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Families to be able to visit elderly relatives in care homes soon, Health Secretary says

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock told ITV News the government will be reopening care homes for visits again soon. 

Since mid-March, visiting in care homes has been banned keeping thousands of people away from their elderly relatives for almost four months. Leading charities have said the mental and physical health of residents is suffering due to ‘enforced separation’. 

Mr Hancock told ITV News on Thursday: “We’ve been very very careful to ensure that visitors don’t bring coronavirus back into a care home but in the next few days we will be setting out how COVID secure visiting can happen in care homes.

“How we can have more visits of loved ones in a way that is very careful and in a way that keeps care homes safe.”

He added: “I very much hope that in the next few days we’ll be able to make this change. We’ve got to make sure it works for each local area but I hope we can make that change very soon.”

During the conversation, Hancock refused to apologise for Boris Johnson’s claims that care homes were at fault for coronavirus deaths. Hancock did say that social care workers had gone to ‘extraordinary lengths’ to keep people safe throughout the pandemic. 

Hancock also appeared to suggest that he would lobby for a pay rise. 

Regarding a second wave, the Health Secretary said: “Well I very much hope there won’t be one. People talk about the second wave as if its something that is inevitable.”

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Hancock reflected on the worst moment of the pandemic saying: “The hardest time without a doubt was after we’d brought in the lockdown, when the numbers were still going up, and we knew that the impact of the lockdown would have an impact in a couple of weeks’ time but we didn’t know how much of an impact.”

The update on care home visits comes as leading charities join forces to call on the government to allow relatives of dementia patients to be treated as key workers. 

The BBC reports that Dementia UK and Alzheimer’s Society have signed a letter to the Health Secretary calling on visits to resume safely and relatives to be given ‘key worker’ access to care homes and coronavirus testing. 

During the pandemic, there have been 5,404 excess deaths, which is a 52.5% increase compared with the five-year average in people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in England and Wales, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

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Prof Martin Green, the chief executive of Care England, said a balance needed to be struck between allowing family visits and protecting care home residents from further coronavirus outbreaks.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Families are a really important part of care delivery but at the same time you have to be really, really cautious because, as people know, care homes have been really badly affected during this pandemic.

“People living in care homes are probably at the highest risk, so if there is an outbreak of Covid-19, it has serious and very tragic consequences, so I think we have to balance the need for people to engage with their relatives and families but also we have a responsibility for the protection and safety of the people in care homes.”

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Parents of toddlers will be able to apply for 15 hours of free childcare next year

The government confirmed the childcare scheme yesterday

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The date that working parents of toddlers can apply for 15 hours of free childcare per week has been set for next year.

Applications for access to the free 15 hours per week will open on January 2nd, 2024 and eligible working parents are urged to apply.

The government says this is the ‘first step’ in its ‘long-term plan to give families a brighter future’. 

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt first announced the plans back in March this year in his budget. The government has now confirmed that working parents of two-year-olds will be able to access the free childcare from April next year.

With thousands of parents expected to apply for the new scheme, ministers advise those eligible to apply between mid-January and the end of February.

Further increases to government funding rates for childcare have also been confirmed in the announcement, meaning in 2024-25 alone the government is investing over £400 million to ‘deliver a significant uplift to local authority hourly rates, to ensure enough places are available wherever they’re needed around the country’.

The Department for Education has confirmed the national average hourly rates will be £11.22 for under twos, £8.28 for two-year-olds, and £5.88 for three and four-year-olds from April – and are said to reflect the increase in National Living Wage from April 2024.

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This will be extended to working parents of all children older than nine months from September next year.

From September 2025, working parents of children under five will be entitled to 30 hours of free childcare per week.

A childminder grant – for newcomers to the profession – of £600 for those who register with Ofsted, and £1,200 for those who register with a childminder agency, has also been confirmed.

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Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said ‘parents no longer have to choose between a career and a family’.

About the childcare scheme, she said: “From April next year, eligible working parents of two-year-olds will be able to access 15 hours of government-funded childcare a week, making sure parents no longer have to choose between a career and a family, and doubling down on this government’s commitment to getting more people into work and growing the economy. 

“I know the delivery of this transformation is no easy task, which is why I am pushing ahead with increased funding rates across the country and up to £1,200 for new childminders, knocking down barriers to recruiting and retaining the talented staff that provide such wonderful care for our children.”



