Posts Tagged ‘coronavirus’

The coronavirus vaccines

Monday, January 11th, 2021

Coronavirus continues to cause concern, with infection rates rising across Stoke and Staffordshire. We remain mainly below the England national average, but those areas bordering the Birmingham conurbation are seeing much higher rises than areas such as the Moorlands.  This would suggest that the new variants are spreading rapidly, and the combination of lockdown measures and Test and Trace are more important than ever.

The key focus this week is on accelerating the vaccination programme.  Stoke and Staffordshire are making good progress with the Pfizer vaccine. We have vaccinated 50,900 (of 128,700) of the first four cohorts identified by the Government – over 80’s, care home residents, health and care staff and clinically vulnerable. There’s another 17,000 planned for next week.  There are some areas of excellent practice such as the Stafford Primary Care Network (PCN) setting up its vaccination operation at the County Showground, where we previously ran a food distribution operation and training for iCount volunteers. They are using the large hall and the car parks to allow for a bigger service than would be expected using one of its practices. Consequently, they have vaccinated 4,180 people since the start of the programme, which is a great achievement.

We must, however, plan beyond the current challenges with the Pfizer vaccine, owing to its numbers and complex handling, and focus on full delivery of the Oxford AZ vaccine (and now we can add the Moderna vaccine to that list in the UK). We will need to see a rise from around 1,500 vaccinations per day to well over 10,000 if we are to meet the Government’s targets.  Three factors run in our favour: the Oxford AZ vaccine is more plentiful, The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have been able to reduce the Quality Assurance (QA) process from around 20 days to fpur; and its handling requirements are the same as existing vaccines, such as flu, which means we can expand existing supply chains before creating new ones.

The key to success is for the National level of the NHS to focus on getting the vaccine into the supply chain, and to leave local delivery to those who do it as a matter of course.  We have volunteered the services of Staffordshire County Council, so, all being well, we will be asking colleagues to take part in this vitally important national effort. I’ll keep you updated as we know more.

Happy New Year

Monday, January 4th, 2021

Happy New Year to you, your family and your friends. I don’t think many people are sad to see 2020 end. The toll of the pandemic has been unrelenting, both in terms of physical illness and loss of loved ones, but also mental health. It’s not over, and with the more virulent variant now spreading across the country, we are once again in Tier 4. It will be some months before the vaccination programme allows the measures to be lifted.

In Staffordshire County Council, we have managed to maintain a balance in every area for our residents and our colleagues, whether in supporting the vulnerable, maintaining our care homes, supplying personal protective equipment (PPE), supporting our schools, and more. We will continue working closely with communities, partners and individuals.

As importantly, we will plan for the return to normality, and do everything we can to ensure that it happens as quickly as possible. There are some positive experiences and learnings to be taken from our pandemic response, and we will use this to build back better.

The first, and probably most important, task for 2021 is to accelerate the vaccination programme. Two pieces of recent news make a change to how we move forward: the certification of the Oxford AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine, and the decision to focus on the first injection, leaving the second until 3-4 months after the first, rather than the initial plan of 3 weeks. The AZ vaccine is much more plentiful than the Pfizer version and much easier to handle, as it only needs refrigeration and it can be broken down into smaller batches. The Government has set a target of the end of February for all residents to have had their first injection. That is highly ambitious, and will require a step-change in delivery.  Our task, working with NHS partners, is to achieve it.

In the meantime, please continue to look after yourselves and keep doing an excellent job.

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.    

Covid vaccine, virtual events and the US election

Monday, November 16th, 2020

I write this entry in the second weekend of the second lockdown, and in the week that we learned that a vaccine for Covid has achieved 90% effectiveness.  The Prime Minister was absolutely right to be cautious in his optimism at the news, as we remain a long way from putting coronavirus behind us.  All that said, we are a step closer to the finish, and Staffordshire County Council is closely engaged in making any vaccination programme a reality for our residents. 

Meanwhile, we are continuing to operate as we have always done, but with so many more events now virtual than before.  This week saw the excellent Dignity in Care Awards take place virtually, with attendees contributing in the chat box, rather than face to face.  I’ve mentioned this event before, in that it is unusual – possibly unique – in celebrating professional as well as voluntary carers.  It has added another string to its bow by going online.  We also had an Informal Cabinet away-day to discuss the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS), which was a hugely useful session in laying out and discussing our options for the years ahead.

