Ministers Quizzed on Impacts of Lockdown

Yesterday’s HoK Questions coverage continues – here, Ministers get quizzed on decision making and the impacts of lockdown.

Julie Edge to ask the Minister for Education, Sport and Culture – What advice was issued to the Council of Ministers by clinical leads and the Director of Public Health, which led to the decision to keep schools open on 1st March 2021?

Dr Allinson – After confirmation of cases on February 26 we had several meetings and noted verbal updates, detailed contact tracing was done. Given those updates Dr Ewart said verbally there was no evidence of transmission in schools and a decision was made not to go into lockdown. 

Julie Edge – Previously you have said there was Covid in schools, will you publish the advice you received and did you speak to head teachers for advice?

Dr Allinson – There is a BBC article which referred to a small number of students at Ballakermeen who were isolating. On Feb 13 it was confirmed that a island based Steam Packet crew member had Covid but their high risk link hadn’t been to school as it was half term. There were 10 close high risk contacts on the Friday and all those tests came back negative so it was deemed it was a low risk issue. 

Julie Edge – Will you publish the advice? As a doctor you know the implications of the Kent variant.

Dr Allinson – You asked Howard last week and he said then that it was only verbal updates. On March 1, in the evening, we had a case of a school child testing positive who had not linked to the other cases and on that evening we decided to go into lockdown and close schools from March 3.

Julie Edge – Yes Howard said verbal evidence, are you confirming no records were kept? Surely you’d like that looked into, from a governance point of view the info needs to be published.

Dr Allinson – I can understand the viewpoint, the decisions to close schools aren’t taken lightly, there was uncertainty that weekend the questioning of Public Health and Dr Ewart was only done verbally. The meetings are minuted and checked following that.

Julie Edge to ask the Chief Minister – What the policy basis is for the Track and Trace team’s operations; how the team is structured; and what its decision-making reporting lines are?

HQ – Policy and guidance is set by the Director of Public Health. The team is made up of experienced environmental health officers supported as necessary by Covid Response Team and Public Health. All of this is set out in the Public Health Regulations. If you want more info on the process, the team will happily provide it themselves.

Julie Edge – Will you publish the policy that is leading on this? You said decisions are made by individual officers, surely they don’t have free reign to make the decision? First time I’ve heard about environmental health being involved?

HQ – Environmental officers have been involved since day one, the info is online. 

Chris Thomas – Has Dr Ewart always been responsible for tracing or has it been shared with others?

HQ – Started off in DHSC and then moved to Public Health when it moved into the Cabinet Office.

Dr Allinson – Would you agree we have always had the capability for communicable diseases and during the pandemic they have had to adjust to new threats and increased its skills and praise them for the work they do?

HQ – Yes thank you minister, we are truly blessed to have the team we have.  

Julie Edge – You haven’t answered, will you publish the policy?

HQ – We follow the European Centre for Disease Control and will forward you a link.

Chris Thomas – What role did the Covid-19 info centre have?

HQ – That was ages ago, I’ll have to get that info.

Julie Edge – Thanks for saying you’ll send the link but what policy is in place on the Isle of Man?

HQ – Happy to share the guidance provided by Dr Ewart.

Jason Moorhouse to ask the Minister for Policy and Reform – If he will make a statement on the 2021 census and the impact of lockdowns on its timing?

Ray Harmer – Most significant impact was the first lockdown in 2020 which meant we pushed it back a bit, no direct impact from this lockdown. The Census being done digitally has led to a lot of work being done, the additional work on this wouldn’t have allowed the work to be done.

Jason Moorhouse – So you still plan for May? Any contingency plans?

Ray Harmer – Yes May 30, if there is an outbreak then there are contingency plans but the digital by default method will make this easier. Chasing non-responsive residents is made harder but England and Jersey have managed to do this.

Julie Edge – How much does it cost and how was the follow up done before digital by default?

Ray Harmer – Still in budget and will supply all costs to members. Previously the follow up was done physically now we have different methods.

Julie Edge – Who previously did the data to make it publicly available?

Ray Harmer – I’ll check that.

Martyn Perkins to ask the Minister for Health and Social Care – If he will make a statement on the key strategy guidance from the British Society of Gastroenterology and its implications for endoscopy services during the COVID-19 pandemic?

David Ashford – On March 3 the society issued an update to guidance for endoscopy services and trying to keep them going during the pandemic. Since March 2020 a great deal has been learned about Covid and some areas have been able to run endoscopy services. The process of vaccinating at risk people means they are more comfortable with attending hospital, cancer pathways are protected during the Covid-19 lockdown and this includes now.

Martyn Perskins – When Covid dies down, what priority will be given to endoscopy instead of just scanning?

DA – As far as I’m concerned they have equal priority, there is a long list for endoscopy but all services in the UK will be under greater pressure.

Julie Edge – What is the waiting time and do you have any staffing issues in the area?

DA – There are 3,271 people on the waiting list and we have capacity to do more than that this year.  If cancer is detected then the cancer waiting times kick in immediately but there is a backlog in the UK. No staffing problems that I know of.

Claire Christian to ask the Minister for Health and Social Care – What the target time is to speak to a person in crisis and the target achieved rate, after a concerned family member or friend has telephoned the Crisis Team; and what action the Crisis Team takes if it is unable to contact the person in crisis within the target time?

DA – Current target time for urgent referrals is four hours. Where contact can’t be made, there is a range of options which depends on the individual. Where there are imminent concerns for safety, we go straight to emergency services. It is hard when the family members refer to people as sometimes they don’t have the person’s consent and this may necessitate other decisions being made. The DHSC is not in a position to report as to how often we hit that target.

Claire Christian – We have a high level of suicide, can you advice what policy changes are being made to reduce the response time? 

DA – The crisis team has a four hour response time, this is reasonable compared to other areas.

Julie Edge – Are mental health nurses still working with the police?

DA – Yes, it’s been very successful. 

Claire Christian – The gov needs to invest more in order to respond to the mental health epidemic.

DA – Everything within DHSC is a financial challenge, the management team feel their budget is sufficient, in many cases the team does a very successful job, in some circumstances they can’t help everyone. In 2020 they will have just three complaints out of over 1,700 cases.

Julie Edge – There seems to be a gap between what Mrs Chrsitian is saying and what you’re saying, how many nurses are operating with the police and what resources will transfer over with Manx Care?

DA – Not sure on numbers of nurses but it is in the Chief Constable’s report, if the police attend an incident with mental health issues then DHSC staff go with them.

Claire Christian – Were any of the cases recently highlighted by the police known to DHSC or the Crisis Team?

DA – I don’t know but will go away and check.

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