NHS

Times
Theresa May’s senior aides have privately criticised the head of the NHS as Downing Street seeks to shift the blame for mounting chaos in hospitals. Key members of the prime minister’s team accused Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, of being insufficiently enthusiastic and responsive. They expressed their views in internal meetings, The Times was told. No 10 was also understood to have been irritated by “political” interventions from Mr Stevens, including the suggestion that ministers should pay for social care by abandoning free bus passes and other pensioner perks. Pressure on the government over the NHS intensified yesterday as it was revealed that three times as many people waited more than 12 hours on a trolley for a hospital bed last week

Mail
The NHS should stop spending nearly £26million a year on gluten-free food for coeliac patients, including £7 bags of pasta, a top GP said last night. James Cave said it was a scandal that doctors were having to ‘behave as grocers’. Coeliac patients, who have an auto immune disorder that makes it difficult to digest gluten, have been offered prescriptions for gluten-free products under a system dating back to the 1960s, when they were hard to find in shop
s. But Dr Cave said now that most supermarkets stock the products, and with online shopping, such a system was out of date and incredibly expensive. Writing in the British Medical Journal, he said: ‘It’s ludicrous for the NHS to be treating a food product as a drug and to require GPs and pharmacists to behave as grocers. ‘If we stopped prescribing gluten-free products tomorrow GPs would shout for joy and the NHS would stop being ripped off.

Sky News
Labour and senior medics are turning up the heat on the embattled Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt – on A&E waiting times, NHS staff shortages and social care funding. In the Commons, Labour will stage an all-day debate on a motion demanding a rescue plan for the NHS, including a commitment to a four-hour waiting time target in A&E. And in a blistering letter to Theresa May, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) – representing 33,000 doctors – claims lives are being put at risk by the crisis in the NHS and social care. The RCP says the NHS is “underfunded, under doctored and overstretched”.

Guardian
More than 2 million people had to wait more than four hours at A&E units last year, a sharp rise on the previous year, official NHS figures have shown. The latest annual data from NHS Digital shows that more people than ever before were treated at an accident and emergency unit in England last year – the first time the figure has risen above 20m – which suggests shortstaffed units are under increased pressure. In 2015-16, 20,457,805 people attended either an emergency department at an acute hospital or an urgent care centre or walk-in centre. That was about 900,000, or 4.6%, more than the previous year. The NHS experienced a surge in demand last winter, similar to the one this year which has prompted widespread claims from medical groups that the service is in crisis.

BBC News
Nurses say conditions in the NHS are the worst they have experienced, the Royal College of Nursing has said. In a separate move, 50 leading doctors have warned the prime minster in a letter that lives are being put at risk due to mounting pressures on the NHS. Charities working with elderly people said long-term solutions were needed, with a similar call from a group of Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem MPs. Health officials said they were investing more in care. The fresh calls for government action come a day after documents leaked to the BBC showed record numbers of patients are facing long waits in A&Es in England. The document compiled by regulator NHS Improvement shows this winter is proving to be the most difficult for more than a decade, with nearly a quarter of patients waiting longer than four hours in A&E last week.

ITV News
A leading medical consultant has warned patients in A&Es are being left with “absolutely no dignity” because of consecutive cuts to social care. The consultant said he would feel “absolutely horrified” if a relative was treated at his A&E, saying that cuts over the last six years have left his department “overwhelmed.” Speaking under anonymity to ITV News out of fear of reprisals, he said A&Es were suffering from a chronic shortage of beds and staff that had created “unsustainable pressure.” His comments came just days after the Red Cross described the NHS as being in a state of
“humanitarian crisis”. And he described claims by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt that patients not requiring A&E treatment were clogging up departments as “farcical”.

Labour Party

Times
Jeremy Corbyn’s attempt to relaunch his Labour leadership descended into disarray yesterday as he backtracked on a wage cap and immigration policy hours after proposing them. Trying to remodel himself as a Donald Trump-style populist from the left, Mr Corbyn suggested an assault on high salaries and tax rises for those earning more than £70,000 a year. During a morning radio interview, he backed capping the maximum salary for executives, suggesting that the limit should be somewhere between his own salary of £138,000 and £50 million. However, in a speech on Brexit in Peterborough during the afternoon, he said it was “probably better” to ensure bosses of companies with government contracts could not earn more than 20 times the pay of their junior staff.

Mail
Jeremy Corbyn’s attempt to redefine his party’s immigration policy unravelled in spectacular fashion yesterday. The Labour leader rowed back on a suggestion he would seek to reform EU free movement rules, insisting that the numbers coming into Britain were not too high. Extracts of his ‘relaunch’ speech released on Monday night had revealed he was going to say the party was no longer ‘wedded to the principle’ of free movement for EU workers. But by the time he actually delivered the address yesterday afternoon, it had been modified to say that he ‘did not rule out’ the continuation of free movement after Brexit. In a series of interviews, Mr Corbyn also made clear that he was not considering any new restrictions on the rights of migrants to move to the UK. He also indicated he would prioritise single market access over immigration curbs.

Independent
Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership relaunch descended into a “day of chaos” when he was forced into embarrassing climbdowns on both immigration and high pay. The Labour leader left some of his MPs in despair when an apparent pledge to accept the end of free movement of all EU citizens after Brexit was dumped within hours. His ‘relaunch’ speech – stating he is “not wedded to freedom of movement” – was altered, confusingly, by adding: “But I don’t want that to be misinterpreted, nor do we rule it out.” On high pay, Mr Corbyn sparked even greater confusion, when he suddenly floated – then quickly dropped – an ill-thought out proposal to impose a legal maximum salary. It was replaced by a plan for maximum pay ratios, but only at companies taking Government contracts. Any salary above £150,000 at those firms would also have to be signed off by the Cabinet Office, as those of high-earners in the public sector currently are.

