A winter like no other – how we’re limiting the spread of coronavirus across our services

Claire Hardwick, 16 December 2020

Framework provides a wide range of supported housing, street outreach, community, health and care services across Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Derbyshire and South Yorkshire. Like all providers we’ve had to make huge changes since last winter to adapt to the Coronavirus pandemic. Christmas and the associated holiday season brings a new set of challenges.

Not least amongst those challenges is the unpredictability of the situation. Since the pandemic began we’ve experienced every scenario except a full-blown outbreak. The Phony War of March (at least in our operating areas), the shift to a steady-state drudge in late-Spring, early Summer, the heady days of September with kids back at school. Then the sudden and dramatic arrival of the second wave when all the procedures and processes we had carefully crafted into our pandemic Standard Operating Procedure in the panic of March became critically important – Covid had fully arrived with us as local infection rates soared. We simply don’t know today, in early December, what we’ll be dealing with in a week or in a fortnight. We hope that there’s a chance for our weary staff to take a hugely-deserved break over the Christmas period, but it could be all hands on deck if we see significant outbreaks in one or more accommodation-based service.

Despite the challenges, we’re ready to respond if we need to. Our staff are well drilled in infection control: the constant (monotonous but essential) reinforcement of the ‘Hands Face Space’ message, PPE (including surgical masks at all times in our services and offices) and enhanced cleaning regimes are standard. We have a stringent internal track and trace mechanism and always err on the side of caution with instructions to self-isolate to reduce the risk of outbreaks. Our Somewhere Safe to Stay Hubs have been relocated to buildings where service users are not sharing sleeping space.

Our (frequently daily) Covid Response Team meeting covers everything from individual-level decision making to policy approaches to Public Health England and MHCLG. One recent initiative is our plan, in partnership with our local Public Health team, to pilot a lateral flow test regime in one of our largest accommodation-based services with 54 units. It’s with some trepidation that we’ve signed up for this. Don’t get me wrong – we completely believe that regular mass testing in our services is the right thing to do. But the rate of asymptomatic infection across the wider population means that it’s possible that a significant number of colleagues could effectively be ‘benched’ for a fortnight creating staffing nightmares in a busy frontline service in the short-term, before we reap the medium to long term benefits of regular testing in that and other services.

We also believe passionately that frontline housing workers such as ours should be prioritised for the vaccine, and have raised this with colleagues in Public Health England, local Public Health Teams and the wider NHS – we hope that the representations that we and others have made will have the desired impact. Keeping our accommodation-based services running safely throughout this year has been our top priority. A vaccinated workforce would help us to navigate the challenging winter months ahead with more certainty.