Posts Tagged ‘coronavirus’

Stepping up to help our most vulnerable

Monday, March 30th, 2020

As I write this blog entry on Sunday morning, the UK death toll from Coronavirus has passed the 1000 mark; the success of the Government’s excellent concept to shield the most vulnerable 1.5 million, 22,000 of whom live in Staffordshire, will be key to keeping the final toll down.  I am not aware of any other country that has adopted this approach, but it is inspired; this is a mild illness for most people – we see the Prime Minister continuing to operate digitally in self-isolation while he recovers from it – but for others, particularly those with underlying conditions and frailty, it is deadly.  We forget that flus and colds take many people’s lives in a normal year, and the key to containing this outbreak to those levels is for those most vulnerable to be isolated from the illness until well after the peak subsides.   We estimate that there are another 130,000 Staffordshire residents who are vulnerable because of their age or conditions, but lie outside the shielded group, a proportion of whom will require our support to remain safely in their homes.  The majority of our efforts this week have been in operationalising this strategy. 

The I Count Campaign has achieved an enormous 700 of our colleagues volunteering to change roles in support of the current crisis, as well as 80 students from Staffordshire and Keele Universities.  The most immediate problem is adding capacity and capability to the adult social care workforce, particularly at the top end of the spectrum in personal care – helping people living in their own homes to wash, dress and prepare meals.  This is to avoid the metaphorical “jaws of the vice” closing on us, with increased demand as the hospitals seek to discharge more patients to care for Covid-19 sufferers, and the workforce reducing as staff contract the illness.  We have already conducted our first 2 training sessions for colleagues this week – a day for each – which demonstrates the urgency of the situation, and we will be gearing up this week to recruit, brief, train and deploy more through our in-house care provider, Nexxus Care.  If you can help, please do.

The I Care Campaign has also launched, aimed at external individuals, partners and organisations to join the Adult Social Care workforce.  We are being deliberately broad in our reach and doing our best to solve the issues surrounding this complex and ambitious scheme before they occur, but with the peak of the outbreak predicted some time in April, we need to act now, and we’ll work out any issues that we’ve missed later. 

Lastly, I’m hugely impressed by the way in which Staffordshire’s schools have “turned to” and looked after vulnerable children and the children of key workers.  We have been quite clear that every Staffordshire County Council employee is a key worker, and, although many of us can work from home, there will be some, and I include myself in that cohort, who must go to the office at least some of the time.  Managers and leaders in the County Council are limiting those to the absolute minimum, but if you are needed for essential work in your workplace, please take the necessary precautions around hand-washing and social distancing and come to the office.  We all must do our bit if we are to get through what will be a very testing time in the weeks ahead.          

Coronavirus, and International Women’s Day

Tuesday, March 10th, 2020

The coronavirus has understandably grabbed everybody’s attention this week, with more than 200 cases confirmed in the UK and 4 in Staffordshire as I write on Sunday morning. We are very much part of the Government’s strategy, which is still in the “contain” phase, but preparing for the “delay” phase, which will inevitably come. As Professor Whitty, the Government’s  Chief Medical Officer stated, we have a slim to nil chance of avoiding this becoming a widespread outbreak across the UK. We are fortunate in Staffordshire County Council in having Dr Richard Harling as our Director of Health and Care.  Richard is a cool-headed public health professional, and I listen intently to his advice. As he explains it, the aim is to delay the outbreak until the warmer weather when it will be less intense and damaging. It makes eminent sense – a summer cold is usually a sniffle compared with the full-blown chesty cough in winter. The potential issue, as with all flus and associated viral infections, is for those with underlying health conditions and the frail elderly. Richard and the Incident Management Team (IMT) are working through our strategy and tactics, and my advice is to use them as your first port of call for information – I certainly am.

More locally, we have switched the cleaning of our offices towards cleaning surfaces on a daily basis, and are ensuring that hand-washing facilities are kept hygienic and stocked. I was relieved and happy to hear that our consumption of liquid soap in the lavatories has risen markedly in recent days. There also is much that we can do across our lives to help, whether at home with our children, relatives and friends, travelling or at leisure. Until this passes, we should all be thinking consciously about what we are doing, including those things that come as second nature. I’m reminded of the public information posters from the Second World War, when the government were attempting successfully to change behaviours: one in particular, “Coughs and sneezes spread diseases,” springs to mind. Very little changes – we have faced previous issues, and, with the level-headed approach that we are taking, we’ll get through this one.    

On a more celebratory note, I am writing this blog entry on International Women’s Day. One of the undoubted strengths of Staffordshire County Council is that our workforce is 76% female.  I am reminded of an economic historian, David Landes, who wrote his seminal work “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations”, where he examined the seven leading human civilisations for reasons why they succeeded and ultimately failed. He stated that any society which excludes a proportion of its human capital is handicapping itself before it starts, and on that basis there are few dumber things to do than to do that on the basis of gender. My own experience in SCC, having spent much of my life in the Army which is 85% male, is that we get better-considered and more resilient decisions with greater diversity. I’m particularly proud that our Smart Working has been so well received across the organisation, and particularly by female colleagues.  My aspiration is that it, and other measures, result in a more empowered, confident and agile organisation, in which we see greater diversity at all levels.