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‘Loveable’ Wigan man dies after being pulled from canal as family pay tribute

His family also gave their condolences to his carer’s family and thanked emergency services

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Family handout / Greater Manchester Police

The family of Aaron Ritchie who tragically died after being pulled from a canal in Wigan Borough have paid tribute to him.

Emergency services rushed to the scene at the Leeds Liverpool canal at Crank Wood, Abram at approximately 2.15pm on Tuesday, November 28th, responding to calls that two males had entered the water and had come into difficulty.

Both men, aged 49 and 60, were retrieved from the canal by specialist personnel, as part of a large emergency response, as paramedics immediately conducted CPR. 

Family handout / Greater Manchester Police

The men were rushed to hospital but despite the best efforts of medical staff, sadly, both passed away later that day.

One of the men has been identified as 49-year-old Aaron Ritchie. He has been described by his family as a ‘loveable character’. 

In a statement paying tribute to him, Aaron’s family said: “It’s come as a complete shock to us as a family surrounding the tragic accident of what happened on Tuesday afternoon. Aaron was a loveable character who made a big impression on everyone who knew him.

“Aaron had special needs and he loved the outdoor life and as long as he had his puzzles, laces and spinning tops he was happy. Aaron is surely going to be missed by us as a family.”

The family also passed on their condolences to his carer’s family and thanked emergency services for their rescue efforts.

The family added: “We would like to pass on our sincere condolences to his carer’s family and a special thank you to the emergency services who attended trying to save them.”

The 60-year-old man, Aaron’s carer, has not yet been named but police have said his next of kin have been informed. The two men’s deaths are not being treated as suspicious, police say.

Police are continuing to establish the circumstances behind their deaths, with a scene currently remaining in place in the area at the canal.

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Brookside actor Dean Sullivan who played Jimmy Corkhill has died age 68

Sad news this morning, RIP Dean

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Former Brookside star Dean Sullivan who played drug dealer Jimmy Corkhill in the soap died yesterday at the age of 68.

Sullivan confirmed he was living with prostate cancer in May after being diagnosed with the disease five years ago – though the soap legend’s cause of death has not yet been confirmed.

Sullivan was seen on-screen in June during a Brookside reunion at the British soap Awards.

He was joined on stage at the Lowry, in Salford, by former cast members Sue Jenkins and Claire Sweeney – who played Corkhill family members Lindsay and Jackie in the soap – to present the award for ‘Best Family’.

BBC Breakfast / YouTube

In a statement, Sullivan’s family said: “It is with deep sadness we must tell you that actor Dean Sullivan passed away on 29th November 2023 peacefully following a short illness.

“Dean is best remembered as the longest serving cast member of Channel 4’s groundbreaking ‘Brookside’ playing the role of ‘Jimmy Corkhill’, making Dean a British Soap icon. 

“To millions he was and very much still is remembered as ‘Jimmy’, to family and friends he was ‘Dino’. 

“Dean’s family wants to thank Arrowe Park Hospital for their unwavering and consistent support. We ask that you respect their privacy in their time of grief.”

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Created by Phil Redmond (Grangehill and Hollyoaks), Brookside was set in a real cul-de-sac on a housing estate in West Derby, Liverpool, and ran from November 1982 until November 2003. 

The last episode was filmed in September and aired two months later with Jimmy Corkhill’s face being the final one to fill the screen.

Sullivan played the role of Jimmy Corkhill for 17 years on the Merseyside soap, from 1986, and won a British Soap Award for outstanding achievement in 2003 for his portrayal.

The soap icon went on to star in BBC’s Doctors and ITV’s The Royal to add to his list of acting credits. He was scheduled to appear in a Southport production of Jack And The Beanstalk from December 7th, but pulled out on November 17th due to ‘unforeseen circumstances’.

ITV / YouTube

Sullivan was originally diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2018 and was discharged by his consultant after a year of radiotherapy treatment. He urged others to ‘listen to their bodies’, sharing his early symptoms.

He said he went to the doctor because ‘the strength of my flow when I used to go to the loo to have a pee was reduced’. On how he was diagnosed he added: “When I went back I saw a doctor who specialised in prostate treatment. 

“He gave me a quick examination and within two weeks I was at the hospital speaking to the consultant.

“If I’d have listened to the first doctor, it might have been a different story so always trust your gut – 11 times out of 10, you’re right. As with many cancers, if they are caught early, they are treatable.”

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