Archive for December, 2020

More coronavirus restrictions

Monday, December 21st, 2020

The Prime Minister’s announcement of more restrictive measures in response to the new variant of the virus certainly upset the enjoyment of watching Bill Bailey win Strictly. In essence, the new variant, which has been found predominantly in the South-East, is around 70% more transmissible than the previous version, leading to an increase of 0.4 in the R rate. The bottom line is that Tier 3 restrictions in these areas were not resulting in reductions in the infection rate. Indeed, Dr Richard Harling observed last week that the previous assumption that Tier 1 countermeasures resulted in increases, Tier 2 held it steady, and Tier 3 reduced it, were no longer valid. 

Although there is no change to our Tier 3 level in Staffordshire, we are of course included in the reduction in the “Christmas Window”, which will now only be open for Christmas Day, rather than the five days previously planned. I know that this will be bitterly disappointing for those of you who may have made plans to spend the Christmas period with friends and family, but a smaller Christmas really is a safer Christmas this year.

There is no indication yet that the new variant has reached Staffordshire or the Midlands, but the medical evidence suggests that it is detected by the current testing regime, and that it is no more serious an illness than the original version.  I am sure that urgent work is being done to confirm that the various vaccines will continue to be effective against this variant of the virus. 

Meanwhile, the vaccination programme is underway in Staffordshire, and the welcome news is that we appear to be ahead of other regions in terms of vaccinating people.  The first Interim Operating Capability (IOC) – if you will forgive a military planning term – is focused on the difficult-to-handle Pfizer vaccine and targeted at the most at-risk people in our communities – the elderly, care homes residents and health and care workers.  This will, in the New Year, switch to a Full Operating Capability (FOC) when the vaccine can be rolled out to the wider population, making best use of the easier-to-manage AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines which we expect to be certified for public use by the end of the year.   

I hope that you and your families enjoy a relaxing and healthy Christmas.    

The latest on coronavirus

Monday, December 14th, 2020

The coronavirus infection rate continues to drop across Staffordshire, which is encouraging. But as Dr Richard Harling explained to me, isolated outbreaks have a disproportionate effect on statistics the lower the overall infection level. With 825 incidents currently open and being tracked, we are focusing our Lateral Flow Testing (LFT) on the 25 high risk hotspots, where we can have the maximum effect. You will hopefully have seen the successful deployment to Keele University to help their students return home safely.  

In the past few weeks, I’ve shared my thoughts on the continued improvement of our local Test and Trace programme, from how we use data to target local hotspots right through to support and enforcement where people test positive. We now have confirmation that Staffordshire has been selected for the Government’s Community Testing Programme which will see us prioritised within the supply chain for rapid tests and given assistance to develop our programme further. We have recruited, trained, and deployed 63 new rapid testers so far with another 27 in training; it’s a remarkable achievement and we will use the opportunity to the fullest extent that we can.  

The other major activity in the Covid response this week is the start of the Vaccination Programme, and I can certainly understand Matt Hancock’s emotion on camera when he was being interviewed. This is, almost certainly, our ticket out of this emergency, and will be the most important thing that we do in the next six months. We are working with the NHS to support the programme. At the moment, the focus is on the limited supply of the Pfizer vaccine, which requires a carefully managed “pull” supply chain. We are preparing for the greater supply of the easier to handle Oxford vaccine, among others, which will allow a “push” supply chain focused on maximising delivery through trusted places like Staffordshire GP surgeries and pharmacies. 

I will finish this week with something I found uplifting when I was walking in the dark on Friday morning to collect my newspaper.  A minibus taxi was collecting a boy in a wheelchair to take him to school.  Nothing exceptional at all in that observation, but the joy on the boy’s face at going to school, laughing and clapping, along with the happiness on his mother’s and the taxi driver’s faces, made my morning.  We arrange all of those services in Staffordshire County Council, and, while we focus on outcomes and budgets, it’s sometimes worth reminding ourselves why we’re doing this.  I hope you have a good week.    

COVID-19 vaccination and WeTalk

Monday, December 7th, 2020

The main headline this week, after the disappointment of being placed in Tier 3 at the end of the national lockdown, is that the COVID-19 vaccination programme will start to roll out across the country from tomorrow (8 December). This is good news, especially for the most vulnerable in our communities, but it presents a significant logistical challenge for the NHS. To begin with, the hub in Staffordshire is at the Royal Stoke hospital and we expect limited supplies of the Pfizer vaccine, which requires special temperature-controlled handing. As more and more vaccination centres come online in the coming weeks and months, I’m keen that we do everything that we can to help with the programme. Nevertheless, it will be some time before the vaccine becomes available to the public at large, so we will not take the foot off the pedal on our outbreak control work and we will continue to encourage residents and businesses to follow the COVID-19 guidelines.

We are continuing to see a drop in Staffordshire’s infection rate, now below 200 per 100,000 across the county. This is an excellent result, given the rate was well above 400 only just over two weeks ago.  Stoke’s rate remains the highest in the West Midlands despite all of the efforts of the City Council, and we remain in close cooperation with them on all major aspects of the response, such as Lateral Flow Testing (LFT) and support to children in receipt of free school meals. 

Another area of development this week is the County Council leading the effort to get Keele University students home safely for Christmas through the use of Lateral Flow Testing (LFT).  Our programme rolling out LFT is developing as we learn by doing, as well as from others’ experience.  

As we approach the end of a very unusual year, can I also give a slight push for WeTalk, our programme to have better conversations between colleagues, about performance, but also more widely about wellbeing, expectations, aspirations and just generally having a conversation. What better time than the run-up to Christmas and the reflections that accompany the end of the year to have a catch-up with members of your team?  If you need a brush-up on the techniques and tools, the video which we made is a good start, as is the WeTalk intranet page which contains all the details.  After a year like this, we’ve all got lots to catch up on, and this year we won’t have the informality of the Christmas party to tell the boss what you really wanted to say!