Northumberland health chiefs facing 'difficult decisions' as county hit with covid spike

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The latest coronavirus spike in Northumberland could mean NHS services being restricted and will lead to more deaths, residents have been warned.

The county council hosted an online public question time on the pandemic for the first time on Wednesday, November 18.

The event came just under a fortnight into the second national lockdown period, with Northumberland having seen a significant rise in covid cases during that time, despite the North East having seen a levelling-off ahead of the new restrictions coming into force.

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Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in CramlingtonNorthumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in Cramlington
Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in Cramlington

The local authority’s statistics show that the county’s case rate per 100,000 people was 261.03 in the week starting November 2, up from 194.83 for the previous seven days, before jumping again to 292.25 in the week starting November 9.

The latest figures show 853 new confirmed cases in the last seven days – a rate of 266.3.

Director of public health Liz Morgan noted that there have been some early signs of cases dropping off again and that the lockdown restrictions will take a couple of weeks to show their effects.

However, she added: “The impact on our hospitals of this increase in cases may well lag behind what we are seeing in the community by a couple of weeks, so we should expect pressure on our NHS services to worsen in the short term.

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“That may mean difficult decisions need to be made about what services can continue as normal and what services may need to be cut back temporarily. Regrettably we are going to see a further increase in deaths.”

Asked about the reasons behind the recent increase, which followed a plateau period after the rise from a handful of cases a week over the summer up to rates of around 160 per 100,000 a few weeks later, Ms Morgan said: “We’ve been really clear throughout this pandemic that case numbers can increase in an incredibly short period of time. We saw that in the middle of September.

“Although we have had some outbreaks in a number of settings and they have contributed to the increase a little bit, it’s possible that what we are seeing is that many of us are just not following those basic rules quite as well as we had been.

“That might be on the back of half-term, it might be on the back of the announcements of the lockdown being imposed or even the prospect of a coronavirus vaccine.

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People are really suffering from pandemic fatigue, they are absolutely fed up with having restrictions imposed and losing control over their lives, so they are pushing at the boundaries.

“One of our biggest challenges is going to be motivating, re-energising and re-focusing our communities on reducing risk through those basic prevention measures we’ve been promoting since the first part of the year.”

Looking ahead, Ms Morgan said that a return to the three-tier system at the suggested end of the lockdown on December 2 would likely see Northumberland placed ‘into that very high tier of interventions as the figures stand’.

And amid all of the reports of progress on a number of vaccines, she added: “It isn’t going to be a silver bullet. It’s an additional and probably very important weapon in our arsenal, but we’re still going to need to do those basic things – keeping your distance and reducing social contacts, hand-washing, using face coverings, and self-isolating and getting tested if we recognise we’ve got symptoms or self-isolating if we are identified as a close contact of a case.

“It’s only by all of us reducing our personal risk that we can reduce the risk for those most vulnerable residents in our communities.”

The question time event is still able to be viewed on the council’s YouTube channel – Northumberland TV

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