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Agenda item


To consider the controls being implemented to manage the strategic risk relating to pandemic infection.  


[Dr Arif Rajpura, Director of Public Health joined the meeting prior to consideration of this item].


The Committee considered a progress report outlining the individual risks identified within the Strategic Risk – Pandemic Infection, from the Council’s Strategic Risk Register.


Dr Arif Rajpura, Director of Public Health provided an overview of the sub-risk ‘Impacts on the Council's ability to deliver critical services and wider impacts on the Town’ in respect of the Covid-19 pandemic. Dr Rajpura outlined that the national message had been amplified locally, with the key role of the Council being to protect the vulnerable. He provided an overview of the provisions put in place in response to the pandemic, referencing the swift implementation of twelve Corona Kindness Community Hubs and the provision of accommodation for all homeless people within the town. The Corona Kindness Community Hubs had provided valuable support to vulnerable people in the community by delivering essential support such as food and medicines, whilst Adult Social Care had created a dedicated Provider Support and Resilience Hub to provide practical support to any social care provider requiring assistance including supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), infection control advice and urgent staffing support.


Dr Rajpura reminded the Committee that on 1 June 2020 the government had implemented phase two of the pandemic response which would include limited opening of primary schools along with some non-essential retail also opening.As the cases had declined and Blackpool moved into phase two of its response, there had been a move to the Test, Track and Isolate phase, which would be important in the Council’s efforts to contain localised outbreaks.


The Committee was informed that phase three would commence on 4 July 2020 with further restrictions being lifted on the hospitality industry. Members were assured that all changes would be kept under strict review and that if cases started to increase again then stricter measures may be re-implemented. Dr Rajpura advised that Covid-19 would likely remain for the foreseeable future and further waves of infection in the months to come were a strong possibility.


Dr Rajpura stressed that current measures had been suppressing the number of cases and deaths and Blackpool had passed the peak, with reported cases and deaths in decline.Death Data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) up to 17 April 2020 showed that Blackpool had a low death rate from Covid-19 when compared to other areas.He further reported that despite the tragic loss of life experienced across the town, its hospital care had never been overwhelmed by the number of cases and according to the reported figures up to the end of May 2020 the rates within Blackpool were close to the average for England and well below North West rates. Moving forward, Dr Rajpura explained, the Council’s role would be to regulate establishments to ensure they were adequately ‘Covid Secure’ and adhering to government guidance.


A question was raised regarding the risk scores assigned to the pandemic, with a query around whether a net score of 15 was considered robust enough for such an unprecedented event. Dr Rajpura advised that a high risk score of 25 had originally been assigned at a time when the impact of the pandemic was unknown. As the situation progressed it had become evident that the previously anticipated volume of deaths had not occurred and as hospital admissions were now in decline the risk score was felt to be appropriate.


In response to a question around the media portrayal of high levels of cases in Blackpool in comparison with other regions, Dr Rajpura advised that the number of reported cases was dependent upon the extent of testing undertaken within each area. He suggested that all areas had not been carrying out testing to the same level as Blackpool which impacted the reporting figures from these areas. Further questioning continued around the referenced figures, with a Committee Member querying why April/May 2020 data had been used when figures for June 2020 were now available, as well as suggesting that Blackpool had experienced a higher level of deaths than the averages reported for England and Lancashire. Dr Rajpura responded by assuring the Committee that the only verified figures were those issued by the ONS up to the end of May 2020 and agreed to circulate the data to all Committee Members for their information.


Further information was sought on the Test, Track and Isolate system within Blackpool. The Committee was informed that the system had been introduced approximately three weeks ago with anyone experiencing Coronavirus symptoms being asked to request a test. Once a positive test result had been received, the Test, Track and Isolate process would be initiated. Dr Rajpura explained that a three tier system had been introduced, with the majority of cases automatically being allocated to tiers two or three and dealt with at a national level. More complex cases would be escalated to tier one and dealt with locally by Public Health England and the Local Authority. Such cases would be those which required more local knowledge such as an outbreak within a school. The Committee was informed that Blackpool’s outbreak management hub had been set up and was ready for use but had not as yet been required. Clarification was sought on whether the Test, Track and Isolate system would be implemented in incidences of deaths by Coronavirus, with Dr Rajpura confirming this to be the case. In response to a question on available capacity for testing should a surge in cases be experienced, Dr Rajpura confirmed that sufficient testing capacity would be available as required.


With regards to the number of participants contributing to the Test, Track and Isolate process, the question was raised of whether large enough numbers of cases had been reported through the system. Dr Rajpura informed the Committee that 160 cases had been reported from Blackpool and that the key messages regarding the importance of maintaining good hand hygiene as well as ‘Don’t be a contact’ were being reiterated to encourage people to remain two metres apart to avoid the requirement to self-isolate if a contact tested positive. Dr Rajpura stressed that the Test, Track and Isolate system had only been implemented over recent weeks and that previously reported deaths from earlier in the pandemic would not have been included in the 160 reported cases. When questioned on why the Test, Track and Isolate system had not been introduced earlier in the pandemic as had been seen with some other Local Authorities, Mr Neil Jack, Chief Executive reiterated that the Council had been following national public health policy.


When questioned on plans for the future and preparations in place for a second wave of infection, Dr Rajpura informed the Committee that planning for winter had now become the priority with a full mechanism of delivery and oversight in place to assist in curbing the spread of any increase in infection rates, alongside the continued reiteration of key health messages. With reference to a vaccine for the virus, Dr Rajpura suggested that it could be several months before a vaccine was identified and tested but should one become available the main focus would be on the delivery of the vaccine to the vulnerable groups within the community.


The Committee questioned what the current situation within Blackpool care homes was and whether visits would now be permitted to residents. Dr Rajpura informed Committee Members that a support hub for care homes had been established and a system of daily telephone calls had been implemented to offer support and guidance as required to staff. PPE had also been provided in sufficient quantities to all care homes. Coronavirus testing of whole care homes, to include all residents and staff, had been introduced in order to identify any asymptomatic cases. Visitors would be permitted at the current time, with one visitor per resident allowed and for visits to take place outside wherever possible, although Mr Jack identified that should a second wave of infection be identified, these measures would be reviewed in order to mitigate the risk of further infection as required.


The Committee questioned whether local businesses would be in receipt of the same level of support when reopening as schools had received. Mr Jack advised that the business community would require personalised approaches dependent upon the type and size of the business but confirmed that the national guidance would be shared across businesses and additional support provided as necessary.


Mr Jack was questioned regarding whether the Covid-19 response had impacted on the Council’s ability to deliver statutory services elsewhere. Mr Jack reported that within the risk matrix, the only services which had not been fully provided were those which the government had advised not to such as some waste services and the full operation of household recycling centres. Children’s Social Care had seen a reduction in the number of face-to-face appointments and had instead been making contact via a number of alternative methods.


In response to a question on the long-term financial impact and sustainability of the Council, Mr Jack advised that a second settlement from central government was anticipated imminently and assured the Committee that the Council was not in the same fragile position as a number of other Local Authorities which relied heavily upon external sources of income. Mr Steve Thompson, Director of Resources reported that the Council was in the process of ascertaining the full cost of the Covid-19 response, both via direct costs and loss of income and also via those experienced by the Council’s Wholly Owned Companies. He advised that the Council had prudently carried forward earmarked reserves in the region of £47 million from the previous financial year and anticipated that much of these would be required in recovering from the impact of the pandemic.







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