A new Covid peak in GM's hospitals
We take a look at the numbers, plus the rest of the weekly briefing
Dear Millers — welcome to the first briefing of 2022. As usual, it’s packed with great things to do this week, a look into the rise of Covid patients in GM hospitals, and a roundup of the latest headlines.
On Saturday we published a piece by Jack Walton, who visited an Oldham boxing gym that’s bringing the community together. It’s headed by formidable yet well-loved Eric Noi, who instils confidence and discipline into the people he takes under his wing. Here’s an extract:
As time went by, the club expanded out from its substance abuse focus and slowly became a hub for anyone in the community. “Personal development applies to everybody,” says Eric, “not just people who have fallen on rough times.” The group have had policemen, barristers and people from all walks of life. They’re all embedded into the ethos, all pulled aside for Eric’s famous pep talks.
📰 This morning the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism included The Mill and our sister newsletter The Tribune an example of what the future of journalism looked like. Here’s what the article on HoldTheFrontPage said:
Predicting growth in the independent news sector, the report published today cited examples such as the Manchester Mill and its Sheffield Tribune sister title as a new business model that could be followed elsewhere.
In the report, senior research associate Nic Newman wrote: “At a local level, we can expect to see the growth of low-cost reader-focused start-ups this year, built on newsletter platforms like Substack, which help take out technology and infrastructure costs.
This week we’re publishing stories about a recent murder-suicide inquest and a deep-dive into the Manchester School of Engineering. To get those pieces in your inbox for the price of a few coffees each month, hit that button below.
This week’s weather ⛅️
Our forecast comes from local weatherman Martin Miles, who says: “Our weather will settle down after Monday as high pressure builds in from the southwest. We can look forward to plenty of dry and relatively mild weather, but mist and fog may be troublesome overnight.”
Monday 🌧 Overcast and mild as a warm front slowly moves eastwards. The cloud cover will be thick enough to produce patchy drizzle/light rain, mainly in the afternoon. Highs of 9°c.
Tuesday 🌤 After a murky start, skies will brighten from the north west. All areas should see plenty of winter sunshine in the afternoon. A cold and frosty night will follow with patchy fog. Highs of 8°c.
Wednesday ⛅️ Any patchy fog will soon clear to leave a dry day with good spells of Winter sunshine. Winds will be light. Highs of 7°c.
Thursday ⛅️ Again, any early mist/fog will lift to allow for plenty of sunny spells. Highs of 8°c.
Friday ☁️ Cloudy skies are likely, although it should be another dry day. Milder. Highs of 9°c.
Weekend ☁ High pressure should remain in control for next weekend, but it will be cloudy overall. Temperature highs will be around average for the middle of January, around 7-8°c.
For the full forecast please visit Manchester Weather. Forecasts are posted daily at 6.15am.
🕵️♂️ Grist to The Mill: If you want to tell us about a story or pass on some information, please email email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. We are always happy to speak to people off the record in the first instance, and we will treat your information with confidence and sensitivity. Get in touch.
The big story: The number of Covid-positive patients in GM hospitals reaches a new peak
Top line: The number of Covid-positive patients in Greater Manchester hospitals has surpassed last winter’s peak. According to analysis from the Financial Times, there were 1,229 Covid-positive patients being treated across GM's 10 hospital trusts on Tuesday. On the 5th of January 2021, there were 1,041.
Context: Some caveats to place on that 1,229 figure. First: they aren’t all people who have been admitted to hospital specifically for Covid treatment; a chunk of these cases are patients who were in hospital being treated for something else, and went on to test positive. Second: testing is now more accessible, which causes more positive tests show up.
Twin threat: As reported in the past few weeks, the current staff shortage accompanying climbing case rates is causing problems for hospitals in GM and around the country. Chief executives from NHS hospital trusts in the north west told the FT that staff will likely be redeployed to plug absences elsewhere. Bringing the military in to assist, as seen in London, is another possibility. One said:
“We’re the epicentre at the moment [and] there’s no sense of the problems easing.”
A closer look at GM: The spike in cases is widespread, but hospital trusts in northern boroughs are coming under more strain. Bolton NHS Foundation Trust and the Northern Care Alliance — the latter covering Salford, Bury, Rochdale and Oldham — stand out as the hardest-hit.
