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City council praised for response to Leicester outbreak

Published on Monday, September 14, 2020

Granby Street

A GOVERNMENT commissioned review that aimed to identify lessons learned from the first local outbreak in the country, has resulted in praise for Leicester City Council’s response to the situation.

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government commissioned a stocktake of lessons learnt and good practice in the management of local covid-19 outbreaks, focusing on Leicester and Leicestershire.

Dame Mary Ney, OBE, carried out the review, interviewing Leicester’s city mayor, chief operating officer and director of public health, as well as political leaders and staff from the county council and three of the districts, key officials from Public Health England, the National Health Service and Department of Health and Social Care.

She also reviewed key documents submitted by the councils and other agencies, including Leicester’s Covid-19 Sustainability Plan 2020 which she has recommended to other councils.

The review document titled Local COVID-19 outbreaks: lessons learnt and good practice has been published today (14 September) and is available online.

Dame Mary states: ”It is a commendable feature of the Covid-19 experience that all parties have shown a commitment to learning and sharing alongside dealing with the incident. The Leicester City /Leicestershire councils and partners have proactively shared their learning with other localities facing local outbreaks and the city council alone has recorded and responded to nearly 50 requests from other councils and various parts of government.

"It is certainly the case that what was innovative in Leicester City/ Leicestershire a few weeks ago in terms of management of an outbreak by the local authority, PHE, the NHS and the Local Resilience Forum (LRF) has rapidly become the norm."

In her report, Dame Mary notes that as the Leicester lockdown was the first local intervention of its type, the initial stages of decision making suffered from the lack of clearly understood arrangements between central and local government in terms of governance, decision making and communications. However, she states this did not distract locally from the on the ground work and local resolve to respond to the incident once the restrictions had been declared.

Her report notes that lack of sufficiently detailed data was a concern for all councils, and it was only as more detailed data became available and could be made public that the hot spots of what was a community surge arising from household transmission became apparent.

She states that there is still a need for councils to have more consistent access to data about ethnicity and workplace, and recommends that continuing efforts must be made to achieve this.

The councils’ work around community and business engagements is highlighted, particularly the sharing of information in community languages, the use of a wide range of media channels including street signage and the council’s e-newsletter, and  the engagement of faith and community leaders and other trusted local voices.

The involvement and contribution of Leicester’s voluntary sector is also praised, and the success of recruiting 2,000 volunteers to support with a range of efforts including delivery of testing kits highlighted.

The approach to scaling up testing in the city and county, including offering testing door-to-door, and drawing on the expertise of GPs and other local services is listed as good practice, with many other areas of the country now following Leicester’s lead.

The report also highlights the deployment of multi-disciplinary teams to visit local businesses, and the drawing of cross-agency expertise including from the Fire Service and Health and Safety Executive, as part of work to control the virus.

Dame Mary states: “In devising virus control arrangements, it is important not to underestimate the potential for councils to draw on skills, local knowledge and capacity from across its functions and workforce, many of whom will also be local residents.”

Other recommendations included in the report are around communication and decision making, with the preparation of a checklist being suggested before Government makes local or national announcements on restrictions, to include details of timings, agreed measures, agreed maps for where they apply and confirmation that all councils required to stand up services have been informed.

This follows learning from the Leicester announcement which was made by the Secretary of State late at night in Parliament – and was the first time many local partners were made aware of it.

Another area singled out for praise is the city council’s contact tracing work. Following concerns around the national system’s tracing rates being too low, contacts are now passed on to the council after 24 hours, with the council’s local knowledge helping it to achieve a 90% success rate in tracing them.

The report notes that learning from this good practice, a similar approach has been taken in more recent local outbreaks and NHS Test and Trace has announced it will transfer this work to local councils.

Dame Mary highlights the city council’s wish to take this further by piloting work to better support those who are self-isolating, by using its multi-disciplinary teams already on the ground.

Leicester City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said: “We welcome this report which provides a comprehensive summary of the actions taken both locally and nationally, and captures the energy and commitment of all of those who have been managing this incident over many months and continue to do so.

“It also reflects the very difficult situation Leicester was in, as the first city to experience interventions at a time where there was very little data available to us, and when national systems and structures were not in place as they are now.

“We have already shared our own learning widely with many councils and other organisations across the country, and I hope this report assists others with what will no doubt continue to be very challenging times ahead.”