Monday 26th October 2020, 1.00pm
Present: Councillor Matthew Winnington (Chair), Councillor Judith Smyth, Cllr Jeanette Smith, Councillor Suzy Horton, Stef Nientowalski (Shaping Portsmouth), Roger Batterbury (Healthwatch), Helen Atkinson (Director of Public Health), Matthew Gummerson (Strategic Lead for Intelligence, PCC), Alison Jeffery (Director of Children, Families and Education, PCC), Richard Lee (Assistant Director- Regulatory Services, PCC), Natasha Edmunds (Director of Corporate Services, PCC), Kelly Nash (Strategy Unit, PCC),
Apologies: Dr Linda Collie (Portsmouth CCG), Steve Labedz (Portsmouth Education Partnership).
- Notes of last meeting (28th September 2020)
The notes were agreed as an accurate record of the meeting.
- Local Intelligence Summary
Matthew Gummerson provided a presentation on the current data picture in Portsmouth, covering infections, deaths and emerging test and trace data.
- From this data set – 355 new infections in the previous week leading to publication date – giving a rate of 165.5/100,000.
- The infection rate in the city is higher than the rate in Southampton and Hampshire, but remains below the rate for England.
- Cases in Portsmouth are mainly among younger adults – 71% in the last 7 days were in the under 29s. Case rates are highest in areas with student accommodation (although increasing in most of the city).
- NHS pathway data has stabilised following a spike when schools went back; covid-related activity in the acute trust remains relatively low.
- The “excess deaths” data shows we are still below the average for this time of year
Helen Atkinson summarised the key messages that we continue to see the infection rate rise, although this is mainly in the younger age group. We are not yet seeing that translate into a worrying increase in infection rates amongst older people or seeing increased hospitalisations.
The Chair thanked Matthew Gummerson for the presentation.
- Director of Public Health Update
Helen Atkinson provided the following updates:
- Contact tracing – a locally supported contact tracing service will be launched on 3rd More staff are in training to ensure that the capacity can be increased as required. In this new arrangement, the National Test and Trace team will pass on the details of confirmed cases who they can’t make contact with in 24hours for the local team to follow up. The local team will only be looking at confirmed cases where the success rate for contact tracing needs to be at 80% for test and trace to be a successful strategy. The local team will also be able to offer signposting to locally available support to increase likelihood of success. It is also known that contacts are more likely to answer the phone to local numbers and engage with staff with some level of local knowledge.
- Testing sites – The site based at the University campus on Eldon Street is a walkthrough Local Testing Site and now fully operational. A site at Northarbour has also been identified for a further LTS, and work is progressing to get this up and running. The city will also have access to mobile testing units and the Testing Operations Cell is currently working with Portsmouth College to make a site available in the winter. The overall position around testing capacity and the ability to access tests had improved but there are still some waits for tests results to come back.
- Escalation framework
Helen Atkinson provided the Board with an update on the developing Escalation Framework for the city. This has now been aligned with the recently announced national tier system. Portsmouth is in the “medium” tier nationally – there are already a considerable amount of non-pharmaceutical interventions in place. National escalation movement to “high” and “very high”, are triggered by local indicators and discussions with the Joint Biosecurity Centre, Public Health England and DHSC. Each of the levels brings increased levels of regulation, based on work undertaken by SAGE in identifying evidence of reducing transmission in various settings and circumstances.
Portsmouth’s infection rates, and rates of positivity in testing, already meet the threshold to be moved to the next level, but as these rates are mainly among younger people, this has not led to escalation. The local hospital system is managing demand, and there are still low levels of community outbreaks. However, it is likely that Portsmouth will be moved on in the next few weeks to “high.” This will bring a further set of regulations for the city.
In recognition of this, officers are seeking to increase local communication messages, including to the most vulnerable. This will include sending a letter to the over 60s, setting out the situation and highlighting available support. The Covid helpline will be reinstated.
Cllr Smith asked if the escalation to Tier 2 will apply countywide – Helen Atkinson responded that the conversations take place at upper tier local authority level, and that the picture is very varied across the patch (this is similar to other places, so for example, in Surrey, Elmbridge is in Tier 2, but not the rest of the county).
- Regulatory update
Richard Lee presented an update on the regulatory position to the LOEB.
It was noted that for each of the national tiers, different regulations apply. Some additional resource is being brought in to support compliance, using government funding. This will be 4 officers, working 4pm-midnight, who will be able to engage with and provide advice to businesses on compliance issues, and also gather evidence if required to support formal enforcement activity.
In terms of powers to support the regulations, these are broadly in three categories:
- Fixed penalty notices
- Directions, requiring businesses to do various things up to and including business closure.
It is likely that activity will focus on FPNs, as what is currently being seen is relatively low-level non-compliance.
The Chair thanked Richard for his report.
- Self-isolation payment update
Natasha Edmunds provided an update on the position with the recently announced Test and Trace payments to support individuals at risk of losing income because they had been instructed to self-isolate as part of the Test and Trace programme.
Natasha reported that to be eligible, people needed to meet criteria including to have tested positive or be a close contact of someone testing positive; to be able to prove a loss of income; and to be on one of 7 benefits. Eligible applicants can apply to the scheme more than once in the event of having to self-isolate again and more than one person in a household can apply. The scheme is expected to last until 31st January and it is not currently clear if this will be extended.
In Portsmouth, there have currently been 21 successful applicants to the main scheme, but 16 have been identified as not eligible. There have been 3 successful applications to the local discretionary scheme, which the authority has been awarded £65k to support. Applications can be made through the PCC website or in an assisted way through the city helpdesk, to ensure there is no risk of digital exclusion.
Cllr Smith expressed a view that the £65k seemed insufficient for the discretionary scheme and asked if this was likely to be increased. Natasha Edmunds confirmed that this is a concern and that authorities are lobbying DHSC for more funding. Natasha also confirmed that the same criteria are applied for the discretionary scheme as for HB/CTB.
Cllr Smyth asked if the scheme takes into account number of dependents, and Natasha confirmed that this is not the case for the main scheme, but is the case in the discretionary scheme.
The Chair thanked Natasha for the report, and noted that the current level of financial support to the scheme from Government appeared inadequate and hoped that more support would be forthcoming in future.
- Assurance report
The Board received the report which covered:
- Local context – updated with the information taken from the data reporting
- Local activity – bringing together a range of information about what our work is telling us about our preparedness
- Assurance to PHE
- Key risks, which in this case were noted to relate to the return of students to the city.
The Board noted the report and there were no questions.
- Local Outbreak Plan – testing section
The Board noted the revised section of the Outbreak Plan on testing, which reflects a number of changes previously reported to the board, including the changes to testing sites.
Cllr Smyth felt that the section should include more specific reference to BAME groups. Natasha Edmunds advised that this is not coming through strongly in local data as an issue that required specific attention in the testing section, but noted that the issue is reflected in risk assessments.
- Any other business
There was no other business – it was agreed that an extraordinary meeting could be convened if required should Portsmouth move to national level “High” in the coming weeks.
The meeting concluded at 2.30pm.