Exclusive: Concern over delay of additional Covid support
Government plans to offer tailored support to local communities where Covid transmission is stubbornly high appear to have been delayed as public health directors urge ministers to ‘seriously consider’ additional measures to tackle the outbreak infection rates.
Meanwhile, more details have emerged on how the sustainable transmission support package will be rolled out, with local areas lining up for additional support that should be needed to bid for funding to reduce Covid transmission.
The support program, which is outlined in the government’s response to Plan B Covid unveiled last month, is designed to help with additional testing capacity, support for the vaccination program and assistance in maintaining public health personnel. About sixteen additional areas would also be reviewed for support.
Last week, Sky News reported that from October 22, four local authorities – Bolton MBC, Luton and Blackburn with Darwen BCs and Leicester City Council – would be classified as sustainable transmission areas and therefore would receive a bespoke support program. , potentially until March 2022..
But a senior health source told LGC that while the UK Health Security Agency was known to be pushing for additional funds for these areas, the report came as a “total surprise” to local government officials working. with officials from the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs.
There is speculation that an official announcement of the support plans will indicate ministers are close to moving from the current stage of Plan A. However, there are now fears that negotiations with the Treasury may delay the deployment.
Although Blackburn with Darwen is considered part of the first cohort of places lined up to receive support, he has yet to receive an official letter explaining what the process will involve.
Its director of public health, Dominic Harrison, told LGC he understands that the “main criteria” for areas will be the extent to which cases have remained above the national rate of Covid infection.
Support will be provided through an “interactive, evidence-based process of interventions to fight Covid,” he said.
“We will not receive a grant allocation, but a call for tenders,” he explained. “If we think we can do something to reduce the risk of Covid over the winter, we submit an offer and they will decide if the costs are likely to have an effect and fund it. “
Mr Harrison said his team was working on a “long list of things that we believe will help” to lower rates, and plans to “secure funding for these interventions.”
But he stressed that some of the “structural determinants” of sustainable transmission rates require “very significant investment” from departments other than DHSC and will require a long-term program.
“Part of the challenge for the government is that a lot of the problems that lead to high and sustained transmission do not lend themselves to quick and short-term solutions – they cannot be solved in six months”, a- he declared. “A high percentage of the pressures are due to 19th century terraced housing and multigenerational BME households – which have also been identified in Leicester and Bradford.
“This challenge requires significant funding for the renewal of the housing market. But of course, that’s why it’s blocked. Without structural determinants, you can provide material dealing with the consequences of risk – but not the risk itself.
“Whatever DHSC proposals have been suggested in the program, I suspect it is blocked by the Treasury trying to agree on what the financial support framework should be,” he said.
“The way they frame the offer will be critical, and that’s why it’s being delayed. It is a complex question for them and for us. “
Meanwhile, public health directors are dismayed that the government is not acting quickly enough to take other measures outlined in its Plan B strategy, such as requiring face masks in public spaces and ventilation. , to combat infection rates.
Predicting a “difficult” winter, Jim McManus, Acting President of the Association of Public Health Directors, said: “We urge the government to seriously consider and consult the exact measures and most appropriate timeframe of Plan B . We have to be careful, because blockages and complacency are extremes that we must avoid. “
A senior director told LGC: “The NHS is in real trouble, but we will need more people to die on the altar of our ideological opposition to face masks before we do anything.”
They also criticized the government for “only opening the reservation of vaccines to children after endless pressure” to do so.
Harrison said: “It wouldn’t take much at this time to bring the R level below one, due to the high levels of immunity in the population. My best bet is wearing masks, vaccine passports. and a return to the tips for working from home is worth trying imminently. “