the back of the hospital after space at the front was taken.

Record number of ‘foreign objects’ left inside patients after surgical blunders | UK News

A record number of “foreign objects” have been left inside patients’ bodies after surgery, new data reveals.

Incidents analysed by the PA news agency showed it happened a total of 291 times in 2021/22.

Swabs and gauzes used during surgery or a procedure are one of the most common items left inside a patient, but in surgical tools such as scalpels and drill bits have been found in some rare cases.

There are strict procedures in hospitals to prevent such blunders, including checklists and the repeated counting of surgical tools.

Leaving an object inside a patient after surgery is classed as a “never event” by the NHS – meaning the incident is so serious it should never have happened.

When a surgical implement is left inside a patient, it can require further surgery to remove it.

Sometimes such errors are not discovered for weeks, months or years after the event.

In 2001/02, there were 156 of these episodes.

The lowest number was in 2003/04, when 138 episodes were recorded by clinicians.

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NHS Digital data does not make clear when the patient had their initial surgery or treatment, or whether it was performed under the NHS or by a private hospital.

And each “episode” may not be the equivalent of one patient, as some people may have sought care more than once at a different hospital, but the figures come as the NHS is under intense pressure and is caring for more patients than ever before.

Commenting on the analysis, Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: “Never events are called that because they are serious incidents that are entirely preventable because the hospital or clinic has systems in place to prevent them happening.

“When they occur, the serious physical and psychological effects they cause can stay with a patient for the rest of their lives, and that should never happen to anyone who seeks treatment from the NHS.

“While we fully appreciate the crisis facing the NHS, never events simply should not occur if the preventative measures are implemented.”

A woman from east London described how she “lost hope” after part of a surgical blade was left inside her following an operation to remove her ovaries in 2016.

The 49-year-old, who spoke to PA on condition of anonymity, said: “When I woke up, I felt something in my belly.

“The knife they used to cut me broke, and they left a part in my belly.”

She added: “I was weak, I lost so much blood, I was in pain, all I could do was cry.”

The object was left inside her for five days, leading to an additional two-week hospital stay.

“I lost hope, I lost faith in them, I don’t trust them anymore,” she said.

The wound from the second operation also took a long time to heal – leaving a scar.

“Every time I look at my belly, it’s there,” she added.

Emmalene Bushnell and Kriya Hurley from the medical negligence department at the law firm Leigh Day, which represented the woman in her subsequent claim, said in a joint statement: “Undergoing surgery is obviously very worrying for any patient, but in cases of retained foreign objects they often lead to significant harm to the patient.

“Unfortunately, we continue to see cases of retained objects post-surgery resulting in patients being readmitted to hospital, having a second surgery, suffering sepsis or infection, experiencing a fistula or bowel obstruction, visceral perforation, and psychological harm.”

Earlier analysis by PA, published in May 2022, found that some 407 never events were recorded in the NHS in England from April 2021 until March 2022.

Vaginal swabs were left in patients 32 times, and surgical swabs were left 21 times.

Some of the other objects left inside patients included part of a pair of wire cutters, part of a scalpel blade, and the bolt from surgical forceps.

On three separate occasions over the year, part of a drill bit was left inside a patient.

An NHS spokesman said: “Thanks to the hard work of NHS staff, incidents like these are rare.

“However, when they do happen, the NHS is committed to learning from them to improve care for future patients.

“Last year, the NHS published new guidance introducing a significant shift in the way the NHS responds to patient safety incidents, which will help organisations increase their focus on understanding how incidents happen and taking steps to make improvements.”

Number of 999 calls appears to drop as thousands of ambulance workers and paramedics strike until midnight | UK News

The number of people phoning 999 appears to have dropped in parts of England as thousands of ambulance staff and paramedics strike until midnight.

The West Midlands Ambulance Trust thanked people for heeding their advice to only call in an emergency as ambulance trusts reported receiving fewer calls.

