A period of up to 40 minutes is allocated for questions to the Leader, Cabinet Portfolio Holders and Chairs of Overview and Scrutiny Committees.
(1) Question to Councillor Heather Timms from Councillor Jerry Roodhouse
Could the Portfolio Holder report back on the survey of schools that has taken place regarding Eco School status as agreed by Council on 15 December 2020?
Answer from Councillor Timms
We are still committed to the Council resolution, however, the focus within schools has been on operating safely during the Covid crisis and catching up on learning as we are all very aware. We are preparing an internal funding bid via the project management system for resources to work with schools on climate change issues and a survey is being prepared to take place early next year to inform this work.
We also have our Green Shoots projects and nine of those are in schools and offer green shoots projects to help the children learn about climate change. We also have a number of schools that are still engaged with the national Eco Schools project. Through our Waste Education Team we have also engaged with 12 schools and nearly 3,000 pupils and their families on the schools waste reduction project, so far this academic year and we have more planned for next year.
We also send out a waste reduction newsletter to all schools and on to families - that will go out next week to help reduce the expense of waste and reduce carbon emissions.
The Education Secretary also announced in his speech at the COP26 event a vision around children being taught about the importance of conserving and protecting our planet. They are talking about a world-leading climate change education through a model science curriculum to be in place by 2023. That will include a new virtual National Education Pack to track progress against other schools across the country and are also discussing a Climate Leaders award which will work in a similar way to the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme.
(2) Question to Councillor Margaret Bell from Councillor Jerry Roodhouse
The market in Warwickshire has been described as fragile, how fragile does the portfolio holder consider the market to be in Warwickshire and what is the present state regarding care staff across the area and what is the greatest risk at this point in time?
Answer from Councillor Bell
The care market is fragile on a national level and certainly that is reflected in Warwickshire specifically relating to the care workforce. Overall, locally the present state of care staff is variable across the market. The areas that are most at risk are those working in supported living, specialised supported housing and some care homes for individuals with learning difficulties and disabilities, and the domiciliary care service – ie those carers that go into people’s homes to help.
There is targeted activity under way to help mitigate some of these workforce risks. Some examples of that are
Yes, the care market is fragile but we are working on it, we are very aware of it and we are doing what can to address these issues.
(3) Question to Councillor Heather Timms from Councillor Jenny Fradgley
Is there any follow up on community groups who have been awarded Green shoot grants to ascertain whether they are on line to get their project up and running or if they need guidance and signpost that help?
Answer from Councillor Timms
In short yes. The Green Shoots officer team have contacted all the grant recipients to enquire on their projects’ progress, specifically seeking answers to:
1. Where their project is providing a benefit
2. Have they started, if not when will they start, and whether the project has any major milestones
3. Details on any payments made so far
We are looking for responses by 16 January and we will then follow up with any grant recipient that needs help to get their projects underway.
(4) Question to Councillor Margaret Bell from Councillor Jerry Roodhouse
Would the portfolio holder agree that nutritional meals for residents in care homes is important? If so, what assurances and checks are conducted by the Council about ensuring that this is being delivered for residents and how is this monitored?
Answer from Councillor Bell
This is a very important area and one that is well recognised across our Council. Good nutrition and hydration is fundamental to both physical and psychological wellbeing for all of us and obviously for people in care homes too. Both the CQC regulations and Warwickshire County Council outcome based contract set the minimum standards that care homes need to work to. These standards, which lead to the key nationally set nutrition and hydration requirements, talk about how residents should be supported with dignity and respect and supported to eat or drink and require that mealtimes are a pleasurable experience.
To ensure that our care homes meet these standards, Warwickshire County Council undertakes a range of quality assurance and support activities. When we carry out a quality assurance activity, mealtimes are observed, officers spend time talking to residents about their experiences and their meal choices, officers specifically check how any feeding support and or dementia needs are being met and they will check if residents have a modified diet and how this is being recorded. They also check for signs of poor nutrition or dehydration and check that staff know how to identify these and how to respond appropriately. The Quality Assurance Team expect all care staff have been trained in how to support a resident with eating and drinking to promote their independence and dignity. Often, we see good practice exceeds the minimum requirements, for example in some care homes there is a picture menu especially for residents with dementia needs so that they can see and choose what it is they want to eat. In addition to that we have key data that we monitor around the number of staff that have received the required training, how many customers are at high risk of malnutrition, and if this risk has increased or decreased while they have been in the care of the care home. If we identify areas that need to be improved, a smarter service improvement plan is agreed with the home management team which is then monitored.
I hope that you are assured, like I am, that this is very high on our agenda and that the nutrition of patients in our care homes is being well looked after and mealtimes are done with respect and dignity and hopefully it is a pleasurable experience.
