Being the Essex Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care in these momentous times

As we approach the Easter weekend, I want to share what it’s like to be the Essex County Council Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care in these momentous times. To be honest, I feel like I could write a book – but I’ll share my three main observations from the last few weeks to give you a glimpse into life at the council during this pandemic.

1. The pace of change

Firstly, we’ve had to adapt to work at an incredible new pace and intensity. We’re always striving to improve support for our residents and give those with disabilities or impairments the best possible quality of life, but this has become much more difficult when things are changing so quickly.

Today, all our objectives in health and social care are affected by the increasing demand on our services due to the coronavirus. We are having to make choices with very little information at times, knowing our judgement will impact large numbers of people. We then need to communicate changes quickly and clearly to residents, for which we are grateful for the support of the media and other public sector organisations.

We are more flexible, agile and responsive than we have ever been, and the whole council is focused on making the right calls for the people of Essex as quickly as possible.

2. Responding to new issues and demands

The second change to our work has been handling a wide variety of unprecedented new issues. The two key challenges – which are impacting local authorities around the country – are obtaining personal protection equipment (PPE) and gaining the ability to test our staff for coronavirus. These issues are ongoing, and we hope we will soon be able to share positive news as we make progress in these areas.

But these two challenges are the tip of the iceberg. In the last two or three weeks, we’ve decided to provide liquidity and financial support for home care providers, we’ve secured up to 1,200 extra residential care places, and we’ve moved our carers to a seven-day working week. New regulations and very tight timescales for hospital discharge have come in, which place extra responsibility and pressure on social care services. We’ve had to consider NHS field hospitals and their capacity, and understand our mortuary capacity across the country.

These changes all come with serious considerations and huge operational demands, which would ordinarily take a long time to get in motion. We’re now working in days and weeks, rather than months and years. Plus, so many of these issues are incredibly sensitive and difficult, not only as a cabinet member but for everyone around Essex.

3. Teamwork

My third takeaway is the tremendous teamwork and exemplary work ethic my colleagues and people around Essex are showing in their efforts to combat coronavirus and its effects.

All around me, people are working at a ferocious pace, while others become ill or self-isolate. I’m seeing boundaries disappear and people unite in a common cause. That’s something we must not lose for as long as this crisis lasts: the admirable togetherness that exists across Essex.

I salute those in the frontline of the fight, from NHS staff to social care workers and home and residential carers. Please also spare a thought for the terrific people in the background: those gathering evidence, planning, making tough decisions and monitoring the outcomes. There are so many people to praise and I look forward to the day when we can bring them together to do just that.