Some councils are doing more to galvanise volunteers than others
This site has run some encouraging examples of the number of volunteers that have come forward to help their vulnerable neighbours. Many have been informal community efforts operating independently of the state. There has been a huge response to appeals for volunteers to help the NHS – over 750,000 people have offered to help. But local authorities will also be under strain due to the increased pressure on providing social care to the elderly. So it is important to encourage people to come forward and then to make the most effective use of these offers that is possible.
Given the obvious priority, the home page of each local authority website should feature information about coronavirus prominently – including how people can register their willingness to assist. By this measure, some councils are responding better than others. Wandsworth does this well on its website – the guidance is easy to follow, both for those who need help and those offering it. So does Westminster. The good citizens of Kensington and Chelsea wishing to do their bit, first have to navigate around their Council’s website – though if they look hard they can see a link to register with the local volunteer centre. I would have thought simplicity would be an advantage. Surrey County Council has lots of information about local groups – perhaps too much. Nottinghamshire offers a single email address where everyone can register – which is more straightforward.
Where are the Police and Crime Commissioners?
In these extraordinary times, most police officers have responded with restraint and common sense. But there have been some high profile exceptions. As Lord Sumption, the former Supreme Court judge says:
“The tradition of policing in this country is that policemen are citizens in uniform, they are not members of a disciplined hierarchy operating just at the government’s command. The police have no power to enforce ministers’ preferences but only legal regulations which don’t go anything like as far as the government’s guidance. I have to say that the behaviour of Derbyshire Police in trying to shame people into using their undoubted right to travel to take exercise in the country and wrecking beauty spots in the fells so people don’t want to go there is frankly disgraceful. This is what a police state is like. It’s a state in which the government can issue orders or express preferences with no legal authority and the police will enforce ministers’ wishes. I have to say that most police forces have behaved in a thoroughly sensible and moderate fashion. Derbyshire Police have shamed our policing traditions.”
Some will think this a bit strong – others will agree with Sumption. But where have the Police and Crime Commissioners been? This is just the sort of challenge where they should be ensuring that the police do not behave in a way that alienates people – either by exceeding their authority or penalising people who are behaving responsibility by maintaining social distancing. Hardyal Dhindsa, the PCC for Derbyshire, would seem to have no criticism of his police officers – but nor has he offered any convincing justification of their conduct. PCCs have the responsibility to show some leadership. But they generally seem to be keeping rather quiet.
Freeing up the beds
The media has, quite properly, highlighted the achievement in building new field hospitals at impressive speed. The ExCel arena in the London’s Docklands is now a hospital with 4,000 beds. Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre has had a similarly rapid transformation and will provide up to 2,000 beds.
But also important is to avoid “bed blocking” – as it is unattractively called. This is where patients are well enough to leave hospital but they are waiting for their local authority to sort out arrangements for their “care package,”
Dr Carol Tozer is the director of adult social care at the Isle of Wight Council and a trustee of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services. She says that she and her colleagues are fully aware of the special priority to avoid delay at this time. She says:
“The Adult Social Care sector is playing its fullest role in getting out everyone out of hospital who is medically fit for discharge. It has never been more important to eliminate delayed transfers of care (DTOCs) and many ASC departments are reporting low levels of DTOC. My own department had not one person who delayed last week – and I am not alone.”
The Isle of Wight has one of the oldest populations in England. Nearly one in five people are aged over 80 – and 65 per cent of the elderly live alone. So if undue delay is being avoided there, that is a pretty good sign.