Jab by jab, our resilience against this terrible disease is bolstered

Neil Parish opines, Owl comments.

Vaccinations have been organised by the REAL NHS and have been a great success. Maybe the only success we have had so far in the handling of this pandemic.  

For example: Test and Trace was marketed as “NHS Test and Trace” but is a disastrous privatised mess with no connection whatsoever to the NHS.

100,000 dead and one of the worst economic hits needs some explanation doesn’t it?

Or is this another example of the Dick Barton gambit: “With one bound he was free……”?

Neil Parish www.devonlive.com


Earlier in the month, I had the opportunity to meet with local members of the Royal College of Nurses. They outlined the unprecedented demand our hospitals, care homes and GP surgeries have experienced in recent months.

Indeed, transmission rates remain high across the county and sadly so do the number of hospitalisations. Their testimonies were a poignant reminder of the challenges our health service faces, and everyone’s individual responsibility to remain watchful to the dangers of Covid-19.

Despite these immense challenges, the rollout of the largest vaccination programme in British history continues at pace. Over six and a half million vaccinations have been carried out across the UK so far, with hundreds of thousands more being administered each day. Here in the West County the latest data shows over four hundred and fifty thousand doses have been delivered.

Rightly, our care givers, clinically vulnerable and elderly, have been prioritised. This is a monumental achievement and testament to the tireless efforts of our local NHS staff, care workers and volunteers.

As we drive to immunise the country, we can be grateful for foresight of the government, last year, to buy multiple potential vaccines and secure their supply. You only have to look across the Channel to see how different things might be.

The Moderna vaccine, for example, has been approved and is due for delivery in the Spring. This will reinforce our vaccine arsenal and help put jabs in arms for the remainder of the population.

Additionally, a further 2,500 vaccine hubs are set to be commissioned across the country, including several mass vaccinations sites. I greatly welcome the opening of one such site at West Point Arena this week, run by the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital. This facility will ensure thousands more people are vaccinated in Devon each week.

The vaccination programme presents a pathway out of lockdown. Jab by jab, our resilience against this terrible disease is bolstered- creating greater opportunity to ease restrictions.

The Prime Minister has set out his ambition for every adult in the UK to receive the vaccine by the autumn- and he has my full support. In the meantime, we must continue to play our part to help reduce transmission of the disease.

I will continue to work alongside my parliamentary colleagues, NHS Devon CCG and Health ministers to ensure our local health services have the resources them need to carry out this vital task. It has been a long, hard January, but hope springs eternal.

Hundreds of volunteers needed for Devon Covid-19 vaccination centres

[Owl is sufficiently “ancient” to have experienced the cheerful and helpful work these volunteers are doing, especially as January and February are the most inclement of months.]

Becca Gliddon eastdevonnews.co.uk 

An appeal has been launched to recruit hundreds of volunteers to help at newly-opened Covid-19 vaccination centres in Devon.

Help in its hundreds is needed, with volunteers sought to cover four-hour shifts at the centres, which are open 12 hours daily, seven days a week.

It is hoped individuals, organisations and community groups will step up and join forces to help with internal and external stewardship.

Days and shift allocation will be arranged to suit volunteers once their applications are processed.

Shifts are likely to be 8am-noon, noon-4pm and 4pm-8pm.

Hundreds of volunteers are needed.

A spokesperson for the volunteer drive said: “Individuals are asked to come forward and volunteer their time, as are community groups and organisations.

“Employers and workplaces are also being asked to consider allowing staff to volunteer where appropriate.”

External stewards are likely to be involved in:

  • Directing people to the appropriate site entrance and directing traffic if necessary, ensuring people respect social distancing guidelines and have all the documentation and paperwork prepared for checking.
  • Checking paperwork to ensure people are in the right place at the right time and identifying those who may require additional support and direct them as appropriate.

