The Director of Public Services (Director of PS) introduced the report to the Panel, highlighting updates relating to the Council’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The Panel noted the report and key developments. It was recognised that there had been further updates since the report was published, and that plans had been adjusted to manage a second wave of the outbreak in the coming months. The Panel understood that as part of the preparatory work going forward, the Council had revised its strategy to include community cohesion. It was noted that initiatives in place to keep local schools open were also being reviewed.
The Panel was advised by the Director of PS that Lewisham undertook a four-day exercise with its south-east London partners to test its strategic response to the outbreak across borough boundaries. It was noted that the outcome from that exercise comprised of 15 key learning points, which the Council had built into its preparatory plans. It was confirmed that testing outbreak plans had been implemented by the Council, and that front-line staff would continue to receive assistance in regard to coaching and first-aid, and support they might require to help manage their mental health and general wellbeing.
The Panel asked questions about care homes, and suggested that the data metrics in regards of the impact of Covid-19 should be expanded. Questions relating to infection rates and deaths, testing, and finances were also raised by the Panel, including concerns about the disproportionate level of impact of the outbreak on the Black and Ethnic Minority (BAME) group. The Panel further enquired about lessons learnt during the first round of the crisis outbreak, as they could be applied in the second wave into the future if considered appropriate. Officers responded to the issues as follows:
1. Care Homes
The Director of PS gave an assurance to the Panel that the Council was closely monitoring the application of processes and procedures in care homes. The level of concern specific to the outbreak continue to remain because of complexity in managing within a care home setting. Notwithstanding that, liaisons between the Council and its partners in hospitals were ongoing, and there were appropriate guidelines for managing discharges relating to Covid-19 patients into care homes.
2. Data Reporting
The Panel noted a suggestion by the Chief Executive that it would be effective for officers to continue presenting data metrics which the Council was already collecting for a consistent approach in monitoring trends relating to the Covid-19 outbreak.
3. Testing & Infections
The Director of PS advised the Panel that capacity in the lab system had improved, and the number of tests performed were increasing. However, the expectation across London was that infection rates would increase during the second wave of the outbreak, and the trend would be partly the result of increased capacity in the lab system, resulting in more tests being performed than at the start of the outbreak.
The Panel was advised by the Director of PS that there had been concerns that testing data was inaccurate because the results were only effective at the point taken, with no guarantee that individuals considered negative would not be infected minutes after a test reading result. Thus, in order to help minimise infection rates, the message from the Council was that residents should get tested if they become symptomatic and, in the event of a positive result, they should self-isolate for 14 days.
The Panel also noted information by the Chief Executive that plans were underway to implement 36 local operational testing sites across 25 boroughs in London by the middle of October 2020, with a view to increase the total number to 75 by November 2020.
The Director of PS advised the Panel that the Office of National Statistics might hold a slightly different data on deaths across London. However, there had been no deaths in the local population of Lewisham as a result of Covid-19 since July 2020 until last Friday, when 2 were reported, bringing the total to 264 since the start of the outbreak.
The Chief Executive advised the Panel that the Council had financial pressures, and was experiencing difficulties in setting its budget for the next financial year. In particular, the Government had not been explicit about further financial support at the point in time. Thus, it was difficult to assess how much the second wave of the outbreak would cost the Council in comparison to the first. Similarly, it was impractical to forecast what the overall costs for Covid-19 would be in light of a prediction that the second wave would be flatter, but longer, other than to state that the current funding gap across London of £1.4m directly as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak would likely increase.
In light of the financial uncertainties, the Panel was advised that Lewisham was modelling the potential cost of the outbreak based on activities undertaken during the first wave, including those relating to loss in revenues. The Chief Executive stated that the modelling approach would enable the Council to lobby for finances and prioritise services according to available funds. She also confirmed to the Panel that the Council would continue to send monthly returns of its activities that were directly related to Covid-19 outbreak to the Government.
6. Impact on BAME Group
The Director of PS stated that in relation to the disproportionate impact of the outbreak on the BAME community, the council was utilising its communication campaign to convey messages to the local population about the necessary measures in place, and how to protect against Covid-19. It was stated as part of the initiative, the Council had recruited community champions, and invited local councillors to join in spreading the messages to residents.
The Director of PS also gave an assurance to the Panel that equality consideration was integral to the Council’s planning arrangements. Thus, steps had been taken to review risks assessment plans, to enable the Council to apply the right measures to prevent staff from exposing themselves to unnecessary risks in the workplace.
7. Lessons Learnt
The Director of PS advised the Panel as follows:
(a) Lewisham Local
That the Council continue to remain reactive in delivering to its residents. Thus, in light of the increase in infection rates, the Council was considering re-implementation of the shielding initiative which it had applied during the first wave of the outbreak, up to the end of August 2020.
The Panel was advised that in an effort to prevent delays experienced during the first wave in regards to communication arrangements, particularly around re-opening of hospitality premises over the summer months, the Council had organised a team to proactively relay local and national messages in the community. It was stated that the team was meeting on a daily basis to ensure currency in the information they were conveying to residents.
(c) Volunteering Scheme
The Panel was advised that it was difficult for the Council to organise service delivery and support during the first wave. Thus, it had changed from the volunteering scheme it previously implemented to the deployment of staff to deliver in areas previously allocated to volunteers.
(d) Information Technology (IT)
The Panel was advised that to further minimise risks of infections during the second wave, a substantial number of staff had been equipped with IT systems to enable them to work directly from home. Thus, footfall into the Council’s offices had been substantially decreased, except for those delivering critical services and/or required attendance in exceptional circumstances.
The Panel also noted a summary from statements to the appendix to the report by the Assistant Chief Executive in relation to proposals for hybrid meetings in light of the current pandemic. It was stated that there had been progress since the report was published, however, the issues were examples of how the Council would manage if the proposals were endorsed for implementation.
RESOLVED: that the report be noted.