(5) Question to Councillor Margaret Bell from Councillor Bill Gifford
Councillor Bell, I am sure you agree with me that though Warwickshire GPs have faced tremendous workloads and severe stress in responding to the challenges of the pandemic for almost two years this is not widely understood. So, in the face of yet another new variant, we should be seeing how we can publicly support our local GP surgeries. What can this Council do to make the work of our local GP surgeries more widely understood and appreciated?
Answer from Councillor Bell
GPs have a busy time at the moment, lots of areas of our health service are under increasing pressure and primary care is no exception. It is estimated that there is about 120% activity in primary care compared to pre-pandemic times. Many GPs have been involved in the vaccine rollout and are now being asked to support the booster programme.
GPs are being supported. We have very sound partnerships across Coventry and Warwickshire. Where systems are under pressure, we look for systemic responses in terms of support. The CCG are in close contact with primary care and they are working together to ensure that we deliver high quality accessible GP services across Warwickshire. In most cases practices are responding well to the pressure on services. Where there are issues, the CCG is working closely with them and this might be on anything – for example on technical issues, as some GPs did not have a telephone system that could work in a way that supports the modern way of working so the CCG have been helping them to install an appropriate system.
The Warwickshire North Place Partnership recently in their meeting had a presentation from a leading GP and she gave two key messages that she wanted to get out into the community.
1. GPs have learnt a lot during the pandemic on the appropriate use of the telephone in terms of triage and treatment and that patients should be assured that when used appropriately they should have confidence in that system. The GPs are getting very used to this system and know when it is appropriate and when it is not.
2. Many practices have a number of different clinicians working together and patients should not be surprised if they are directed to a nurse practitioner, pharmacist or a paramedic as part of the practice if that is thought to be the best route for them.
A third emerging message is that as GPs are going to form the backbone of the new booster program, some routine care will need to be paused during this priority of getting adults their booster vaccines.
Warwickshire County Council can work with GPs and the CCG to get these messages out to the public and to recognise how the GP practices are responding to these very considerable pressures.
Cllr Gifford welcomed the response in terms of the work that is being done by the GP surgeries, but he had a concern that the general public did not fully understand the pressures and he wondered what the Council could do to get that message across.
Councillor Bell responded that the Council could use its own communication channels to get the messages across as well as work jointly with the CCGs and GP practices to get those key messages across.
(6) Question to Councillor Jeff Morgan from Councillor John Holland
In September 2020, Council resolved to lobby parliament for increased funding for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). Can I ask for a progress report please?
Answer from Councillor Morgan
Cabinet has raised the issues of SEND funding with central government through a formal letter in January 2021. Cabinet Members have also requested to meet with the Secretary of State and a tentative date is in the diary for January. I am sure funding will come up at that time. In terms of cross party lobbying, this has been agreed as one of the purposes of the cross party SEND Members Panel which met for the first time on 6 December. Sadly, the establishment of this Panel was delayed as a result of the local elections and the SEND Local Area Inspection. However, this group has agreed to take the issue of funding forward and will identify the necessary actions.
Councillor Holland asked if the Portfolio Holder agreed 15 months is a long time to wait for implementation of a council resolution?
Councillor Morgan agreed to discuss the issues outside the meeting.
(6) Question to Councillor Clare Golby from Councillor Kate Rolfe
On 17 November at a meeting of the Adult Social Care and Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee you made the following statement – “GPs have got to step up and they have got to start opening their doors and they have got to start providing the services that they are duty bound, I would say, to provide. All the other health services throughout Covid have done that, I would say, but I don’t think we can say the same about GPs definitely don’t”.
Your statement has caused much consternation amongst our GP practices in Warwickshire. In fact, when visiting my GP last week he showed me the video clip of your statement and asked me if I was there and if I agreed with what you said. I was embarrassed and very upset by this. Would you please apologise for saying this to your fellow Members here today so as to avoid any of them being put into an embarrassing situation as indeed I was.
Answer from Councillor Golby
I have received many emails with regard to that comment. The comment was made in a wider context of the meeting and if the only takeaway from the meeting is those words, it is a real shame as it was an excellent scrutiny meeting.
I have received several emails from people speaking on behalf of GPs and they have received a response which stated that I apologised if my comments offended. I was also asked to provide evidence for my comments, and I have referred to the Healthwatch report on GP Access during Covid-19 which was published March 2021 where some of the key findings were that GP appointments were not meeting people’s needs and similarly people struggled to get appointments for regular health checks, treatments and medication reviews.
I have invited the people who had presented themselves as speaking on behalf of GPs to attend and take part in the Task and Finish Group to review GP Services and that invitation has been accepted.
(6) Question to Councillor Margaret Bell from Councillor Sarah Feeney
Over the weekend it has become apparent that Rugby's rates of vaccination are about 10% lower than the rest of county and we are also one of first towns in the county to have identified the omicron variant and we’re just hoping to get some updates over the coming weeks about what we can do to encourage vaccination and what we will do combat omicron within Rugby and the wider county?
Councillor Bell responded that she would obtain some information on this topic to share with Councillor Feeney.