Loss leaders: Data from NHS England, PHE and the ONS, coming up to the 2nd of January, shows the Northern Care Alliance in a particularly tight spot. The trust is strained by high critical care occupancy with one of the highest rates of staff absence in the country. See the tweet below from Colin Angus, a statistician, for a helpful visualisation. As of the 31st of December, Salford Royal and Royal Bolton had the highest daily rate of Covid admissions per 100,000 in the country.
The broader picture: As the Omicron wave fanned out from the capital, it encountered hospitals that were already under greater pressure than those in London. Hospitals with smaller critical care capacity — Salford Royal, for example, has 32 critical care beds — struggle with the rate of Covid admissions wrought by Omicron. Chris Hopson, chief of NHS providers, told the FT:
"We’ve now got places that are already starting their Omicron wave with a higher caseload and two or three weeks of growth left. That could present a major problem.”
Worth remembering: Noted at the top of this report, the 1,229 figure doesn’t represent patients being treated for Covid exclusively. A proportion will be people who attended hospital for other reasons and then tested positive later. Last month, for example, The Guardian found that 20% of Covid hospital admissions were infections acquired in hospital.
Bottom line: As we reported in our Covid brief on Friday, critical care numbers remain “remarkably stable,” to quote Burnham. So, while numbers are higher than last year, that's not to say the individual cases are more severe. Indeed, last January, while we had fewer cases, there were twice as many in critical care.
Case rates: The case rate for Greater Manchester has fallen slightly. The GM rate is 2,064.3, down 1.1% in a week compared to England’s 1,716.5, up 5.8%. Wigan has the highest infection rates in GM, about 3,000. Manchester has the lowest, around the 2,000-mark. See our dashboard below.
Hospitalisations: The number of Covid-19 cases in critical care beds has remained stable over the past three weeks, hovering around the 55-mark. But it's worth remembering it often takes time for a Covid-19 patient to deteriorate to the point that they need critical care, and in the same three-week period, non-critical care cases have increased almost three-fold, with the latest numbers showing 1,020 cases. As of 3rd January, there were 392 hospital admissions for Covid-19, with 778 in-patient diagnoses.
Vaccinations: As of the 3rd of January, 52% of adults in GM have had a booster jab. Amongst the over 70s, 96% have had one shot, 94% have had two and 85% have been boosted.
Home of the week
This exquisite 3-bedroom house in Rochdale dates from 1850 and comes with wood-panelled rooms and beamed ceilings. It’s on the market for offers over £400,000.
Other local news in brief
The new advertising screens which have popped up around Manchester have been found to use the same amount of electricity as three households, The Guardian reports. The majority of the screens replace backlit paper displays that had been in the city since the 1990s. Each of the 86 screens use 11,501kWh of electricity every year. Read more.
Eight men who say they were abused by paedophile Barry Bennell have lost their High Court fight after the judge ruled against them. Mr Bennell was a scout for Manchester City during the mid-1970s. The eight men, now aged in their 40s and 50s, argued the relationship between Mr Bennell and the club was “one of employment or one akin to employment”. It was deemed that the club cannot be held responsible for the abuse the men suffered. Read more.
School bus services across Greater Manchester face disruption today as planned strike action begins by bus company First Manchester. The strike at the Oldham depot will last until Tuesday and will affect 28 school services and some commercial services across Manchester, Oldham Rochdale and Tameside. Read more.
A rally against the introduction of the Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone (CAZ) took place over the weekend. Starting in Stockport, around 100 motorists took part in a ‘go-slow protest’, with the convoy hitting the M60 on Sunday afternoon. CAZ is set to begin in May and is the “largest scheme of its kind” in the country. Under the plans, high-emission vehicles, though not private cars, could be charged between £7.50 and £60 a day. Read more.
Our favourite reads
‘Life in a box’ — The Sunday Times
This shocking investigation by Northern editor David Collins uncovers the treatment of a 24-year-old autistic man known as “Patient A”, who has been living inside a specially-built apartment at Cheadle Hulme Hospital since 2017. His only interactions with the outside world happen through a hatch. Since the piece was published last week, social workers have since viewed a three-bedroom house. “On the other side of the hatch is a visiting room. There, his mother sits twice a week after making the two-hour round trip, to sit on a chair and talk to her son through an eight-inch gap underneath a Perspex screen.”
