COVID-19 update - 18 March 2020

This bulletin provides important information for people working in health and care across the North East and North Cumbria regarding guidance and actions being co-ordinated across our region to care for patients, staff and our communities in the light of COVID -19. This is a fast-moving and evolving situation. We will do our best to keep you updated daily with the latest information and key decisions from the Strategic Health Command Group. This group is led by Alan Foster, executive lead for the North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care System. If you have any questions or would like us to send vital information to partners through this bulletin, please contact us here.
Message from Alan Foster
Alan Foster
We are in unprecedented and challenging times, so I would like to start by saying a huge thank you to everyone who is working tirelessly to ensure we are prepared and ready for what lies ahead.

We are a region that is renowned for pulling together, no matter what. Let’s hold on to that, continue to be kind, and look out for one another. A lot will be demanded from us all over the weeks and months ahead so we will need to dig deep. Whatever our role, we can all make a difference to help in the battle against COVID-19 virus and your ongoing commitment is much appreciated. Already I have heard and seen first-hand how teams are working tirelessly to implement vital steps to protect our patients, staff and communities. Plans being rolled out include restricting visiting in hospitals, increasing good hand washing practices and rearranging face-to-face appointments to telephone or video consultations.

Across primary care we are working hard to support GP practices to manage the expected rise in workload and enable them to protect the vulnerable and free up their time to deal with more care critical situations.

We have also taken the decision to step down any non-critical face to face meetings or events to concentrate on tackling the challenges ahead.

This continues as we start to implement the important actions as set out in the recent letter from the chief executive of the NHS Simon Stevens and chief operating officer Amanda Pritchard. You can read that letter here.

These actions include:
  • increasing capacity to ensure hospitals are ready to respond to the anticipated increase in patients requiring hospital admission and respiratory support.
  • postponing non-urgent planned operations so that NHS staff can focus on the caring for the most critically ill. Emergency admissions, cancer treatment and other urgent clinical care will remain unaffected.
  • taking steps to ensure the health and wellbeing of our staff during what is inevitably going to be a difficult time for frontline services. Working with the relevant organisations to deploy medical and nursing students and clinical academics.
  • supporting the wider population measures announced by Government and protecting the most vulnerable.
  • stress-testing our operational readiness – system-wide as well as locally.
Of course, responsibilities for the care and protection of our communities go well beyond just the NHS and with this in mind, important guidance has just been released for those in residential care, supported living and home care and these can be found here.

We are also working across the patch to join up our communications to the public too so there are consistent and clear messages to avoid confusions where we can.

We will be appealing to our communities to stay calm and take sensible steps to help reduce the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) and to use NHS services sensibly. This is particularly important if we are to protect the most vulnerable - people over 70, those with underlying health conditions and pregnant women.

This also includes explaining to the public that all our GP practices will be working differently. For example, triaging appointments, not doing home visits where it is not essential, more telephone and video consultations, promoting electronic repeat dispensing, and encouraging self-care for minor ailments and illness.

Please can you ask your own organisations to share and support this message through your own communication channels both internally and externally.

Alan Foster, executive lead for the North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care System