Both of these events, and many others, such as the recent Practice Week for our Children’s Services, held entirely virtually, have demonstrated our ability to adapt and overcome these difficulties.  Regular readers will remember my analogy of the pendulum having swung from face to face to virtual, and that it will swing back to some degree; our task is to choose where it stops, making the best of all options.  I’ve asked the Digital Leadership Group to start to consider our preferred choices in the future. Some will return to face to face; some will offer hybrid choices; and some will remain online. Your views count – please let me, or a member of the Group, know what your thoughts are.

I couldn’t finish this entry without a mention of the elections in the United States.  I spent three years living there, and another three working in an American military environment, which taught me that the biggest mistake that Brits make with Americans is thinking that they’re Brits with funny accents.  It really is a different country, and this past fortnight has demonstrated that admirably.  I’m sure they will find a way through it, but the level of Covid infections, hospital admissions and deaths across the US must be a great concern to American public health professionals.   

Tackling coronavirus

Monday, November 9th, 2020

I’m writing this on a very unusual Remembrance Sunday, on the 4th day of the second lockdown.  Although this is a very unwelcome turn of events, it’s probably the only viable option given the rise in infection rates through October.  In Staffordshire, we have risen from below the national average to well above it, with outbreaks in a range of settings. The highest source of transmission though is in and between households – between families and friends. We continue to manage outbreaks down with our local version of Track and Trace, but there is really only one way to make a difference, and that is by changing our individual behaviour. Each and everyone one of us has the power to stop the spread of this virus by staying at home where we can, following the guidance around ‘hands, face and space’, isolating and getting tested if we have symptoms. We’ve got just under four weeks to get Staffordshire back on track.

Hopefully, the four-week lockdown will have the desired effect, but there is a real need to think beyond the New Year and work out what our long-term strategy is. One of the many differences with this lockdown is that the public are tired and stressed after eight months of Covid countermeasures, which have affected our lives and livelihoods.  Thankfully, in Staffordshire, we have always treated our residents with respect and trusted in their common sense.  This puts us in a better place in terms of maintaining the consensus that is required to get through what is already shaping up to be a difficult winter.   

What this means for us as colleagues in Staffordshire County Council is that we remain focussed on doing the best for our residents, while looking out for each other and ensuring that we remain well.  We will continue to work hard when we have to, but also take time to relax and decompress when we can.   

Coronavirus and Dignity in Care Awards

Monday, October 26th, 2020

The theme this week, in the Covid outbreak, is one of rising infection levels across the country; Staffordshire is not immune in this respect.  Stoke has moved into High Alert or Tier 2 on Friday.  In Staffordshire, infection levels are mostly lower, but nonetheless rising, and on the current trajectory it will be a question of when, rather than if, the county moves into High Alert too.  My aim, along with the whole of the county council, is to manage this transition in a planned manner, firstly through our ongoing discussions with government but more importantly by working with residents and partner organisations across the public and private sectors, to ensure that we strike the balance between control measures and keeping Staffordshire businesses and schools operating as well as is possible. 

Local test and trace arrangements are working well, which is the result of a great deal of detailed work by county council and NHS colleagues, but, we must remind ourselves that any test and trace effort contains the spread after infection has happened; as infection levels rise, the focus moves onto personal behaviours of hygiene, space and face coverings, which will have the greatest preventative effect on the spread of the virus.  Having made a great effort in the first wave to treat Staffordshire residents with respect and trust in their common sense, the fastest route out of Tier 2, if and when it happens, is for these efforts to be redoubled.

Adult Social Care providers bore the brunt of the first outbreak, and it was good this week to have an opportunity to speak to the care providers at one of their regular meetings with Health and Care colleagues.  My main messages were to says thanks, well done, and we will be with you in exactly the same way in the winter ahead.  We had some pretty dire predictions of infection levels and staff illness and absence in March and early April, which did not come to pass, principally because they and our colleagues put in some very targeted and effective measures which kept the show on the road; we are doing the same again to ensure that the winter passes safely. The virtual event worked well, with well over 150 attendees, which gives an indication of the size and complexity of the effort. 

