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'Make the right choice this Christmas and live within the guidelines' urge Suffolk's health and care leaders in open letter to county amid rise in Covid-19 cases



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Suffolk's health and care leaders have come together to urge the county's residents to 'think very carefully' about Christmas plans following a surge in Covid-19 cases and the discovery of a new strain of the virus in the country.

In the open letter, which was shared on Friday ahead of the Government's announcement of stricter festive restrictions yesterday, bosses from across the county's healthcare network have warned there is a 'monumental challenge on our hands' that can 'only be won by each of us making further sacrifice'.

The leaders urged people to 'think twice' about seeing elderly or vulnerable relatives, after praising health and social care workers who have 'risen admirably' to meet the challenge of the coronavirus.

Suffolk's health and care leaders have come together to urge the county's residents to 'think very carefully' about Christmas plans
Suffolk's health and care leaders have come together to urge the county's residents to 'think very carefully' about Christmas plans

They added that Suffolk's current infection rate of 112 cases per 100,000 people is three times higher than it was in October, when it was 35 cases per 100,000 people.

"If this current trajectory continues, there will be a significant impact and the situation will go on for much longer," the health officials added.

The open letter was published just a day before Prime Minister Boris Johnson's announcement that London, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Peterborough, Kent and parts of Essex would be among the Tier 3 areas moving into a new Tier 4 as of today, which is effectively a return to the lockdown rules of November.

Coronavirus infection rates have been rising in recent months
Coronavirus infection rates have been rising in recent months

That means that non-essential shops, gyms, cinemas, hairdressers and bowling alleys will close for two weeks in those areas – while people will be restricted to meeting one other person from another household in an outdoor public space.

Meanwhile, the rest of the country in Tiers 1 to 3 – including Suffolk in Tier 2 – will now only be allowed to form Christmas bubbles of up to three households on December 25.

And Suffolk Resilience Forum has reinforced that there is support available to people in the county and people to talk to over the festive period which can be a time of worry and anxiety for many, particularly with the impact of the pandemic.

Lynda Bradford, head of health improvement at Public Health Suffolk, said: “I want to people to know that there is someone out there to talk to, whatever difficulties and challenges you are facing.

"Organisations and people across the county are working together to support you and truly understand how hard living in a pandemic can be."

Visit www.healthysuffolk.org.uk for more information. If someone is in mental health crisis, call First Response on 0808 196 3494, or 0800 068 3131 for Suffolk Advice and Support Service to talk about your finances.

Read the open letter in full below

An Open Letter to Suffolk from Suffolk Health and Care Leaders

"Dear all,

With the world facing its biggest health emergency in living memory, we have come together to speak to you jointly in a way that we have never done so before. Today, as we address you with frankness and honesty, we ask of you one thing – that you think very carefully about your Christmas plans.

Stuart Keeble, Suffolk's director of public health has signed the open letter
Stuart Keeble, Suffolk's director of public health has signed the open letter

The emergence of Covid-19 has confronted our National Health Service and its partners with its biggest challenge for generations. Our health and social care colleagues have risen admirably to meet that challenge and continue to do so, despite the incredible strain the virus has placed upon our staff and resources.

However, this is not a quick win situation. Despite this incredible hard work, infection rates continue to rise and this Christmas – let’s be candid – we have a monumental challenge on our hands. A challenge that can only be won by each of us making further sacrifice.

Dr Stephen Dunn CBE, Chief Executive of West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, is among the letter's signatories
Dr Stephen Dunn CBE, Chief Executive of West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, is among the letter's signatories

Our current infection rate (112 cases per 100,000 people) is triple where we found ourselves in October (35 cases per 100,000 people). At the beginning of September, there were just 5 cases per 100,000 people. If this current trajectory continues, there will be a significant impact and the situation will go on for much longer.

Sadly, we no longer have the capacity to lower our guard or lessen our resolve over the festive period. We must continue to live with caution and follow guidance fully. We therefore ask that you think carefully about your Christmas plans. We know that one of the best ways to fight this virus is to limit contact with other people, so we ask that you choose your Christmas bubble wisely and stick with that bubble. We also ask that you think twice before seeing your elderly or vulnerable relatives. This is on top of those things we already do well, such as washing hands, wearing a mask and social distancing.

Barbara Gale, chief executive of St Nicholas Hospice Care, has signed the open letter
Barbara Gale, chief executive of St Nicholas Hospice Care, has signed the open letter

We do not offer this advice lightly – Christmas gatherings are, of course, very special and personal celebrations. However, this is an extraordinary year. We know our health and care services would be under significant pressure if cases continue to rise in January.

Our message today is clear - Suffolk needs you. It needs you to make the right choice this Christmas and live within the guidelines.

Thank you.

Signed by:

East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust

Nick Hulme, Chief Executive

Dr Angela Tillett, Chief Medical Officer

West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust

Dr Stephen Dunn CBE, Chief Executive

Dr Nick Jenkins, Medical Director

Clinical Commissioning Groups covering Suffolk

Dr Ed Garratt, Chief Executive, Ipswich & East Suffolk CCG, West Suffolk CCG and North East Essex CCG

Melanie Craig, Chief Executive, NHS Norfolk and Waveney CCG

Dr Mark Shenton, Chair of Ipswich and East CCG

Dr Christopher Browning, Chair of the West Suffolk CCG

Suffolk GP Federation

David Pannell, Chief Executive

Dr Ruth Bushaway, Medical Director

Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust

Jonathan Warren, Chief Executive

Dr Daniel Dalton, Chief Medical Officer

Healthwatch Suffolk

Andy Yacoub

Suffolk County Council

Stuart Keeble, Director of Public Health

Sue Cook, Director of People’s Services

St Elizabeth Hospice

Kelvin Bengtson, Medical Director

St Nicolas Hospice

Barbara Gale, Chief Executive"

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