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Minister Ashford's Statement on COVID-19 - 22 May 2020

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Good afternoon everyone,

We have updated you for many weeks at these briefings on the latest developments in our response to COVID-19.

Today marks a minor milestone, as we start to talk about starting the journey towards normality for our health and care services.

Teams in the department have been working hard on plans to reintroduce those services which were suspended or reduced as part of our immediate response to the crisis. We are keen to share these plans with the public, and I will shortly be launching a new roadmap document, setting out the journey ahead.

Also today we welcome back from the COVID 111 call centre Dr Gregor Peden, for an update on his team’s work.

But first, today’s coronavirus statistics:

  • The total number of tests undertaken stands at 4393
  • The total number of tests returned stands at 4381
  • The number of outstanding test results is 12.
  • The total number of cases testing positive remains at 336 that means there have been no new cases since yesterday’s update.

I would now like to hand over to Dr Gregor Pedden for an update on the COVID 111 operation. 

Thank you Gregor and thanks to your team for all of the hard work you and they have put in to make the service a success.

The COVID 111 service was set up within a week as part of our immediate response to the pandemic. It seems a long time ago. The project brought together clinicians, project managers, web designers, IT experts, data analysts, team managers – and more.

By pulling together under pressure, we set up an entirely new service, which from Day 1 adapted to suit needs. I very much hope we can retain this service in the future, so that when the pandemic is behind us we gain an effective, professionally designed, new resource of real value to people of this island. That is currently being looked at as a possibility. The service has certainly undergone some serious ‘road testing’ in the most demanding circumstances!

Having achieved a significant reduction in the spread of the COVID-19, we are keen to see health and care services that had to be suspended, resume in the near future.

We are aware of the potentially negative impact of further delaying many usual healthcare activities.

It is a balancing act. On the one hand we want to offer a comprehensive health and care system to the public – but on the other we must consider the threat of the virus that is still circulating in the community. So it’s important we plan the process of restoring services carefully.

We need to keep resources available for COVID 19 – and be able to increase or decrease the number of beds available as required.

It’s a hard truth, but the potential to have large numbers of acutely unwell COVID-19 patients remains. 

So we need to ensure our staff and patients are safe and we do not contribute to a rise in cases.

It’s a simple equation: the lower the number of beds needed for COVID-19 the greater is our ability to deliver services for other conditions, and to meet other wider social care needs.

Today we are publishing Return to Health and Care – the Department’s broad approach to restoring services. It shows how we will do this in three stages, which are closely aligned to the three levels in our Island-wide response to the pandemic, set out by the Government in Stay Safe almost a month ago. So it is a Health & Social Care companion document to Stay Safe.

It is important to stress that this document does not cover every service area operated by the Department of Health and Social Care.  Plans to resume our Adult Social Care and Learning Disability Services are still being finalised. These will be the focus of a further companion document entitled back to Care which will be published shortly. Back to Health is published online and we hope you find it informative.

Just as all policies and regulations around the current situation are reviewed on a two weekly cycle in Health & Social Care we will be reviewing services in two weekly blocks seeing what else we can bring back on line.  So the restoration of services will be done in a carefully managed way and we will be communicating a fortnightly programme of changes.

Turing to the first block over the next two weeks. In terms of Hospital services the next stage is to resume some time-sensitive, urgent and elective procedures and activity. We will also look at restoring screening programmes, although this can only happen when the services we rely on in the UK are also up and running.  Among the services we will be looking to bring back on stream in this first phase are Endoscopy, General Surgery, Urology and certain cancer care and delivery services.

In mental health we will increase the number of in-person appointments and therapies, for those who will benefit most from face-to-face contact.  While some day services have had to close, our mental health teams have discovered new ways of connecting with service users – which have worked really well and which we hope to continue.

The service has been aware throughout the crisis that demand is likely to increase during the changing social circumstances that we have all been experiencing. It has not been easy for many people to nurture their own wellbeing in challenging circumstances, and this is being taken into account as we plan the future.

It means making the best use of resources will be paramount. And we will continue to innovate – as we have been doing – where we can, as well as work with third sector partners.

The document also covers Primary Care. In Primary Care we will continue for the time being the use of telephone triage for GP services and be maintaining non face to face services where this is appropriate.  We will be looking to work towards the reintroduction of cervical screening and diabetic foot checks. the current which includes GPs, opticians and dentists. 

In terms of dentistry we are not yet ready to allow dentistry services to resume as normal.  Aerosol generating procedures which form a large part of dentistry are still a major risk.  We will however in the this first block of changes, be building on the emergency care available. By our NHS dentists partnering with the Community Dental Service we will be working to provide an expansion of services including placing of temporary fillings, re-cementing of crown. 

Within Women and Children’s services we will be looking to reintroduce admissions for specific groups to the childrens ward, reintroduce paediatric outpatient clinics and expand on the community paediatric offering.

Behind the headlines is a vast amount of detailed analysis, risk assessment and planning, all of which has to be considered by our leadership and clinical teams before it can be agreed as our firm plan. I would like to thank colleagues across the Department who have worked so hard on these plans – as they are truly in the vanguard of shaping our health and social care service for the future.

It is pleasing to see that some services are being transformed as they are being turned back on - so the service which comes back on stream is not exactly like the previous one. The difference is, it will be better – as well as being more efficient and ultimately, sustainable.

I should also mention several areas which are crucial for any of the above to take place. These are areas we sometimes take for granted – the cleaning, house-keeping, catering and portering teams at hospital and elsewhere. They have worked extremely hard, showed huge commitment and flexibility – as they adapted and extended their operations during the emergency.  

These will change again as we return to normal – as social distancing, infection prevention practices and the use of PPE add a new dimension to previous routines.

I hope this has given a flavour of the journey ahead. It is a challenging one, no doubt about that.  We embark on it with some anticipation, as we understand people are anxious to have their appointments, therapies, visits, treatments and facilities back as they were.

The road ahead offers many opportunities to rethink HOW we do WHAT we do. It is an unfolding story which I will provide an update on in the days and weeks to come.

I turn now to questions. 

That was the final question this afternoon and concludes today’s briefing.

Dr Allinson will be here on Monday. I hope you all have a pleasant weekend – many thanks to all who are working in our health and care services, for those not at work, do enjoy your bank holiday.