From the Falklands War to the fight against coronavirus…Meet the man in charge of Stoke-on-Trent’s public health response


As an Army doctor, he saw the horrors of war in the Falklands and treated the gunshot wounds and burns of injured servicemen and women.

But Dr Paul Edmondson-Jones’ latest role is just as challenging in its own way. He is the man overseeing Stoke-on-Trent’s public health and social care response to coronavirus.

“There are very much transferable skills,” he says, chatting by phone from his office at Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

“There are also similarities. I was with the Ministry of Defence during the Gulf War, deploying medical resources. You had field hospitals at the time. Now we have Nightingale hospitals.

“It’s about the same principles of caring for somebody who is acutely ill.”

Paul, who also helped with the relief effort after an earthquake in Nepal, spent 23 years in the Army before moving into the NHS and then local government.

Paul Edmondson-Jones in his office at Stoke-on-Trent City Council

Tackling emergencies has become second nature. Yet in a pandemic, the ‘enemy’ is an invisible force, which scythes its way through a country’s population, targeting young and old. Its line of attack is our organs, notably our lungs and airways. You have to understand its epidemiology to tackle the threat.

As director of adult social care, health integration and well-being, he now has two quite distinct roles during the crisis. One is dealing with the public health side and the messages around social distancing and infection control.

The other is direct oversight of the council’s care services – supporting some of the most vulnerable people in the city. That number is growing and it’s placing increasing demands on his team.

So much so that Paul has decided to train as a personal carer himself, so he can do a few shifts going into people’s homes.

“I’ve always been a great believer in not asking my staff to do something I’m not prepared to do myself,” says the 66-year-old, who lives near Stone. “I also wanted to see how the public are coping and hear about their anxieties.

“Providing personal care can be anything from getting somebody out of bed through to making meals for them and helping with their medication. As far as possible, it’s about helping people to do it for themselves.

“For some, we are the only people they see for days or weeks on end.”

Council staff learning how to use a hoist as part of their personal carer training
Council staff learning how to use a hoist as part of their personal carer training

He pulled his first home-help shift at the weekend, although his induction means he has to shadow an experienced carer at first.

Across the city, dozens of additional carers are being recruited and many council staff are also being redeployed to serve on the caring front-line.

“We’ve got swimming instructors and people who worked in gyms and leisure centres. They’ve now volunteered to retrain.”

Paul’s directorate has around 3,500 residents on its care books normally. That includes 1,500 who are receiving ‘active care’.

But since the coronavirus crisis, the Government has advised many others to self-isolate for 12 weeks.

“Of the 1.5 million people across the country who are deemed medically vulnerable, we’ve got about 5,000 of them,” adds Paul. “Then there are other groups, such as the over-70s, although there is an overlap.”

The city’s history of industrial disease – linked to decades of work in the pits and pots – has left significant numbers at heightened risk of the virus.

Yet so far, confirmed cases remain relatively low among the population of Stoke-on-Trent. As of Sunday, the figure had reached 190. Paul stresses the true figure is significantly higher as the official statistics only cover those who’ve been sent to hospital.

The NHS trust running Royal Stoke University Hospital – which takes patients from a much wider area – has seen 82 patients lose their lives after contracting Covid-19.

“We are making great strides in helping as many people coming out of hospital and in the community as we can. More people will need care during this crisis,” says Paul.

There is a growing demand for personal carers across Stoke-on-Trent
There is a growing demand for personal carers across Stoke-on-Trent

He skirts around the issue of whether staff in the care sector as a whole have been left without enough personal protective equipment.

The city council last week took delivery of fresh supplies, which will be used by domiciliary carers. Privately-run care homes, which have been at the sharp end, have finally been told by the Government that more PPE is on its way.

“We work very closely together as a care community. Residential care homes and nursing homes are well-trained in infection control. There’s also a lot of clear guidance coming out from Public Health England.”

More than 70 city council employees redeployed to help with adult social care have now completed their training.

It forms part of the Stoke Cares campaign, which aims to meet the growing demand for care workers across the city.

The public have also been invited to apply for jobs as personal well-being assistants. Anyone interested in one of these roles can call 01782 238019 for more information.

The scheme is being funded through a £1 million Government grant to support adult social care through the pandemic.

People who are struggling at home – or need help with picking up prescriptions, shopping and even dog walking – can call the Stoke-on-Trent Together team on 0800 561 5610. Alternatively, visit corona19.vast.org.uk

In terms of the public health response, there have been a myriad of decisions to make.

“There’s advice on funerals and cancelling facilities,” he says. “My public health team has also been making sure people are observing the lockdown.

“In general, the response from the public has been really good. Most people are adhering to the advice and staying at home.

“But there’s a small minority – as we see across the country – who ignore the evidence and think it doesn’t apply to them.”

As for when the lockdown may be lifted, he describes it as a ‘political decision’.

“We need to be very confident that this has been beaten before we do that. It’s going to last for some time.”

Paul’s antennae for a public health emergency meant he realised we were heading for a pandemic very early on, before the first case had emerged in the UK.

“As soon as we started to see the virus circulating in Wuhan, in China, and could see the deaths starting to occur, public health colleagues were concerned.

“Inevitably, you see the potential, given travel and interactions. The world is a small place,” he says. “It’s hard to comprehend that a quarter of the world is now in lockdown.”

To some extent, public health experts have been able to plan ahead. They have experience of preparing for winter flu pandemics and have learnt from the swine flu crisis back in 2009.

Paul adds: “There are a lot of people working long hours at the moment. They’ve stepped up to the job.

“And in Stoke-on-Trent, communities have really come together to help. There’s been a fantastic response.”





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