This week brings hope, with signs that spring is coming, and the welcome statement from the Prime Minister detailing the ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown in England.

Experts are clear that the threat of COVID-19 remains substantial and that we will be living with the virus for some time to come, but the vaccination programme has been crucial to enable the country to cautiously emerge from the current restrictions. The phases are spaced out so the impact of each change can be seen on the numbers of cases, hospitalisations, and deaths before the next phase will go ahead.

You can read more local COVID-19 news in the COVID-19 vaccination bulletin.

There is a risk that he dates are seen as set in stone; they’re not. You’ll note the caveat ‘at the earliest’. It’s really important that people continue to follow the hands, face and space guidance for the foreseeable future so rates continue to reduce and the dates don’t slip.

The biggest news is that schools will open again for all children in England from Monday 8 March, now all the top four most vulnerable groups have been offered the vaccine. Outdoor recreation will also be allowed from this date – on your own, with people from your household or support bubble, or socially distanced with one person from another household. In addition, a named individual will be permitted to visit a loved one who is in a care home. These changes are in recognition of the need for social contact to enrich the mental health and wellbeing of ourselves, our children, and those isolated in care homes.

We are starting to see a consistent downward trend in the infection rates as the impact of lockdown takes hold, but the vaccination programme continues to gather momentum. Nationally, rates are continuing to come down across the country and overall England has fallen to 119 cases per 100,000, although there does seem to be a north/south divide. The East Midlands has the highest rates this week followed by the West Midlands at 162 cases per 100,000 and then the North West and North East respectively.

In terms of the percentage decrease, we are seeing significant decreases in the South of the country whilst there has been a slight plateauing of the percentage decrease in the Midlands and North.  This means that in the West Midlands we only saw a 15% reduction in case rates this week and in only 22 of the 33 local authority areas.

Despite the regional figures, the seven-day average across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent is clearly moving in the right direction, even with variations between the different areas. In just a week, the average rate in Staffordshire has dropped from 175.4 per 100,000 to 148.6 and in Stoke-on-Trent from 162.3 to 139.  It’s great that we are seeing these figures finally coming down again, but it’s important we don’t become complacent and continue to do what we can and follow all the guidance to bring the rates down even further.

Although they are half what they were a month or so ago, these rates are still really high and we are nowhere near being out of the woods, yet. Seven day average rates of c170 per 100,000 means nearly 1,900 new case a day across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent. And that’s just those people who get tested and we know there are many people who have symptoms or who are asymptomatic that don’t get tested.

The downward trend is great news for our providers and we are seeing a sustained decrease in bed occupancy levels at UHNM, UHDB and RWT. However, whilst the number of patients with COVID in beds and in ITU have fallen, they are still at similar rates to the peak bed occupancy numbers in the first wave back in April last year. Better, but nowhere near back to where we need them to be to really ease the pressure and enable us to switch focus to the restoration and recovery of other services.

It goes without saying that the vaccination programme has played a critical part in reducing the infection rates not just here, but across the whole country and we are now beginning to see the impact, particularly on admission rates to hospital amongst older people. As a nation, we should be incredibly proud of what has been achieved in such a short space of time. Vaccine development, manufacture and approval took less than a year and we only started jabbing people a week or two into December.

Since the beginning of the vaccination programme, Public Health England (PHE) has been monitoring the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in the real world and has now published its first analysis of the impact of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. You can find out what the results show and how the findings were worked out by reading the full report here.

Other news…


Following on from the Digital delivery of care – hypertension and atrial fibrillation webinars that were in last week’s bulletin, another patients’ online webinar has been arranged. This one is for the digital delivery of care for respiratory conditions.

Patients, carers or family members can learn more about how you can use a range of digital aids to help to self-care if you have asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Then take more responsibility for your own health and wellbeing – prevent deterioration of your condition and feel empowered to manage it well. You can download a poster giving full details here.

Useful Resources…

Further social media materials to support the recently announced ‘roadmap’ for exiting the COVID restrictions have been released, which include:

Campaign materials added to the Campaign Resource Centre:

Links to the latest hard-hitting Stay at Home “Look into their eyes” resources to support those who are delivering surge testing for new variants and those delivering community testing can also be found on the PHE Campaign Resource Centre. You can also find links below to some BBC content for South Asian communities.

National lockdown restriction resources can be found here.

Materials are available for the following campaigns; please can we ask for your help to promote them across your networks:

British Sign Language (BSL) resources

Other COVID-19 resources

For the latest information on coronavirus, please visit the NHS and government websites.