I’m also delighted that we are continuing with the Dignity in Care Awards this year, also in a virtual format.  This is an excellent opportunity to recognise the efforts of carers across Staffordshire.  It is, I think, a unique enterprise, in that it gives equal attention to professional and voluntary carers, which, in my opinion is very important.  As we recover from the Covid pandemic, there is an opportunity to build upon the raised profile that care has as a profession and activity; events such as the Dignity in Care Awards offer a real platform to achieve that.    

Meeting teams, delivering for Staffordshire and MJ Awards

Monday, October 5th, 2020

I spent part of last week attending team meetings, either in person or using Microsoft Teams, and I thought that some of you might be interested in some feedback.  Firstly, I’m very grateful to the teams who were very welcoming, and allowed me to take about 20 minutes of their collaborative time.  I was hugely impressed and reassured by the robust morale which I perceived, and the upbeat nature of the conversations.  We are all working very hard, and many of us are struggling to find the boundaries between work and leisure – myself included – but there’s no doubt from the colleagues with whom I spoke, that we are all well aware of the importance of the work that we are doing, and of the positive results that we are achieving for the residents of Staffordshire. There is, however, a realisation that we’ve got another 6 months of this at least, and although some factors will be less pressing, because we’ve mastered them in the past 6 months, it will also be through a winter when we will undoubtedly have a flu season, and it will be getting colder and darker.

This morning SLT will discuss a paper on the piece of work that I trailed last week about moving capacity within the organisation to bolster those areas which are under increased pressure, rather like we did with the #iCount campaign in April.  It is a more deliberate, considered approach this time around, because of what we have learned, but also because we will be tackling this while all of our services are up and running.  I’m clear that all options are on the table in terms of increasing capacity where it is needed, including bringing in extra staff, and also taking some more risk by reducing in some carefully selected areas.  I’ll keep you posted on how this work progresses, and I would ask that you have a look at what is available under the #DoIt campaign, but hopefully you are reassured that I am completely focused on this as we enter winter.

Lastly, I’m delighted that we got three teams into the MJ Achievement Awards on Friday.  Sadly, I did not see it as I was with Gavin Williamson MP at the time.  Even more sadly, we did not manage to pick up any winners.  Whether in a normal year, where we would have had a face-to-face interview board, at which they could have seen the enthusiasm and the substance behind our entries, we would have done better, I couldn’t say.  But I am sure that the 3 teams – Provider Improvement Management Team in Adult Social Care, Staffordshire Warmer Homes in Public Health, and Highways – are representative of many excellent teams producing tangible results.  Without wishing to sound like a proud parent at a primary school sports day, you’re all winners!

Reaction to last week’s blog, and the introduction of We Talk

Monday, September 28th, 2020

I’m very grateful for the responses to last week’s blog entry, where I talked about how we are going to get through the next 6 months successfully.  You might also have seen the video which I did for The Knot on the same subject, following the Prime Minister’s announcements earlier in the week.  It seems that the message that we need to pace ourselves, working hard when we need to and taking leave when we can, looking out for each other and offering support when it is needed, struck a chord with many of you.  I’m going to be attending a number of team meetings, physically and virtually, over the coming weeks to listen to colleagues as well as to get my own feel for how the organisation is doing.  If you would like me to attend your meeting, please let me know. 

This coming week also sees the introduction of We Talk, the replacement for the My Performance Conversation (MPC).  I’ve mentioned it before, and it links strongly to the point above.  We Talk is our new approach to performance development, but it’s more than that, and in many ways, it’s a lot simpler as well.  It’s all about having good and meaningful conversations – conversations that build strong relationships, boost wellbeing and promote a positive working environment to deliver The Staffordshire Vision.  It reflects our values of an ambitious, courageous and empowered organisation.  If you can find a minute or two, there’s some really good material on the intranet, iLearn and iManage to help colleagues get to grips with the approach.  But my biggest ask is that we don’t over-complicate this; honest two-way conversations are what we’re looking for.  It’s as important for leaders to learn what their colleagues want from them, as it is for the led to learn what the leaders want. 

