Northamptonshire health chief had to use online postcode checker to learn which tier we are in

Government kept county officials in the dark ahead of big announcement

By Kevin Nicholls
Friday, 27th November 2020, 10:02 am

Northamptonshire's top health official had to use a website postcode checker to find out which tier the county will be in under the Government's Covid Winter Plan.

Public Health Director Lucy Wightman revealed she only learned news that Northamptonshire will be in Tier Two from next Wednesday by joining the crush online.

Ministers posted the decision at just before 11.30am causing the website to crash under the weight of clicks as people frantically tried to find out what restrictions they will be living under once the national lockdown ends.

Mrs Wightman said: "I only know which tier we are in because of the postcode tracker — same as everybody else. I was not informed prior to information being declared.

"I don't want people to think I'm privvy to information that I'm not sharing, because I'm not. I'm learning just as much as you are.

"Decisions are being made centrally by a combination of ministers and public health experts and we are told if you hit a certain threshold you will move between tiers.

"We are yet to see what those thresholds are so we have no idea how close we are to being in Tier Three or Tier One.

Lucy Wightman had no advance notice that Northamptonshire will be in Tier Two from next week

"This has been a challenge all along. It's very difficult to assess where we are if we're not clear or if the thresholds have been movable.

"We have been promised thresholds will be set, they just haven't been shared. We're hoping they will be made available on Friday."

Households residents will be unable to mix indoors while the county's pubs will be unable to operate unless they turn into restaurants under the new regulations coming into force on Wednesday.

Ministers put the majority of England into Tier Two on Thursday with 34 areas — including neighbouring Warwickshire and Leicestershire — in Tier Three with tougher restrictions.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock

Decisions were made taking into account case detection rates in all age groups, case detection rates in the over 60s, the rate at which cases are rising or falling and the number of positive cases detected as a percentage of tests taken.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed Northamptonshire's fate was largely decided by rising numbers of cases in the over-60s age group putting pressure on hospital services.

He said: "Although improvements in the overall case rates have been seen recently, there is a continued rise in rates of Covid-19 in the over-60s where the case rate is 154 per 100,000.

"There is some evidence that the local NHS is seeing the proportion of people with Covid-19 being admitted and subsequently occupying beds stabilising, however Covid and non-Covid patients occupying beds in units treating more serious cases is high."

Northamptonshire's two acute hospitals are now treating 165 Covid-positive patients compared to 133 a week ago.

Mrs Wightman added: "The rate of infection locally significantly spiked the week we entered the national lockdown and we are still not back to that point.

"The lockdown has been too short to be able to make up the ground so, sadly, this is the result of actions and activities in that period."