The drop in calls comes as health leaders have urged people to still phone for an ambulance if they are in a life-threatening emergency.

It is feared some people in desperate need of help will not phone 999 during the strike action.

Hundreds of members of the army, navy and RAF have been drafted in to cover as paramedics, technicians, control room workers and other staff in England are on strike.

All Category 1 calls (the most life-threatening, such as cardiac arrest) are being responded to during the walkouts, while some ambulance trusts have agreed exemptions with unions for specific incidents within Category 2 (serious conditions, such as stroke or chest pain).

Read more:
Nurses in Scotland set to strike in new year
‘A few nerves’ as armed forces prepare to drive ambulances
Woman who had to call ambulance for sick sister backs the strikes

‘We want to reassure patients’

Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM), said: “There may be a number of reasons why 999 calls are dropping – hesitancy may be a key factor during the industrial action.

“We want to reassure patients and the public that if they need emergency care, A&Es remain open.”

The Welsh Ambulance Service has said demand is “manageable” but any “influx of calls would put significant pressure on our service”.

A member of the military walks nearby an ambulance, on the day ambulance workers strike amid a dispute with the government over pay, near the NHS London Ambulance Service, in London, Britain December 21, 2022. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Members of the armed forces have been drafted in to help

Meanwhile, the East Midlands Ambulance Service said it was too early to say how the service was coping.

Up to half of its more than 4,000 workforce were GMB members who were striking.

South Central Ambulance Service said its main impact from strikes was patient transport services in Sussex and Surrey, rather than urgent and emergency care services.

The London Ambulance Service declined to comment on how services were running.

Ambulance workers take part in a strike, amid a dispute with the government over pay, outside NHS London Ambulance Service in London, Britain December 21, 2022. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Ambulance workers take part in strike action in London
Ambulance workers take part in a strike, amid a dispute with the government over pay, outside NHS London Ambulance Service in London, Britain December 21, 2022. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Thursday and Friday ‘expected to be busy’

Meanwhile, a chief executive of a large northern teaching trust told the Health Service Journal (HSJ) it had “so far not (been) as bad as I’d feared in terms of hospital pressures – in fact, (emergency departments) are less pressured than usual.

“We haven’t seen cars/taxis with patients arriving in large numbers but the problem is that much of the risk is not currently visible to us given people will be at home.

“We therefore expect very busy days on Thursday and Friday.”

It comes as the Royal Albert Edward Infirmary in Wigan declared a critical incident and said it was full after facing “unprecedented pressures” in its A&E department.

The strike action has taken place as there is a bitter war of words between unions and Health Secretary Steve Barclay who has said he will not back down on pay.

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‘I cannot express how bad it is’ – paramedic

Health secretary accused of ‘blatant lie’

Mr Barclay said the Unite, Unison and GMB unions had “refused” to work with the government at the national level to set out plans for dealing with the strikes.

But the unions said all those agreements had been made locally and were in place.

From a picket line in Longford, Coventry, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham accused Mr Barclay of a “blatant lie” for saying ambulance unions had taken a “conscious decision” to inflict harm on patients.

Meanwhile, a paramedic in Nottinghamshire said patients’ lives have been at risk for a long time due to issues in the NHS.

Tom, 33, from the East Midlands Ambulance Service, said: “I’ve attended elderly patients who have been on the floor with broken hips for over 20 hours.

“They’ve been waiting that long that their limbs have started to become necrotic (dying tissue), resulting in major surgery to remove said limbs.”

Unite union general secretary Sharon Graham (centre), joins ambulance workers on the picket line outside ambulance headquarters in Coventry
Sharon Graham (centre) joins ambulance workers on the picket line in Coventry

‘Don’t get blind drunk’

A former Royal Marine who is among striking health workers described it as “demoralising” to spend entire shifts waiting outside hospitals with patients stuck in the back of ambulances as he demanded “something needs to change”.

