I’m going to level with you, reader. I’ve had a rough week. As the seasons are on the change my asthma plays up, leaving me reaching regularly for the blue inhaler. On top of that I have a surprisingly severe dust allergy that’s been particularly ferocious this week and stole my weekend from me as it sent me to bed to sneeze relentlessly. It’s terrible luck to be essentially allergic to indoors in the middle of a lockdown. Rounding out the Anthropocene ailments is some comparatively mild eczema that flared for the first time in years as Covid kicked in a year ago as I started having to disinfect everything at the bar I worked at.
Why am I allowed to complain about this in the introduction to the Health scrutiny committee meeting? This unholy trio of conditions are all linked to the climate crisis and its co-conspirator, air pollution. Manchester’s air quality remains shocking and affects people across the city in far worse ways than my complaints, with one in 23 deaths in the city linked to long-term exposure to air pollution. So, whilst as ever I appreciate that the Health Scrutiny committee has a lot on their plate with the pandemic, this week I’m more frustrated than usual that they haven’t once put climate change onto the agenda.
That being said, there were moments of this scrutiny meeting that were truly excellent. It has been a surprising benefit of my membership of team scrutiny that I’ve watched the vaccination programme develop, and it’s an admirable and incredibly complex task. It’s also a task that highlights the point of scrutiny – councillors are having conversations with their ward members about whether adequate vaccination support is being offered to their specific group, and those councillors bring those concerns and ask questions to Dr Manisha Kumar and others during these meetings. It’s working so well because of the huge public spotlight on vaccinations is driving interest in council work, and because councillors like mine, Cllr Chris Wills, (Labour, Withington) are out volunteering as vaccinators and actively engaging with the public. I would hope that the importance of outreach, as also noted in CEM’s briefing note, will be carried forward into a future climate scrutiny committee.
Health Scrutiny Meeting (09/03/2021, 2pm)
The meeting was chaired by Cllr John Farrell (Labour, Higher Blackley), who started with urgent business, appeals, interests and minutes – none, none, none and approved. This was followed by the familiar faces of David Regan and Dr Manisha Kumar as the fourth agenda item, COVID-19 update, got underway. David Regan [see recent youtube here] spoke about Manchester’s COVID indicators, benchmarked against other areas of Greater Manchester, and the results of the variants of concern surge testing project. He also spoke about the reopening of schools and the methods of testing within schools, before taking questions, which were broadly focussed on the issue of schools testing.
This was followed by the update on the vaccination programme by Dr Kumar, who highlighted the nuances of communities with low uptake and the different ways different communities were reached. This led on to questions about specific groups from councillors, including housebound people, those with learning disabilities, and those with no recourse to public funds. Cllr Eddy Newman (Labour, Woodhouse Park) highlighted that the target for vaccination of housebound people was the 15th of February which has been missed, which was attributed by Dr Kumar as a result of supply issues.
We jumped forward to agenda point 8, as it was also presented by Dr Kumar. This was that the walk-in centre in town has been operating on a call-first basis to reduce COVID risk and that has been successful and will continue as COVID continues. The next agenda point, at around 3:30PM, was an overview of the ‘Better Outcomes Better Lives’ adult social care programme, which is hoping to deliver the care needed at a reduced cost by changing the approach of the programme to achieve better life outcomes with less dependence on formal care.
The next order of business was a report on the service changes of the Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT) as a result of COVID-19. I have to admit that the nuances of NHS foundations and care delivery is beyond my expertise, but the general overview was that these services, and particularly OBGYN services, are now gradually being returned to pre-COVID capacity.
Finally, with the meeting hitting the three-hour mark, the members of the Health Scrutiny Committee drew attention to the 1% payrise for NHS workers in the National Budget, resolving to write a collective letter to the government voicing their anger at the decision. They then thanked Cllr Farrell as this is his last time chairing the meeting, before ending the meeting.