Express
LABOUR was in total chaos tonight after Jeremy Corbyn was branded “totally idiotic” for his new “maximum pay” policy and said he could still back free movement on immigration after condemning it. In a completely muddled start to the new year, the Labour leader took a swipe at Premier League footballers’ salaries as he announced a policy to create a maximum pay based on a ratio of the lowest salary in a company. The proposal was mocked by one of Labour’s former advisers, including Danny Blanchflower, an ex-Bank of England monetary policy committee member, who said the scheme was “totally unworkable”.
Jeremy Corbyn’s intervention also appeared to catch senior colleagues by surprise, with one shadow cabinet minister saying he had been expressing a “personal view”.

Post Office

Morning Star
MORE than 400 Post Office staff will lose their jobs after the company announced the closure of another 37 flagship crown branches yesterday. The job losses include 127 financial specialists. The 37 closures come on top of the 62 branches earmarked for closure and franchise last year. The Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) and Unite condemned the decision, warning that further industrial action was likely. The unions accuse the government of systematically wrecking the publicly owned Post Office network through closures or transfer of operations to the private sector, including to high-street chain WH Smith. CWU general secretary Dave Ward said: “Today’s announcement comes less than three weeks after the closure of a major government consultation on the future of the Post Office and sticks two fingers up to everyone who took part in this.”

Rail strikes

Sky News
Hundreds of thousands of commuters are once again facing travel misery as staff at Southern Rail begin another series of strikes – with students warning the row is affecting their grades. Drivers from the ASLEF union are walking out today, tomorrow and on Friday as a bitter dispute over driver-only trains continues. 
Southern Rail has also warned its customers to expect “significant disruption and hardship” on Thursday, as trains across its network will be out of place because of the strikes. The company is urging passengers not to travel unless absolutely necessary, and has claimed the “utterly disproportionate” response from the unions is causing extensive damage to the economy.

France

Telegraph
Britain will not forge links with far-right Presidential candidate Marine Le Pen because the Government has a policy of not engaging with her party, the UK’s ambassador to France has said. Lord Llewellyn, who was formerly David Cameron’s chief of staff in Downing Street, told MPs that while his staff are making contact with other French presidential candidates they have no relations with the Front National leader. He told the Foreign Affairs select commit
tee: “With respect to the Front National, we have a policy of not engaging, there is a longstanding policy. That is the policy, which has been the policy for many years.” Crispin Blunt, the chairman of the committee expressed his surprise at the Government’s position as Ms Le Pen is polling in second place and will make the final round run-off in May. Mr Llewellyn said that any change in the Government’s policy would be a “matter for ministers”. It comes after accusations that Britain failed to build links with Donald Trump because he was considered an outsider for the presidency.

Express
THE UK Government won’t talk to far-right candidate Marine Le Pen prior to France’s presidential election, Britain’s top diplomat in Paris has revealed. Ed Llewellyn, Britain’s ambassador to France, this afternoon told MPs the Foreign Office has a “long-standing policy” of not engaging with Ms Le Pen’s Front National party. Opinion polls currently suggest Ms Le Pen could secure enough support to get through to a second round of voting for the French presidency in May. Lord Llewellyn, who previously served as David Cameron’s chief of staff in Downing Street before being appointed to his new role in September, revealed his embassy have made contact with rival presidential candidate Francois Fillon. But, referring to Ms Le Pen, he told the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee: “With respect to the Front National, we have a policy of not engaging. 
There’s a long-standing policy.”

Economy

Express
CONFIDENCE among businesses in the strength of the British economy since the Brexit vote is soaring, a survey revealed last night. Data from small firms found that optimism has bounced back to the highest level since the referendum vote to leave the EU last summer. The survey of more than 1,000 members of the Federation of Small Businesses showed that more felt confident about their prospects than were pessimistic. And the results were announced after another day of surging share prices on the Stock Exchange. The FTSE 100 share index last night closed at a record high for the ninth day running, breaking a record which has stood for nearly 20 years. Brexit supporters last night said upsurge in confidence showed that the legacy of the Remain campaign’s scaremongering campaign about the potential threat to the economy from voting to leave the EU was wearing off.

UKIP

Guardian
Nigel Farage and Beppe Grillo, the bombastic head of Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), plan to continue their alliance in the European parliament despite an embarrassing rupture earlier this week, according to a statement by the former Ukip leader. The move offers Farage a lifeline in Brussels, because the departure of M5S’s MEPs could have led to Ukip losing some of its funding in the European parliament. The two Eurosceptic leaders appeared to have made amends less than 24 hours after liberal members of the European parliament rejected an attempt by Grillo – who had publicly dumped Farage – to join a more powerful grouping, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE).

Another apocalypse

Star
A 500-YEAR-OLD prophecy from an Italian scholar has suddenly come true sparking fears of an imminent apocalypse. Two days of consecutive snow in Salento, Italy, is a sure sign of the end of the world according to a prophecy from the “Italian Nostradamus”. Matteo Tafuri, who lived between 1492 and 1582, warned centuries ago that two days of consecutive snow in the resort town of Salento would lead to Armageddon. He said: “Salento of palm trees and mild south wind, snowy Salento but never after the touch. Two days of snow, two flashes in the sky, I know the world ends, but I do not yearn.” Snow has blanketed some parts of southern Italy this week and some superstitious observers now believe Tafuri’s predictions will soon come true. This newest revelation comes just days after a painting of the Virgin Mary in Macedonia was spotted crying REAL tears – a spectacle which has also been linked to the end of the world.

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