Britain's master forger tells all — The Guardian
Boltonian Shaun Greenhalgh’s forgeries were so good, he fooled the auction house Christie’s and even the British Museum. This feature tells the story of how he go away with it, and what compelled him to keep deceiving people. “At the auction house, the appraiser surveyed the sketch in silence, while Greenhalgh considered his escape options should the police be called. ‘I was dead nervous,’ he recalls. ‘I’d never been anywhere like that.’ When asked where he had found the picture, he fabricated a story on the spot about a house clearance in Manchester.”
Culture wars create 'false divide' — The Telegraph
Lucy Powell, MP for Manchester Central, wants everyone to know she’s not a “North London luvvie” and she’s “not woke, but I'm not anti-woke either” in her first newspaper interview since taking on the new role. “Ms Powell said that while Boris Johnson had pledged grants to artistic and cultural institutions as part of the Government’s “levelling up” strategy, the centralised nature of the funding meant local councils had little say in how their communities were rejuvenated.”
We enjoyed this long read from our sister newsletter The Post, which sat down with Len McCluskey. “Liverpool politics has always been a kind of minefield,” says McCluskey when I ask him about what he makes of the city’s scandal, which truly broke out into the open when Anderson was arrested just over a year ago, subsequently stepping down as mayor. “I'm worried about the political situation in Liverpool,” he says, but then he turns his guns not on Anderson, but on the Labour leadership for the way the party handled the selection for Anderson’s successor.
This 2019 article takes a look at the fatalities of young men who die by drowning, and the causes behind those deaths. Though the data is “pretty ropey,” research found that the fatality rate for young men who go missing after a night out is about 90%. “In Manchester, there were so many cases of people falling into the canal that local residents became concerned a serial killer was at large. However the rumours have been repeatedly denied by those in law enforcement who have found no evidence of foul play. Most of the deaths were simply accidents.”
Photo of the week
A city nightscape filled with lights. Photo: Dani Cole.
Our to do list
🎧 Podcast | Our latest episode of 2022 dropped last week. It’s about our weekend read, and writer Jack Walton jumped into the hot seat with presenter Darryl Morris to chat about the story. Listen on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.
🖼 Exhibition | Gallery The Modernist is showing “Constructing Views”, a show featuring the work of Daniel Hopkinson, who has spent 20 years photographing Manchester’s architecture. 58 Port Street, Manchester M1 2EQ. Information here.
🤣 Comedy | This evening The Font in Chorlton is hosting a monthly stand-up comedy event, presented by Just Fair Laughs. Resident MC Tony Vino will be leading the way. Book here.
🏃♀️ Running | Outdoor group Never Stop Manchester will be meeting tomorrow evening at Chorlton Water Park for a 4-6 mile trail run. They say the run will be at a “social pace.” If that sounds like your thing, please book here.
🎨 Drawing | Experienced and novice artists are invited to come along to a relaxed arty social on Wednesday. It’s a night of life drawing at Lloyd House, and pencils and paper are provided. Book here.
📚 Books | Join Beth Underdown, who is a lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Manchester, for the launch of her latest novel The Key in the Lock. She’ll be in conversation this Thursday at Blackwell’s Bookshop with writer Kate Feld. Book here.
Book of the week: Northerners by Brian Groom
Brian Groom is a writer and an ex-editor for the Financial Times. His new book Northerners: A History, From the Ice Age to the Present Day takes a look at 180 million years of northern England’s history, and the lives of its denizens. It looks like a fascinating read. It’s not due out until April, but you can pre-order using the link below.
The definitive history of the North of England as told through the lives of its inhabitants. A work of unrivalled scale and ambition, Northerners is the defining biography of northern England.
You can pre-order Northerners here.
Letters to the editor
Another delightful entry in The Mill's series on literary figures (‘Manchester is hell’) who were somewhat miserable in Manchester. There's a Sebald book on my bedside table, I'm only a couple of chapters in and I was completely ignorant of his connection to the city. Poppy, Manchester
Such an evocative article (‘Come to fight, stay to grow’). I remember a similar experience at the boxing gym attached to Stockport College. (I wrote about it in my book Seconds Out, about chess boxing which combines both activities). Eric’s comment also reminds me of a colleague at the Manchester Business School. In his course on presentation skills he would say in tones rather like Eric’s: “The key is emphasis… emphasis… emphasis…" Each repetition with heavy stress on the first syllable. Tudor, Stockport