High Sheriff of West Sussex looks at challenges faced by charities and discusses NHS response to coronavirus

Dr Tim Fooks, the High Sheriff of West Sussex and local GP, highlights the transformation in our local NHS to prepare for the challenges of Covid-19, the generosity of local businesses to support health workers and the extraordinary steps taken by communities to care for those at increased risk of infection.

Tuesday, 14th April 2020, 1:27 pm

However, within our county, it is not just individuals that are vulnerable but also our local charities. Many are at risk of closing down and we also need to support them through this crisis.

‘Instinctive compassion’ in action

In the Queen’s remarkable message to the nation on April 6, Her Majesty talked of the great endeavour we are all involved in ‘using the great advances of science and our instinctive compassion to heal’. During the first two weeks of my year as High Sheriff of West Sussex, I have already been deeply impressed and moved by the examples, from across our county, of these two tremendous elements, science and compassion, at play.

The High Sheriff of West Sussex, Dr Tim Fooks, is part of the team at Pulborough Medical Group

In my medical work, modern technology is allowing me to consult with patients by video and GP workloads have been altered radically to enable doctors, who have to self-isolate, to function very effectively from home with full access to patient records. Out-of-hours services are being increasingly well co-ordinated with NHS 111 and, across our county, special Hot Hub clinics are being established so that GPs and nurses can care for patients with Covid-19 at home or in the community wherever possible.

The provision of some elements of personal protection equipment (PPE) remains a concern but, until satisfactory supplies come on stream, some GP practices are taking the initiative and making their own face shields. Overall the pace of change has been truly impressive with new ways of working, that used to take months to introduce, being up and running in a day or two. To achieve this, many doctors’ surgeries have introduced whole team meetings first thing every morning to ensure every member of staff is fully-informed and the response from them all has been terrific.

Community pharmacies are also working flat out to adapt to the new pressures, with increasing numbers of patients needing home deliveries of medications and many others using the clinical skills of the pharmacist to help them manage more of their minor illnesses rather than contact the GPs. Our communities are very fortunate to have such expertise available to us.

Meanwhile, in our local hospitals, I have been very reliably informed that the provision of additional bed capacity for patients requiring ventilators is well in hand and supplies of PPE are steadily improving. From the experience of a good friend of mine, who is on a ventilator in a local hospital, I know that those who require this advanced treatment are receiving exceptional care from very expert teams of doctors and nurses with families being phoned daily by senior doctors to be given updates.

Peter Weare at Modulearn in Arundel is using his 3D-printing capacity to produce PPE face shields for GPs

Sadly it is very likely that the infection rate in West Sussex is going to increase substantially in the next few weeks and during this time every aspect of the NHS will become very stretched. It has been therefore very encouraging to hear the steps West Sussex County Council has been taking to ensure bed capacity in their residential and nursing homes has been increased so that more patients can be discharged in a timely way from hospital. Furthermore, our local hospices will continue to fulfil their crucial role in caring for those at the end of life regardless of the cause. And for those that tragically do not survive the infection, the coroner and her team are working hard to ensure all the arrangements that must be put in place after death can be done as efficiently as possible.

All in all, therefore, I can report that there is a palpable sense of readiness in the NHS and community care teams, to whom I have been speaking, and the Queen’s reference to ‘instinctive compassion’ is very apparent across the county. Certainly all those working in both the NHS, hospices and other extended care agencies fully deserve the 8pm community applause they receive on Thursdays.

However, in all the Zoom and Skype meetings I have been having, I have also heard wonderful examples of both communities and business pulling out all the stops to support the combined public and NHS effort against Covid-19.

For example, Harwoods in Five Oaks is providing two cars to be used for the Hot Hub doctors in the villages in the south Horsham area and Peter Weare at Modulearn in Arundel is using his 3D-printing capacity to produce PPE face shields for GPs. The community Macmillan service based in Midhurst describes themselves as being ‘completely overwhelmed’ by the support from local companies who have made scrubs and masks for every member of the team. Such generous support also deserves our grateful thanks and I will be delighted to hear of other examples so that the efforts of other businesses can also be acknowledged.

The PPE face shields made for GPs

Furthermore, in our communities ‘instinctive compassion’ has also been working miracles. With self-isolation being taken so seriously, there are now thousands of vulnerable people in West Sussex who are confined to their homes. Many of these are already frail and isolated and, for them, the community action groups that have literally sprung up in our towns and villages in the last two weeks have been as welcome as the bluebells in the woods and the blossom on the trees.

In my own village of West Chiltington, more than 100 volunteers are supporting the 136 residents who are having to self-isolate. Food is delivered, medicines collected, and chats on the phone are being held as often as requested. As Jo, one of the founders of the group said to me ‘the village is working together to meet the needs of the most vulnerable; a lot of good is going on’.

Such support, which is being replicated across the county, will help to keep these people well so that they will not have to call on the NHS just at the time when it is becoming so busy. For myself, I am adding these groups to those we applaud on Thursday evenings.

Success will belong to every one of us

In her historic broadcast, the Queen went on to say: “We will succeed - and that success will belong to every one of us.”

From what I have learned in just two weeks, I can wholeheartedly share this sentiment. The pandemic peak will pass, testing will show accurately who is still at risk and who can return to a normal life, and a vaccine will probably become available within the year. We will beat the virus and be left with stronger communities as a result.

However, I have one important area of concern and this is relates to our local charities. In West Sussex, there are many hundreds of charities that carry out very specialised support to people with complex needs for whom no other support structure exists. In turn, the charities themselves depend on the grants that they receive week by week to survive.

During the coronavirus crisis many of them have seen this income disappear and their key events to raise funds during the summer have had to be cancelled. Thankfully, the Government has offered substantial support to those whose work is directly supporting the NHS effort. In this regard, charities such as our hospices, Macmillan and St John Ambulance should receive significant support, as should those which help to protect children and adults from abuse. I am also hopeful that the outstanding Air Ambulance Service for Kent, Surrey and Sussex will also benefit from this fund.

For smaller charities needing help, major national fundraising events are planned such as the BBC’s Big Night In Fundraiser later this month, and a National Emergency Trust fund will offer additional support.

Thankfully, the Sussex Crisis Fund, established very promptly by the Sussex Community Foundation two weeks ago has received donations of £500,000, of which they have already distributed £200,000 across both East and West Sussex. But, despite all these steps, the experts still say that much more is needed to prevent a collapse in a significant number of our much-loved local charities.

Therefore, in the same way that we have risen to the challenge of looking after the vulnerable individuals in our communities, we need to consider how to save those charities that have also become vulnerable because of Covid-19. West Sussex will be poorer without them. Many of us have a favourite charity to connect with but, if you are not sure who to support, please consider making your donation to the Sussex Crisis Fund by using the link www.totalgiving.co.uk/appeal/sussexcrisisfund. I am certain that each and every charity will be enormously grateful.

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