COVID-19 - Update (7)
As we all continue to work our own way through this new ‘lockdown’ experience, I wanted to provide you with our latest update on the national situation. It appears that firefighters and fire services are adjusting to the ongoing COVID-19 arrangements and we very much hope that the government loosens the restrictions in an attempt to slowly and safely ease back to some form of normality. The current circumstances are dynamic and changing with great regularity, a concept firefighters are familiar with which is probably why you have coped so well.
Notable updates are listed below, and rest assure that we are working on a number of themes behind the scenes to ensure our members are protected while they protect the public. Our website is full of advice and guidance on COVID-19 related matters but if there is something not covered please do not hesitate to contact either your local representative or FRSA HQ.
The work firefighters have undertaken so far has been fantastic, demonstrating the importance of being able to react to an evolving situation, utilising and diversifying skills across emergency services that has without doubt saved lives, a core objective of any firefighter. The FRSA has been at the forefront of this work, like you volunteering to be part of a national support network, we can all look back in months to come proud of the small part we have played in helping to support the NHS.
Some weeks ago, our members raised concerns over the LGV renewal application process which required a medical examination report (known as a D4) signed by a doctor. As the situation prohibited NHS doctors to carry out these examinations, we highlighted the matter to the DVLA asking for continuation of these licences until ‘normal service is resumed’.
Subsequently, the DVLA confirmed that in these special circumstances, a D4 will not be required when applying to renew a licence until further notice. However, this will only apply if the licence has expired or is due to expire on or after 1 January 2020. Where a licence is renewed without the production of a valid D4, it will only be valid for a period of one year.
Should any member continue to encounter a problem regarding this matter, please contact your local FRSA representative.
New Fire Minister
You may have heard us say this before, but we have a new Fire Minister. In an interesting development the government appear to have two Fire Ministers. James Brokenshire MP was appointed as the Secretary of State for Security (which included the ‘Fire’ brief) but on 18 March 2020 Lord Stephen Greenhalgh was appointed as an unpaid Minister of State jointly at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Home Office and now holds the title of ‘Fire Minister’.
Recent correspondence from the Home Office to Fire Stakeholders have included both as signatories, we understand that Lord Greenhalgh has been appointed with a view to overseeing the recommendations following the Grenfell inquiry. However, it will be interesting to see how this joint arrangement works in practice.
Additional Funding for FRS
Fire and Rescue Services across England are to receive an additional £48 million government funding to support their ongoing response to COVID-19.
The money is a share of the £1.6 billion funding announced on April 18th given to a wide range of service providers during the COVID-19 response. While the funds will no doubt be welcomed by local FRS, we are not convinced that the grant is a true reflection of the additional burden placed upon services who are assisting Ambulance Services across the country. Our view is that the actual burden is much lower than that being provided.
The latest allocation for fire is four times more than services received in the first tranche. Fire services have taken on a number of additional activities showing they are ready, willing and able to support the response to COVID-19.
4,000 staff supporting the NHS
We are extremely pleased to report that more than 4,000 Fire and Rescue Service staff from across the UK are volunteering to support the NHS and other key services in the fight against COVID-19, including driving ambulances and delivering food to vulnerable people.
In addition, there are a further 10,000 service staff who are on standby to assist as and when required. This is a testament to ALL staff across the country including those who continue to provide a ‘normal service’ that allows others to volunteer.
FRS staff have been undertaking activities including face fitting for masks for frontline NHS and clinical staff; delivery of PPE and other medical supplies; assisting the ambulance service with driving and patient/ambulance support; moving deceased people and supporting the most vulnerable through deliveries. All vital services that help to support the NHS and protect local communities.
While these positive activities are taking place publicly, we have been working behind the scenes to ensure that our members have access to and use of the appropriate equipment including PPE. Additionally, we have also been working with HMRC via the Home Office to issue guidance to employers and employees to ensure firefighters are not penalised for undertaking duties outside of their normal firefighter role. Discussions have also taken place with NFCC and Public Health England (PHE) to provide COVID-19 testing to firefighters.