Planning for a probably second wave

Monday, September 21st, 2020

It won’t have escaped anybody’s attention that COVID infection rates are rising across the country, and in Staffordshire. We’re not in the formal level of government intervention, like our colleagues in Birmingham, Solihull and Sandwell, and in an increasing number of other urban centres across the North and Midlands, but it is a concerning situation. We heard a pretty stark warning from the Government’s chief scientific adviser this morning about the rise in case numbers, and the need for swift action to curb it. We need to get ready for what is likely to be a difficult winter.

I raise this, as we haven’t really had a period of respite since the onset of the initial outbreak in March. No sooner had the initial wave passed, than we got stuck into recovery planning, reopening society and the economy and getting our schools reopen. We now have to plan for a probable second wave, and all that entails, before we have a functioning vaccine which will, hopefully, put Covid-19 in the same place as other illnesses and diseases such as winter flu.

It is often said that unpleasant experiences are marathons, not sprints, but, in this case, that is a simplification – we won’t be running at the same rate at all times in the coming months. If there is a better athletic simile, it might be that it is more like a relay race.  There will be difficult days when we are working flat out, when we will need the support of friends, loved ones and colleagues. We’re used to that, and we’ve got a string of achievements behind us, of which we can be rightly proud. But there will also be days, or periods of days, when the pressure is off, and we have to learn to switch off when we can. If you will forgive me for drawing from my experience leading on military operations, one of the tricks to getting through is not to feel guilty about relaxing when the opportunity arises. The other aspect of a relay is that it requires teamwork; you must look out for your colleagues and friends, make time for yourselves, and take leave when you can.

I’ll admit that I’m not especially good at this – I find it hard to disengage – but I work at it, and will have to work at it harder in the coming weeks and months, because, like many colleagues, I’m tired, but we have to keep going. Let’s work on this together.

Covid-19, and inspiring trust and confidence

Monday, September 14th, 2020

I couldn’t start off this week’s blog without a mention of the rising infection rate of Covid across the country, and particularly in Birmingham, Sandwell and Solihull, where they will enter into a form of local lockdown on Tuesday.  Our rate of infection is also rising in Staffordshire, and it is imperative that residents follow the national guidance of measures to avoid transmission of the virus; it’s the only viable method of saving us from falling into another lockdown.  With schools returning and the economy showing signs of recovery, we simply must get this right.

The failure of the national Test and Trace programme has been covered widely in the media; the result of the lack of laboratory capacity nationally has resulted in testing teams locally standing idle while residents are being offered tests in Aberdeen and other far flung places.  Rather than join the chorus of complaint shouting from the side-lines, we have done what we have done previously with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), delivering food parcels and mobilising volunteers – we’ve produced our own solution.  Working with Stoke City Council, we will be forming up a local testing operation in Stoke, Burton and Stafford this week.  It’s a pilot at the moment, quite small in nature, but we will learn lessons from it and expand. Doing something in these circumstances always beats just talking about it.      

I hope that you will forgive me being a little reflective on leadership in this blog entry.  There are over 600 colleagues across the council who have a line management responsibility and every one of us experiences leadership in some way in our day to day. In my limited forays into social media – I only use LinkedIn – I’ve been struck by the conversations among leaders about being trusted, and it has set me thinking about this subject as we get used to how we are going to work in the future, the “New Normal”.  Having now led at senior levels in 2 very different sectors, I’m firmly of the belief that trust and confidence are relationships, like so much in life, rather than one-way qualities.  If I want my colleagues to trust me as a leader, I first have to trust them in their professional roles, and if I want them to be more confident, I first have to demonstrate confidence in them.  It’s a pretty simple theory to describe, but much harder to implement, particularly when you’re under pressure, where the tendency is to micromanage.  It’s going to be even harder as we evolve into the New Normal, as the old certainties of seeing somebody at work every day to reassure yourself that they’re doing the right things will reduce, and we will have to find new ways of establishing and maintaining those trust and confidence relationships.  If you are a line manager and haven’t yet looked at the learning and development support available as part of the new iManage programme, can I ask that you take some time to look at it?  I’d love to hear your ideas on how you achieve that trust and confidence relationship with your teams.