Archive for February, 2021

Coronavirus vaccine, testing and volunteering

Monday, February 15th, 2021

With increasing recognition that the world will be living with Covid and variants of coronavirus for months and years to come, many of you will have contributed to the work that we have been undertaking in Staffordshire County Council on what that means for ourselves, and for our communities and businesses. We are expanding that work to include partners in the public, private and third sectors to ensure that we are all considering the implications of how we adapt and return to some form of normality. Richard Harling and I will be presenting a brief summary to the West Midlands Chief Executives and Directors of Public Health this coming Friday. Hopefully their reflections will help us to develop it further.

Meanwhile, the Vaccination Programme has continued apace with almost a quarter of a million residents in Staffordshire receiving their first dose of the vaccine. It does feel like there is light at the end of the tunnel.

We are pressing ahead with Workplace Testing for Staffordshire businesses; many of you will have experienced our own in-house version. I was tested last Wednesday, and had the (thankfully negative) result inside 30 minutes by text. We would like to see a slightly faster uptake in this programme, but there is a careful balance to be struck between compulsion and incentivisation; in Staffordshire we have consistently treated our residents with respect, and trusted in their common sense. It is likely that this is another activity that will become part of the ‘new normal’, and anything we can do to assist in our interactions with other organisations would be greatly appreciated. 

You will recall my publicising our iCount campaign at various times throughout the pandemic, asking for volunteers to assist in hospitals and call centres for contact tracing. As you know, hospital volunteers can get a Covid vaccine, which is hopefully a good incentive. I recognise that we are all tired and such requests are now so commonplace that they don’t have the effect that they had last April, but if you are able to help, please visit the Do It pages.

Feel Good Habits and Captain Sir Tom Moore

Monday, February 8th, 2021

It’s been a tough year, possibly one of the toughest many of us have ever experienced. Because of this, it’s more important than ever to look after your physical and mental health and wellbeing. To support you, we’ve launched a campaign this week called Feel Good Habits. It’s all about small, everyday things you can do to improve your health and wellbeing at work. A core part of the campaign is our first ever Microsoft Sway publication.  Please take a moment to have a look at it and perhaps contribute if you have a particular experience that you think colleagues would benefit from reading about and hearing.  

Like many active and former service personnel, I use physical exercise to moderate my stress levels.  I’ve always come back from operational deployments much fitter than I went out, and, given the parallels of the past 12 months with my previous life, this one is no different.  I’ll get back to normal at some point, I’m sure, but at the moment, I’m fitter than I’ve been for over 10 years.  Conversations with loved ones, friends and colleagues are also hugely important to me, and I try to make a little more time for each conversation than I normally would, in order to find some time to talk about something other than the business in hand.  I try to make it less about off-loading my own worries, and more about sharing what they’re doing.  I find the very activity of listening to people talking about their lives puts things in perspective. 

I could not finish this entry without mentioning Captain Sir Tom Moore, who died on Tuesday of last week.  In the words of Prince Philip (who will also turn 100 later this year) describing members of the armed services, he was an ordinary person who did extraordinary things.  Sir Tom’s optimism and belief in the human spirit is encapsulated in the title of his book, “Tomorrow Will Be a Better Day”.  I particularly liked his instructions to his family for his own funeral; “March in. March out. Move on.”  There’s probably no better set of instructions to us in dealing with what is hopefully the final phase of this pandemic – let’s get on with the vaccination programme and get on with our lives. 

Dignity in Care Awards, Covid vaccination prioritisation and our new intranet

Monday, February 1st, 2021

Our colleague, Charlotte Murphy, has been in touch to remind me that the Dignity in Care Awards are open for nominations for the 2021 round.  You will perhaps remember my plugging these awards in previous years, making the point that we are probably unique in recognising professional carers as well as volunteers.  In a year where care and carers have never had more public and media attention, this is our opportunity to say thank you to the profession of caring and to recognise those who go the extra mile.  I expect that the judging will be even harder than normal, but it’s a really nice problem to look forward to.

I was interested over the weekend at the news coverage and public reaction to Covid vaccination prioritisation, and particularly the news that council employees in other places have received their vaccinations from apparently left-over stocks.  

The UK took a risk in procuring large quantities early, and even more of a risk in launching the programme in December when the supply chains were not yet fully formed.  It very much looks like that risk is paying off, with the combination of the latest lockdown and vaccination programme reducing infection rates, hospital occupancy and deaths. 

You will recall that I have written before on the unfairness of Covid as a disease; the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, experts who understand risk better than anybody else in the world – they work out our insurance and pension rates for a living – have produced an analysis of effectiveness of the recommendations for prioritisation put forward by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).  At present, the vaccination programme is focused on preventable death – largely those in old age, of those who are clinically extremely vulnerable. I’ll let those of a curious nature read the paper, but it was interesting that a care home resident is 2,300 times more likely to die of this disease than somebody who is under 50 years old.  This is why, in Staffordshire, we are focusing our early efforts on the high-risk cohorts of elderly and those clinically vulnerable to the disease, particularly at a time when vaccine supplies are constrained.  Whilst I recognise that this is disappointing for some county council colleagues, and for other valuable front line services such as our emergency services and teachers, Staffordshire is at the head of the UK’s ambitious programme, with 143,000 of our county’s most vulnerable people vaccinated, well above the national average.  Whilst I cannot give you exact timescales, I can say with confidence that we’re doing everything we can to get as many people in the county vaccinated as soon as possible.      

Lastly in this lengthy blog entry, for which I apologise, we’ve got a new intranet coming, which will assist us in moving to the next phase of Smart Working, making all of our working lives easier.  It has built in Microsoft SharePoint, so it works alongside everything else we do in Microsoft 365.  It will be dove-tailed with our greater use of Teams, with the intranet content being relevant to all or most colleagues; information that is only relevant to certain groups of people will be stored in Teams.  We think our new intranet deserves a name.  Help us decide – vote for a name by Thursday 4 February. We’ll let you know the winning name in The Knot on that day.