From food shortages to medical supplies - how coronavirus is being tackled by Northamptonshire County Council

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The coronavirus outbreak has already had a massive impact on our lives, and that impact could grow further.

But Northamptonshire County Council’s latest full council meeting went ahead as usual on Thursday (March 19), though was cut shorter and focused mostly on how the authority was tackling the crisis.

In the absence of chief executive Theresa Grant from the meeting, deputy chief executive Anna Earnshaw took questions from councillors.

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From food and medicine supplies to equipment for care homes and social workers, plenty of bases were covered.

Northamptonshire County Council is stepping up its plans to tackle the coronavirus outbreakNorthamptonshire County Council is stepping up its plans to tackle the coronavirus outbreak
Northamptonshire County Council is stepping up its plans to tackle the coronavirus outbreak | jpimedia

The Local Democracy Reporting Service was present at the meeting, and here is a summary of the topics covered and the responses given.

The county council has set up a strategic command centre to deal with the crisis. What is the strategic command centre and what is it doing?

The strategic command centre is run out of Francis Crick house at the moment and this comes all the way down from COBRA. The people who represent us in the strategic command centre are the CEO – which is me at the moment – and Theresa when she returns. To give you an example there’s a capacity and transfer group which deals with people coming out of hospital, where we place them, how we secure beds for them and how we secure beds in the community if we need to move people around. There’s an intelligence hub which is getting the latest scientific data that comes in and is then disseminated to groups. There’s also a logistics group looking at how we get equipment out to the community. It has all the chief executives sitting on it as well as health partners, representatives from emergency services and the army.

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Supermarket shelves are looking threadbare as people start to bulk buy. So how can the county council tackle any shortage of food supply?

We are in touch with all supermarkets on how we will secure food supply. One of the things we know that is causing concern is people stockpiling baby formula, and we need to make sure we secure a supply that we can then redistribute so that everyone can get some and children are safe. The supermarkets and their warehouses are connected into this community resilience hub that we’ve set up. As well as what’s going into the supermarkets we have our own suppliers to go out and deliver to people.

This week Oak Lodge care home in Duston reported that its usual food supply had been significantly reduced. So how can care homes ask for help if they are running short on supplies?

There’s now a national supply helpline which all residential homes will get details of, and if anyone has a disruption in supply they can contact it and they will then nationally facilitate making sure those supplies come out and that nobody is unable to get those things. We spoke to the Secretary of State as a group of CEOs earlier in the week and that was one of things he was very hot on making sure happens, because without them our first line of defence will drop very quickly.

What about supplies to food banks?

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Food banks are one of the critical areas in the community resilience hub. Ironically the supermarkets stopping people taking more than so many items is also stopping food banks being full because normally people might buy two or three of something and eventually the third goes to the food banks. Food banks are one of the top supplier items for our distribution and logistics.

How will homeless people be protected during the coronavirus outbreak?

There’s specific function planning around homeless and what we’re doing is securing places and keeping night-shelters open that would normally close. All the districts and boroughs are identifying locations where homeless people can be taken, and we need places in particular if they become ill.

Are hotels going to be utilised for additional care facilities or accommodation for workers?

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Work has already been done on this. Our university has stepped up really strongly on this and have offered up 400 rooms in the brand new halls of residence that we will be tapping into to use for that sort of thing. The army had already done an exercise about which hotels might be good ones to use because they are in the right place in terms of transport and supply, so that is being worked on.

Will care providers get appropriate equipment?

As of Wednesday it was confirmed that every single CQC registered organisation would receive some stock equipment including facemasks, aprons and other equipment that people need. They will all be given a national incident number and email address they can contact if they are not getting supplied. They believe by next Tuesday we should have a rollout to every single registered provider. If they are registered they will get a supply.

How will the county council be helping those who have underlying health issues?

The government is suggesting that county councils will get a set of information that identifies every single resident in the county who is considered as having an underlying health condition. That will then allow us to proactively call out and check that they are OK and see if they want anything. This is a big logistics thing and the army will be helping with that.

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I would imagine judging by the data I heard yesterday, many people will be identified on this vulnerable people’s list. We will secure our supply and then make sure we can get food and medication to those people. Some people will initially say they don’t want any help, but in two weeks time may find they don’t know what to do and so we need to prepare for the long haul part of that.

Some people will be able to go out and shop and the shops will start to fill up again, but we will secure supplies to distribute to people who can’t.

Is the county considering bringing social workers back into the system that are no longer registered?

They only put the bill through parliament yesterday that relaxed all the requirements about registrations and people being currently qualified. We will be working with HR about how we not only bring those people back on board, but more widely if people do general things like taking calls. We’re working with HR with that and once we’ve read through the guidance on what they expect from us we’ll be mobilising that piece of work.

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This week the county council said it would be standing down ‘lower priority services’. So what services does this encompass?

All of our services will be ranked tier one down to five. One being life preserving services, and five being general information. So for example tourism, not that I’m underplaying that but right now it’s not something that we’d be doing. Every single service director has categorised those. We’ll be able to show which ones have been switched off or temporarily suspended and then that will be communicated out so that people understand what we are doing. As we suspend, we are recording every single decision so that there’s a whole log of those things.

How will the county council be communicating and keeping people informed?

I accept completely that people are feeling there’s a bit of a vacuum because they’re not hearing enough. We have bumped up the communications team so that we can have direct communications to members about what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and what we need from councillors.

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We are setting up a community resilience hub where the county council acts as the central hub across all the district and boroughs and on behalf of all partners in terms of a single website where people will be able to register their support or ask for support or help as well as a contact centre. From that hub we will be coordinating everything in terms of general contacts, asking if people are OK and well, asking if they need help or supplies of food or medication. We’re working with the army and all of the voluntary sector groups in terms of how we’re going to do this.

It’s very important that people feel safe with who they are contacted from, so we will need a trusted trader approach in terms of general offers of help. I accept we haven’t found the time to communicate out but that’s what’s happening.

Will the county council servers be able to support the numbers of staff who will now be working from home?

We have capacity for 3,000 staff to work remotely and as of yesterday we were working with 2,700 people logging in with no reported performance issues. We had a little bit of a slow performance between 8.30am and 9.30am when people were signing on. We’ve not had any issues with resilience problems. Some jobs you just can’t do remotely and those staff are in. If there’s any issue we can prioritise who stays on the system and who doesn’t, but as of yesterday we could go to another 400-500 people more people working within the bandwidth we’ve got.