Harry Maskers from Cardiff, who works for the Welsh Ambulance Service, said that while he was unable to strike during his military career, he was taking the opportunity to do so now, with “the kicker” being the government’s refusal to discuss the issue of pay.

Mr Barclay had earlier urged the public to “use their common sense in terms of what activities they do” while ambulance workers are on strike, while the medical director of NHS England Professor Sir Stephen Powis urged people not to get “blind drunk”.

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The walkout by ambulance staff and paramedics comes as nurses in Scotland overwhelmingly rejected the latest pay offer from the Scottish government, in a move which could see members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) take strike action for the first time ever.

Meanwhile, National Highways workers will go on strike from Thursday until Christmas Day in the latest phase of industrial action by the biggest civil service union.

The strike involves members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) working as on-road traffic officers and regional operating centre operatives, in London and southeast England.

It comes as planned strikes by railway cleaners in a dispute over pay have been called off.

More than 1,000 cleaners, who are members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, would have been involved.

Chinese consulate violence: Police identify ‘number of offences’ during Manchester demonstration | UK News

Police investigating an alleged attack at the Chinese consulate in Manchester have said they have identified a number of offences including assaults and public order offences in their investigation.

On 16 October, a peaceful pro-Hong Kong democracy rally outside the consulate turned violent.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) is investigating the alleged assault of Bob Chan, after images appeared to show him being dragged into the consulate grounds before being punched and kicked.

Bob Chan Was allegedly assaulted inside the Chinese Consulate in Manchester while conducting a peaceful protest
Bob Chan was allegedly assaulted inside the Chinese consulate in Manchester while conducting a peaceful protest

He claims he was left with cuts and bruises all over his body, and a senior diplomat was accused of being involved and pulling Mr Chan’s hair.

In a new update, the force said it is continuing to work with detectives to establish the full circumstances of the incident.

Investigators have been gathering a range of evidence including CCTV, police body-worn video, mobile phone footage, and witness statements from as many people involved as possible to assist in capturing a rounded understanding of what happened.

The force added that the number of offences identified includes assaults and public order offences that “concern events that left a man in his 30s with several minor physical injuries after being allegedly assaulted in the consulate grounds”.

Police said the alleged attack followed an initially peaceful protest that appeared to escalate, and they are looking to find out why.

Read more:
‘I was thinking I might die’: Hong Kong pro-democracy protester on Chinese consulate attack
Chinese consul-general defends actions after being seen pulling protester’s hair in Manchester

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Chinese consulate: What happened?

Assistant Chief Constable Chris Sykes described the investigation as “a complex inquiry”.

He continued: “We’re continuing to gain a clearer understanding of the timeline of events that led to an initially peaceful protest escalating in the way it did. This has seen us identify a number of offences and potential suspects and victims.

“This is a sensitive but, importantly, objective investigation that will involve us working for as long as required to speak to all those concerned to achieve as many answers as we possibly can, and we will continue to provide updates where necessary in due course.”

Police said no other injuries were reported to them besides a minor physical injury to the hand of an officer who intervened to help remove the man in his 30s from the consulate grounds out of fear for his safety.

The force added it is actively seeking other potential victims of incidents during the disturbance.

No arrests have yet been made and enquiries continue.

Cyclists could face speed limits and may need number plates, reports say | UK News

Cyclists could face 20mph speed limits and may need number plates, after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps flagged a shake-up in road laws.

Less than a fortnight after vowing to create a “death by dangerous cycling” law that will treat killer cyclists the same as motorists, Mr Shapps said he wanted to stop certain behaviour on the roads.

He told the Daily Mail: “Somewhere where cyclists are actually not breaking the law is when they speed, and that cannot be right, so I absolutely propose extending speed limit restrictions to cyclists.

“Particularly where you’ve got 20mph limits on increasing numbers of roads, cyclists can easily exceed those, so I want to make speed limits apply to cyclists.

“That obviously does then lead you into the question of: ‘Well, how are you going to recognise the cyclist? Do you need registration plates and insurance? And that sort of thing,” he told the paper.