Internal stewards will:

  • Ensure efficient flow to and from the vaccination station and effectively communicate with the exit area representatives to avoid congestion.
  • Provide enhanced support to those requiring it – such as those who cannot stand to queue – and ensure that people waiting respect social distancing guidelines.

Those willing to help must fill in an application form hosted on the regional Our Plymouth volunteering website.

See https://ourplymouth.co.uk/volunteer-opportunity/covid-19-vaccination-program-volunteers-needed/ for more details and the application form.

[Link corrected in response to comment below]

Devon suffering highest death rates of the pandemic

Owl thinks this needs to be read in conjunction with the earlier post indicating that half of the cases in Exeter ICU beds come from “out of area”.

There are concerns over the number of positive Covid cases in care homes and businesses in Devon, as the county experiences its highest death rates of the pandemic.

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com

Devon’s Director of Public Health has praised the efforts of residents in adhering to the lockdown restrictions as the infection rate in the county falls to its lowest in a month.

But despite a fall in the number of positive cases, across all age groups, Steve Brown has said there are still concerns about the numbers of people currently testing positive for coronavirus in care homes, and in some business settings.

And despite the fall in cases, this has yet to filter through into hospitals and deaths, which the county currently experiencing its highest death rates of the pandemic, although this will hopefully fall in line with the reduction in cases once the lag filters through.

Infection rates in Devon, as of January 26, are currently at 130.4 per 100,000 population, a fall of nearly half compared to the peak on January 8 of 223 per 100,000, and of all upper tier authority areas, is the third lowest in England. Not since December 28 have infected rates been as low as they are now.

Devon coronavirus cases by infection rates

Devon coronavirus cases by infection rates

Of the eight districts within Devon, all of them are in the bottom 21 of the 315 regions in Devon for infection rates, with Torridge the lowest, North Devon 2 nd , East Devon 5 th , South Hams 6 th , Exeter 10 th , Mid Devon 11 th , Teignbridge 13 th and West Devon 21 st . Torridge’s rate is now below 50 per 100,000.

But the age range in Devon where the highest infection rates are remain the over 90s (332 per 100,000 but falling), and councillors earlier this week heard that there were 12 care homes where they have not completed the vaccination programme because they were in the midst of significant outbreaks.

Those age 20-34 also have infection rates over the 200 per 100,000 mark, while the age range with the lowest infection rates are the 70-74 year-olds.

Devon coronavirus cases by age range

Devon coronavirus cases by age range

Mr Brown, Director of Public Health Devon, said: “The current restrictions are helping to bring down the number of positive cases in Devon. Devon residents are doing really well in adhering to the current lockdown restrictions, and we’re seeing evidence that their efforts are working. However, we must keep it up.

“We do have concerns about the numbers of people currently testing positive for coronavirus in care homes, and in some business settings.

“And there is continuing pressure on our hospitals, where we are seeing higher numbers of coronavirus-related deaths.”

All of Devon’s over 80s will have been invited to receive their vaccine by the end of the week, and every care home resident but those were outbreaks are occurring have received their vaccination, and Mr Brown added: “The roll out of the NHS vaccination programme is going well. More venues are opening up to provide greater capacity to vaccinate even greater numbers of people, and providing more choice for people about where they can receive their vaccination.

“We are also starting to pilot a system to provide rapid lateral flow tests to critical workers who are asymptomatic, in order prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Devon coronavirus cases by specimen dates

Devon coronavirus cases by specimen dates

“But while the vaccination is great news, it’s important that we do not think that once we’ve had it, we can go about like normal. The vaccination helps minimises the symptoms, but there’s no evidence yet that it stops a person catching and spreading the virus.

“Therefore it’s essential that everyone, even including those who have received their first jab, continues to adhere to the lockdown rules to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Continue to social isolate, wear face coverings when in public spaces, and wash your hands properly and regularly.

“Please remember, you must isolate if you are instructed to do so by NHS Test and Trace.”

