With the NHS under extreme pressure in the midst of the most critical stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Avon and Somerset Local Resilience Forum (LRF) has sought to provide assistance where possible to assist health colleagues on the frontline.
The LRF – which is made up of emergency services, local authorities, NHS organisations and other key agencies – is meeting multiple times a week to provide additional resources to tackle the health emergency and keep the public safe. These range from offering extra staff to tackling logistical challenges as part of the vaccine roll-out.
Several organisations are supporting the NHS’ roll-out of COVID-19 vaccinations, both at primary care network (PCN) sites and larger centres. This month has seen patients attend Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Taunton Racecourse for vaccinations. New sites across Avon and Somerset are due to open soon, including Bath Racecourse this week.
The armed forces are among those involved in supporting that effort. The RAF helped with setting up the Ashton Gate centre and clinically-trained personnel – predominantly from the Royal Navy – began carrying out vaccinations in mid-January.
Councils have continued to work closely with their local clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) too to ensure travel arrangements, especially for the larger centres, are in place to make things as smooth as possible for patients and people in those communities. Marshals have also been at vaccination centres too to provide assistance, while councils are also promoting key messages from health organisations to ensure the public stay informed and up-to-date with the latest health guidance and advice.
Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service has also provided staff in its areas to help get vaccination centres up and running.
Police are providing security advice where necessary and have offered the NHS use of its buildings for administrative means, if required.
Testing:South Gloucestershire and North Somerset councils have worked together to jointly procure and roll-out a programme of rapid testing for COVID-19. The testing is targeted at people who must continue to provide critical services during lockdown and may be carrying the virus without displaying symptoms.
Rapid testing will deliver Lateral Flow Tests to areas within each district with higher incidence of COVID-19, as well as making regular testing available to asymptomatic critical workers groups who are continuing to provide vital services during the lockdown and who are not able to work from home. The programme will run for at least the next six weeks.
Bath and North East Somerset Council public protection officers also launched a local contact tracing process last week.
Additional ambulance drivers:
The region’s two fire services – Avon Fire and Devon and Somerset – have both been providing extra qualified drivers to assist South Western Ambulance Service throughout the pandemic. Those helping are qualified to drive emergency vehicles with blue lights and are first aid trained and can offer support to paramedics at some incidents.
Avon and Somerset Police, along with the other police forces in the South West, were approached to provide mutual aid to the ambulance service. However, the mutual aid request by the ambulance trust has now been rescinded. It can be revisited if necessary in due course.
Assistant Chief Constable Nikki Watson, chair of Avon & Somerset LRF strategic co-ordinating group, said: “We are facing a health emergency on a scale never before witnessed in our lifetimes. The LRF declared a major incident back in the spring of 2020 as we knew a cohesive and unified agency effort was the only way to keep our communities as safe as possible.
“The incredible work carried out by our NHS colleagues is truly staggering and humbling. They have been under an immense amount of pressure for months and their efforts have benefitted the lives of people right across the region.
ACC Nikki Watson
“As a LRF, as with any significant event, we are keen to provide as much support as we possibly can, whether it’s in terms of staffing, administration or logistics. By working together we are trying to ease some of that huge burden, which falls on the NHS. We will continue to support as much as possible.
“We are all hugely grateful to everyone who is abiding by the current restrictions and making sacrifices we never thought we’d need to make. The progress of the vaccine roll-out is extremely positive news but in the meantime we urge people to stay at home, to protect the NHS and save lives.”
Avon Fire and Rescue Service:
Chief Fire Officer, Mick Crennell said: “We will continue to place ourselves in a position where we can support and offer mutual aid to SWASFT and other emergency services.
“Throughout this process we have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from both our ambulance colleagues and staff who volunteered to put themselves forward to help during these unprecedented times.
“We recognise that we have skills to be able support our partners and we will continue to work together where we can.
“Here at Avon Fire & Rescue Service we value the opportunity to support our colleagues and communities through these trying times.”
Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service:
Chief Fire Officer Lee Howell said: “We are proud to continue working alongside our emergency service colleagues to support the national effort to deal with this pandemic. Our staff are learning a lot from our ambulance service colleagues about patient care and first aid skills, which is great experience to be bringing back to our service.”
Member of the Royal Navy assisting with vaccination roll-out:
“I cannot stress how happy I am to be helping – although I was doing my duty with the Navy, it was hard to watch from the sidelines as friends and former colleagues were working hard through the pandemic.”
“It’s great to be here, helping the NHS, supporting where we can, delivering vaccinations to those most in need as safely and efficiently as we can.”
South Gloucestershire and North Somerset councils:
Sara Blackmore and Matt Lenny, directors of public health for South Gloucestershire and North Somerset councils, said: “By identifying asymptomatic individuals who may be carrying COVID-19 without knowing it, we can step up our Track and Trace efforts to break the chain of transmission and support people to self-isolate. This is a shared priority across all council areas and by working together with a common partner, we have been able to share our own expertise and resources in order to rapidly set up a brand-new testing programme.
“Each council had previously run a pilot testing project at the end of 2020 and we were able to share our learning from these in designing the new programme.”
Mayor of Bristol:
Mayor Marvin Rees said: “It’s more important than ever that we all do the most we can to turn the rising tide of infections, and a big part of that is working collaboratively with partners from across Bristol and the South West. Our dedicated team of COVID-19 marshals have been working across the city over the past few months supporting our residents and businesses to stay safe and follow the guidance, but they’ve also played an important role supporting our NHS colleagues in the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“By helping with planning and traffic management into and out of vaccination centres, they’ve helped to keep the centres running smoothly and allowed volunteers to concentrate on administering the vaccine safely. We will continue to do what we can to support our NHS with the successful roll-out of the vaccine.”
Somerset County Council:
Trudi Grant, director of public health at Somerset County Council said: “The joint agency working through the LRF helps us to respond to the pandemic and support our communities in the most effective way possible.
“Collaborative working between the NHS, councils, voluntary sector and many more, has enabled the rollout of the vaccination programme at speed for example, helping to open up and staff the centres as well as ensure that as many people as possible attend their appointments.
“We are incredibly grateful to everyone involved in setting up and organising all our vaccination centres in such a short space of time.”
Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner:
PCC Sue Mountstevens said: “We know the past 10 months have been extremely difficult for local people and communities, but it has also been hard for our emergency services, support services and other fantastic agencies who help ensure residents are safe across our area.
“Such services have gone above and beyond to support each other during this pandemic and reading these examples of partnership working makes me feel so very proud to call such individuals colleagues and partners. I know these agencies and services will persevere until this pandemic is over and will continue working together to put local people first. A massive thank you for your continued efforts.”
Issued on behalf of Avon and Somerset LRF.