I’m sure you will have heard the good news this morning about the approval of the Oxford vaccine. Whilst this is excellent news for the future, we are currently faced with a rapidly deteriorating situation with regards to our Buckinghamshire health and social care system.
This is a direct result of the situation prior to the introduction of Tier 4 when our number of positive cases were increasing. As we still haven’t yet seen the impact from moving into Tier 4, these numbers have continued to increase swiftly, fuelled by the new, far more transmissible COVID-19 variant.
Figures up to 24 December put the number of cases now up at 514 per 100,000 and current projections are expecting this to increase to closer to 800 per 100,000 by next week. This compares to the current average COVID-19 rate in England of 402.6 per 100,000.
Of greatest concern, this increase is also being seen in our older age groups. Our rate in the over 60s population has gone up by over 60% and this is now putting our health services under very severe pressure, not helped by staff shortages through increasing numbers of positive cases and self-isolation amongst staff. The pressure on the Buckinghamshire NHS is mirrored in surrounding areas.
Taking all of this into account, Buckinghamshire Council, in consultation with NHS partners, has declared a ‘Major Incident’, amid fears the number of COVID-19 cases could overwhelm our local health and social care services. For example, hospitals in Buckinghamshire are already having to postpone or delay non urgent treatment.
I completely understand that most people are continuing to follow the government’s guidance. However, frankly some are not. Also, it would be quite tempting to see the announcement of the new Oxford vaccine as meaning that the pandemic is nearly over and we can relax. It is not over and we certainly cannot relax our behaviours. It’s vital that we all continue to play our part in helping to reduce the transmission of the virus by strictly following the current Tier 4 guidance. I would encourage everyone to stay at home as much as possible and help those who are vulnerable, by offering to collect their shopping and prescriptions etc.
Of course, I realise that many people are struggling during this difficult time; so, if you or someone you know needs support – perhaps with food or finances – then please don’t hesitate to contact one of the support lines below.
- Helping Hands – Call 01296 531 151 to get support with food and energy bills over winter. The phone line is open Monday to Thursday, 9am to 5:30pm, Friday, 9am to 5pm. In an emergency, please call our out of hours team on 0800 999 7677.
- Test and Trace Support Payments – If you are asked to self-isolate, you may be entitled to a Test and Trace Support Payment of £500, depending on your personal circumstances. (See the link for full details.)
- Local Emergency Support – If you live in Buckinghamshire, you may be able to apply for Local Emergency Support. This is intended to cover urgent short-term emergencies (i.e. no immediate food, no heating or lighting) through the use of food banks, food vouchers, and utility meter top-ups. Apply online or call us on 01296 382 414 during office hours. An out of hours service is also available by calling 0800 999 7677.
If you or anyone from your household develops COVID-19 symptoms, it is important to be tested as soon as possible. Call 119 or book a test online. If you or someone in your household is feeling unwell (about anything), call 111 for information and advice or call 999 if it’s an emergency.
If you have a less urgent concern or a minor illness, I’d like to remind you that excellent sources of health advice are also available via the Ask NHS app, NHS 111 online and at your local pharmacy. By using these options for minor health concerns, you can help GP practices ensure that we support patients with the most urgent needs more quickly.
Lots of other health and wellbeing information, including advice on self-care and looking after your mental health, is available via the Buckinghamshire Ready for Winter page.
Our NHS partners are working hard to get the vaccines rolled out as quickly as possible and we are expecting more local sites to come on stream in the next few weeks. The NHS will be announcing these as soon as possible. You will also be advised when it is your turn to be vaccinated.
We are so close to turning the corner on the control of this horrible pandemic. I am confident that by late spring things should have improved significantly and we can begin to look forward to a return to something nearer normality. However, please don’t let us fall at this final hurdle. There is still time for many vulnerable people to contract COVID-19, with possibly fatal consequences, in this winter period. An overloaded local health system can also endanger the lives of those with other serious health conditions. So, for the coming weeks please, if you can, stay at home, stay safe, and protect Bucks and each other.
Leader of Buckinghamshire Council