Hinkley Point C costs may rise by £500m on back of Covid crisis

Our Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Heart of the South West (HotSW) has always regarded Hinkley Point C as a “golden opportunity”, so is this good news? Has this Goose laid another “Golden Egg”? Does it mean another £500m will be pouring into Somerset? Somehow Owl doesn’t think the economics of large infrastructure projects works like this.

Apparently “none of this extra cost is carried by British consumers”

Jillian Ambrose www.theguardian.com 

The Covid-19 pandemic could delay construction of the Hinkley Point C nuclear reactor by six months and raise its costs by £500m, according to its developer.

The fresh delays are expected to take the cost of the UK’s first new nuclear power plant in a generation to £23bn, EDF Energy said, and put back its launch to the summer of 2026.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, Hinkley Point was expected to start up by the end of 2025, at a cost of between £21.5bn and £22.5bn. However, EDF Energy, which is owned by the French state, said the pandemic had caused delays of three months last year and was expected to lead to similar delays in 2021.

“Ten months after it began, we are still facing the full force of the pandemic,” Stuart Crooks, the managing director of Hinkley Point C, said in a video message to employees.

He said that despite increasing the number of workers on the 160-hectare (400-acre) site in Somerset from below 2,000 to more than 5,000, physical-distancing requirements “still limit the number of people we can safely have on site at any one time”.

The Covid-19 delays have led to the second major cost increase for Hinkley in under two years after EDF Energy said in 2019 that construction costs had climbed by up to £2.9bn because of delays.

Hinkley Point’s costs have risen by £5bn in the last five years. It will cost almost double the amount to build as first thought in 2008, and will begin generating electricity almost a decade later than the original start date of Christmas 2017.

Crooks said: “None of this extra cost is carried by British consumers.”

The rising cost of the project will be shouldered by EDF Energy, which agreed a guaranteed price of £92.50 for every megawatt-hour of electricity produced by Hinkley. That price remains unchanged by the delays.

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EDF Energy is still estimated to make a return of between 7.1% and 7.2% on its investment, which will be paid back through energy bills. The nuclear plant is expected to add between £10 and £15 a year to the average energy bill for 35 years, making it one of the most expensive energy projects undertaken.

The government is in talks with EDF Energy to build a second nuclear reactor project with its junior partner, China’s CGN, at Sizewell in Suffolk to consolidate what it has learned from the construction of Hinkley Point.

However, ministers are unwilling to repeat a similar financing deal for Sizewell after fierce criticism from MPs, consumer groups and green activists, and hope to find a new funding framework to support the plans.

Half in Exeter intensive care are ‘out of area’ Covid patients

Half the patients in Intensive Therapy Unit beds at the Royal Devon and Exeter hospital are ‘out-of-area’ patients, hospital trust board members have been told.

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com

The documents presented to Wednesday’s morning’s meeting confirm that the Trust has been taking in patients from elsewhere in the country to help relieve pressures within their hospitals where they have been struggling with extreme demand for critical care beds due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

At the latest count on January 19, 6 of the 12 COVID patients in ITU were out-of-area patients, the documents state.

The meeting heard that while the hospital had suffered a ‘tough December’, it is in a better position that forecast in January and ‘are in a good position to give mutual aid to others across Devon and the surrounding counties’.

The report of Suzanne Tracey, Chief Executive of the RD&E, said: “The current clinical capacity at Nightingale Exeter has been able to support mutual aid requests from outside Devon and Cornwall.

“These requests have been coordinated by the System Medical and CEO group to assess the appropriate system priorities and management of the COVID response, and have been implemented by clinical and managerial leaders from across the system.”

At the meeting, she added: “We had a tough December, but based on our forecasted number for January, we have fared better in the number of patients we had, and given we are in a better position in terms of numbers and staffing, we are in a good position to give mutual aid to others across Devon and the surrounding counties.

