I don’t know about you, but I found the announcement from Government this week outlining the plan for emerging safely from lockdown has given me a lift.
The idea that we could be completely free of social distancing measures by summer is exciting and perhaps something we had not dared to really dream about during the pandemic as a whole and these difficult last few months in particular.
It feels surreal to think we can return to any kind of ‘normal’ and, indeed, I do wonder what is ‘normal’ now and what will it now look like in the future.
But for those in the community who have faced a long period of home schooling whilst trying to work, whose businesses have been closed for a protracted period of time, who have lost their livelihoods in a damaged economy, the news of how we’ll emerge from all this cannot have come soon enough. I cannot begin to imagine how hard it has been.
Likewise, for those key workers who have continued to go to work whilst wrestling with the same issues as others in their personal lives, it is time for hope. Not just in the NHS, but everyone who has put their own fears and issues aside to help the country function as effectively as possible during this incredible period in our history.
The NHS has undoubtedly led the charge in the most magnificent way and, whilst I am proud to have played my part in the global response to Covid-19, I’m prouder of colleagues everywhere whose contribution can never truly be quantified.
We have seen things we can never now unsee. We have hit the bottom and then discovered that, actually, there was still some way to go. We have found energy in the face of exhaustion and despair. It might sound dramatic but the experience of colleagues cannot be underestimated and I have said a number of times it really is going to take some time to recover.
I appreciate also that for those who have lost loved ones to this cruel disease in the most terrible, unthinkable circumstances, returning to ‘normal’ remains forever out of reach. We have registered the deaths of over 700 people at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals from Covid and continue to admit people who are very poorly indeed with the virus and won’t return home. It is utterly devastating and my thoughts are with everyone who has faced bereavement during lockdown. Unless you have been through it I suspect you cannot truly know how difficult that must be.
My message now though is clear. We have a way out of this, but we must continue to play our part. By and large that involves following the rules and restrictions, respecting the plan to relax constraints in a planned and measured way and doing everything you can to support the UK in reaching the targets which will make it all possible.
In addition, please – please – when you are called to have the vaccine, take it up. This week we have seen stark and inspiring research results that demonstrate how effective all of the approved vaccines are and we are seeing this in a drop in hospital admissions too.
Country-wide data from Israel in particular, which is leading the world in vaccinations, shows that the vaccine has sharply reduced infections in the community. The results showed that the vaccine was 89 per cent effective in preventing infection of any kind and 94 per cent effective against symptomatic infections. The new data provides the first real world demonstration of the vaccine’s effectiveness and offers hope that those immunised will also help to stem the spread of infection.
I know there are those in our communities and in the Trust itself who are hesitant to have their jab.
I want to reassure you that as with any medicine, the vaccines have progressed through strict approval processes. Some of our greatest clinical and scientific colleagues have worked around the clock carrying out extensive trials to deliver the Pfizer and Astra Zeneca approved vaccines, with a third approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority (MHRA) expected to be available later in the year.
The MHRA has assessed and approved them for use because they have a good safety record and are highly effective, with both offering a high level of protection from illness from two weeks after the first dose. The vaccine will protect you from severe disease should you catch Covid. Evidence is also emerging that they can help prevent transmission of the virus too.
All have undergone months of rigorous testing, including with people from a range of ethnic backgrounds and health conditions, and are recommended for the vast majority of people.
There is clear evidence that people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are more vulnerable and have suffered more from the disease with higher rates of infection and higher rates of serious disease and mortality. By getting it you can protect yourself from the virus.
The Trust has worked with partners right across the community to provide as many vaccination appointments to as many people as possible as quickly as possible in recent months – and this has been a huge success with high numbers of people receiving their first dose already.
We continue to do this in line with the national NHS vaccination ‘cohort’ approach which is working through age groups and the most vulnerable first.
But please, when it’s your turn take up the opportunity to be vaccinated and, especially if you are from a BAME background, where uptake rates are currently lower amongst both staff and local people.
If you have any concerns about the process for developing the vaccines or need information about cultural or religious implications, side effects in the short or long term or general safety and effectiveness, check our Frequently Asked Questions here. These should help answer your questions to help you make an informed decision and feel confident about being vaccinated. The Trust’s medical director Jim Gardner has also produced a video providing reassurance of vaccine safety and effectiveness below:
An effective and efficient vaccination programme is our best defence and the key to returning to normal life. Along with following the restrictions and guidelines as outlined this week, it is the way we will hit the milestones needed to progress. It is safe and it is the right thing to do.
I sincerely hope we have seen the worst that Covid has to offer and this is all coming to an end. Thanks for everything you are doing.
Chief Executive, Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust