Weekly brief: 20,000 Northants residents get vaccine

Some of the key stories you should know about this week

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Every Friday we'll pick out some key stories that we think you should know about that week. Today we have some of the latest Covid-19 data for the county, including an update on the vaccine rollout and we look at what provisions are being made for rough sleepers during the new lockdown.

20,000 get Covid-19 vaccine 

20,000 Northants residents have so far received the coronavirus vaccine according to the county’s top NHS boss.

Chief executive of the Northamptonshire Clinical Commissioning Group Toby Sanders said the mass effort by the two acute hospitals, GPs practices and a mobile service has meant that a significant number of the county’s priority groups had received the first dose of the vaccine.

He said altogether there are 135,000 in the four priority groups in Northants - which are NHS staff and care workers, anyone over 70 and the clinically vulnerable - and so the county was well on the way to have all of that group vaccinated by mid February.

The first vaccines, which have been the Pfizer vaccine, were provided by Northampton General Hospital in mid December.

He has also announced that a fourth larger vaccination centre should open in the county by the end of the month.

Health services "extraordinarily stretched"

Northamptonshire's health systems are now "extraordinarily stretched" due to a surge in Covid-19 cases, according to Northamptonshire's director of public health, Lucy Wightman.

Wightman said that 30 per cent of the county's hospital bed base was now occupied by Covid patients and warned that if cases continue to rise "we will reach a point where we will not be able to provide them [the public] with emergency care for other reasons should they become ill."

Northampton and South Northants are currently the top two boroughs or districts in the whole of the East Midlands for case rates and infectivity which Wightman described as a "really alarming position". 

Only emergency and cancer operations are currently taking place in the county with all other surgery cancelled.

Northamptonshire as a whole has a higher rate per 100,000 compared to the East Midlands but slightly lower than the England average. These rates range from 292 per 100,000 in East Northamptonshire to 531 per 100,000 in Northampton.

Wightman put the increase in cases partly down to mixing at Christmas and warned that we have not seen the peak of that yet. "People need to very very vigilant," she said.

Left out

There is confusion over what will happen to the men and women sleeping on our streets during the current lockdown. Back in March, the government launched its 'Everyone In' scheme which saw thousands of people helped off the streets nationally as the first wave of the pandemic took hold.

The policy was praised for the speed at which local authorities received funds and were able to move homeless people into hotels, student accommodation and other premises. But by late Spring, there were various reports that the scheme was being quietly wound down - something the government denied.

Yesterday, a widely-shared story from the i newspaper stated that the government was not restarting the policy during this lockdown. Again, the government kicked back against this and asked the newspaper to clarify that they "will continue to house homeless people through various schemes". 

NN Journal contacted the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to see if we could make sense of what was happening. They told us that the 'Everyone In' scheme had never stopped and was an ongoing policy. A spokesperson said:

"The ongoing 'Everyone In' campaign is protecting thousands of lives. We’ve housed 29,000 vulnerable people; including supporting 19,000 into settled accommodation or with move on support. We're ensuring councils and voluntary organisations have the tools and funding they need.

"We’re spending over £700m on homelessness and rough sleeping this year alone, including the £15m Protect Programme which provides extra support to areas that need it most and our £10m Cold Weather Fund. We're investing a further £750m next year and will set out further measures to protect rough sleepers as soon as we can.”

Charities on the ground say there are still many people on the streets that are not being offered shelter. The Hope Centre, a homelessness charity in Northampton, is asking why the government has not made an announcement regarding provisions for rough sleepers this time around. 

"For one thing, the new virus strain is far more virulent – the risk to the homeless is great if they are forced to stay outside, mixing with others." Chief executive Robin Burgess told NN Journal.

"Secondly, it's not spring now, it’s the depths of winter, and it's cold, and they have nowhere else to go. Yes, there may be some SWEP provision, but it's not the same: they are often forced out all day, putting them at the same risk, and it only runs when it is very cold – not all the time. SWEP is no substitute for access to a hotel room, 24/7, where they can stay safe, and warm.

"Although great strides were made nationally and locally, reducing the numbers of people sleeping rough last summer, there are still around 25-30 people outside in Northampton. They deserve the same access to that support, and hopefully, the same successes can be achieved again. Central government needs to act; to put up the money, and give the order – what are they waiting for?"

If you missed any of our stories this week, there's still time to read them. On Monday we took a deep dive into the rise of the far right in Northamptonshire, we covered the unfolding chaos in schools as the country went back into lockdown, we wrote about the battle between Kettering residents and a Duke to save a much-loved woodland, and we exclusively revealed details of Corby's town centre regeneration bid.

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