Mr Shapps said he is proposing that there should be a review on how to track cyclists who break the law.

The Highway Code and Road Traffic Act speeding limits only apply to motor vehicles and their drivers. While local authorities can impose speed limits on cyclists, it has been rarely done.

The Department for Transport refused to provide comment to the PA news agency on Mr Shapps’ interview.

Department officials did acknowledge to the Mail the flagged measures would require cyclists to have number plates or other identification markings for enforcement purposes.

Mr Shapps told the Mail that while he doesn’t want to stop people from getting on their bike, we should not “turn a blind eye” to cyclists who break road laws, speed and “bust red lights” and “get away with it”.

It comes after Mr Shapps pledged to create a “death by dangerous cycling” law to “impress on cyclists the real harm they can cause when speed is combined with lack of care”.

The move will close a legal loophole which means that cyclists who kill pedestrians can only be jailed for two years.

Under Mr Shapps’ proposal, the new law would be added to the Transport Bill due to be put before Parliament in the autumn.

Record number of jobs being advertised – with actors and dancers in high demand | UK News

A record number of jobs are being advertised, with big increases for actors, entertainers, driving instructors and dancers, according to recruiters.

Vacancies for water and waste roles such as sewerage plant operatives have also increased, which recruiters said could be related to the prolonged dry weather and fears of droughts.

There were 1.85 million job adverts in the last week of July, with up to 200,000 being added every week in the past month, according to the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC).

Three out of the UK’s top 10 hiring hotspots were in London in the last week of July.

Kate Shoesmith, deputy chief executive of the REC, said: “This new data shows the continued strength of the jobs market, despite any wider economic uncertainty.

“The number of job adverts being posted each week is stable. It’s a great time to be looking for work as a jobseeker, as employers are having to think more about the pay, benefits, conditions and development opportunities they offer both new starters and current staff as they compete for talent.

“There is a danger that with costs soaring, employers will have to reprioritise – as there is still no viable support package for businesses to meet these rising costs.

“We know that employers’ confidence in the broader economy has started to drop. Government must play its role, both in supporting people and businesses through the current crisis, and also by working with industry to create a sustainable labour market.

“We need a long-term workforce strategy that encompasses skills, immigration and makes childcare and local transport part of the infrastructure of our labour market.”

Vacancies for probation officers, health and social care workers fell in recent weeks, according to the report.

Tory leadership race: Rishi Sunak wins over audience in Sky News’ Battle for Number 10 programme | Politics News

Rishi Sunak was deemed to have won Sky News’ Battle for Number 10 after the majority of audience members voted for him over rival Liz Truss.

Ms Truss and Mr Sunak faced tough challenges from Conservative members who are mostly undecided, followed by questions from Sky News’ Kay Burley.

After the pair put forward their arguments for why they should replace Boris Johnson as leader of the Tory party, and therefore prime minister, the audience members were asked who they thought had won the argument.

The audience, made up of Conservative Party members, convincingly backed Mr Sunak in a show of hands, rather than Ms Truss – who has been winning polls since the battle was whittled down to two.

Live updates: Truss says recession ‘not inevitable’; Sunak told he ‘knifed’ Johnson

Read more: Truss refuses request to apologise over public sector pay policy U-turn

Ms Truss put herself forward as the candidate of integrity, repeatedly saying she will always listen to people and will do something different if a policy is not working.

She said a recession is “not inevitable”, hours after interest rates were hiked, and promised “bold” action compared with Mr Sunak’s caution.

However, former chancellor Mr Sunak said Ms Truss’ vision “will make the situation worse” as he reminded audience members of his financial actions to help people during the COVID pandemic.

He stressed a need to get a grip on runaway inflation before cutting taxes, adding: “But it all starts with not making the situation worse.

“Because if we just put fuel on the fire of this inflation spiral, all of us, all of you, are just going to end up with higher mortgage rates, savings and pensions that are eaten away, and misery for millions.”