“That is reassuring given the position across the country and we are playing our role to provide aid to other parts of the country harder pressed.

“The position remains tight as alongside those supporting from Covid, but have pressures from non-covid emergencies as well, but we are managing to do that ok, but it is a constantly moving position that requires constant oversight.”

With the support of the other local acute trusts and recent deployment of 25 medical assistants and 20 general duties military personnel, the Exeter Nightingale has activated plans to increase its capacity to 70 of its 116 beds, her report added, saying: “The current clinical capacity at Nightingale Exeter has been able to support mutual aid requests from outside Devon and Cornwall.”

The Nightingale Exeter is also working alongside the RDE to substantively recruit Healthcare Assistants, with approximately 26 expected into place over the next 2-3 weeks and further recruitment continuing.

“This will help facilitate a further increase in bed capacity to 94 beds which are likely to be available if required in the first week in February,” the documents says, adding that the oversight of the capacity increase has been system-led and ‘capacity has been utilised Plymouth, Torbay, Exeter and North Devon’.

She added: “We have been lucky to be allocated a deployment of military personnel so we can increased the number of beds across that to staff it. That has allowed us to take a further increase of bed capacity at the Nightingale to around 70 to 80 beds, with the ultimate capacity of around 116 and we are managing demand and capacity carefully on a daily basis.”

An NHS England spokesman said: “The NHS has tried and tested plans in place to manage significant pressure and this has always included mutual aid practices whereby hospitals work together to provide the very best care for patients. Devon has played its part, where capacity allows and at UHP we are caring for a very small number of patients from other areas.”

And Dr Adrian Harris, medical director at Royal Devon and Exeter Foundation Trust told the board that the situation inside the hospital was ‘enormously encouraging’ and that they were in an extremely strong position in terms of hospital acquired infections.

He said: “We haven’t seen a definite case for at least ten days, so we are in a good position compared to other trusts. The situation at the RD&E is enormously encouraging at the moment but is not a cause for complacency.”

The information follows on from what Devon County Council’s Health and Wellbeing Board had last Thursday heard.

The meeting heard that while there were more patients in hospital in the county than during the first peak, they do have the capacity to manage the demand and it is not impacting on urgent non-Covid healthcare.

And the board heard that while there was pressure in the system, Devon hospitals were in a position where they have been able to take patients in from elsewhere in the South West and the South East to help healthcare colleagues in those areas.

Dr Paul Johnson, clinical chair of the Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, said that if their modelling is correct, then the next week should see the peak of admissions and occupancy in hospital before plateauing and dropping, and if so, then Devon will have the capacity to care for those who need it.

Speaking at the meeting, Dr Johnson, when asked how hospitals were managing, said: “In general we are seeing more people in hospital than the previous peaks and around 10 per cent are needing intensive care, around the same as first peak, and we are using the Nightingale to utilise extra bed capacity.

“It does mean that as things stand, we have the capacity to manage the number of cases we are getting, and if the modelling is right, then over next couple of weeks we should see the peak and then plateau and drop, then we should have the capacity to care for those in hospital

“One impact of that though is that all hospitals are operating at ‘green surge’, so things that can be deferred safely like routine operations are so that staff and spaces can be used to provide some more critical care and general medical beds during this time. But it is not impacting on those urgent non-Covid things we need to be doing.

“We are in a better place than our neighbours, both north and south of us, and we are looking at how we can mutually support them, and we are looking to care for some of the patients from outside of Devon. We have taken some from elsewhere in the South West and some from the South East to support healthcare colleagues across the county.”

And as a percentage of total acute beds available, 2% of beds in North Devon are occupied with Covid patients, 5% in Torbay, 12% in Plymouth, and 16% in Exeter, with only Derriford having seen a rise in the past week.

North Devon and Torbay have the lowest percentage occupancy rates anywhere in England, while at a partnership level, Devon is the lowest with Cornwall second lowest.