Published: Monday 23 November 2020
This will be my last update to you as Chair of Gold as I prepare to retire from my post as Executive Director of Public Health Services later this month. (More about that here)
As our first standing agenda item, Gold once again discussed our emergency response level and I can confirm that this remains at Enhanced. Our health protection response remains under significant pressure and I’m grateful to the teams and individuals across the whole of the organisation who are working in a range of ways to support the response. This includes both mobilised staff and those who continue to work in their regular roles – it’s clear that staff commitment and effort have been substantial across the board. As ever, the response level remains under regular review and we’ll continue to keep staff updated on this.
The Technical Advisory Group (TAG) is working up a paper on the effectiveness of the firebreak, and Welsh Government will publish a report once the analysis is complete. We are still seeing some of the benefits from the firebreak, with numbers having dropped in most parts of Wales. However, reduction in cases has slowed in some areas and is showing signs of levelling off, but it is too early to say what the trend will be. On Thursday 19 November 2020, rates per 100,000 across Wales ranged from 23 in Anglesey up to 356 in Blaenau Gwent. The positivity rate across Wales last week was 13 per cent.
The Testing and Sampling Cell has been working over the last few months to rapidly mobilise increased laboratory and sampling capacity by setting up a number of ‘Hot Labs’. The project reached a significant milestone last week with the commencement of staff training in the Hot Labs. One hundred and thirty new staff have been appointed to the newly created posts and recruitment is progressing well to fill the remaining vacancies. The ‘Hot Labs’ are on track to be operational by the end of this month, which is a huge achievement.
The National Call Centre (NCC) continues to receive a large number of calls with over 200 calls on an average day. The complexity of calls is increasing, as is call length, which means it is increasingly challenging to meet the demand. To help with this, we are supporting the Regional Test Trace Protect (TTP) Cells to set up their own lines, with a pilot underway in Rhondda Cynon Taf. Welsh Government is working with the regions to apply this model more widely, but our call centre will need to remain in place as the access point for TTP to the CCDC service.
We discussed ongoing surveillance arrangements at Gold last week, including proposals for service provision over the Christmas holiday period, and an outline plan to move from a two-day lag period to a four-day lag period for data publication. Any changes will of course require close planning and coordination with our stakeholders internally and externally, including Welsh Government, so that we can manage expectations across the system.
The transition period following the UK’s exit from the European Union ends on 31 December 2020. As a reminder, any EU citizen staff who have not yet applied for the EU Settlement Scheme have only a limited time left to complete this. You can find more information here. For the organisation, this means that we have once again stood up our Brexit Programme meetings to ensure we are prepared for the end of EU transition. Welsh Government will stand up the Emergency Coordination Centre Wales (ECCW) before Christmas as part of its resilience and preparedness activities.
I’d like to end my last Gold update as Executive Director of Public Health Services with a thank you and a recognition of your hard work. Over the last nine or so months I have worked alongside a number of the teams delivering our health protection response. In every case I have been struck by the professionalism and determination of our staff. I have witnessed members of staff supporting each other, seeking solutions to complex problems, and showing great resilience in the face of months of challenge. To re-iterate the point I made above: staff effort and commitment have been the key ingredients to the organisation’s response to the pandemic and I am grateful for your continued contributions.