Welcome to my second blog as Clinical Chair of Surrey Heartlands CCG.

This month my thoughts move towards how we resume health and care services for our citizens in a safe and managed way.

Whilst quite rightly the initial focus has been on managing the immediate demand placed by Covid-19 on NHS services it is very important not to forget the growing risks of non Covid-19 related illness.

I am really keen we encourage people to seek help from health and care services when they need it. Locally, as well as nationally we have been raising awareness on how to access health and care services, stressing the importance of ‘help us to help you’. We know that delays in getting treatment due to coronavirus fears can pose a long term risk to people’s health. People still need to access services for urgent health needs such as cancer, maternity and mental health support just as they usually would.

As a CCG we are now starting to work on the recovery and restoration of services that have had to be stood down or paused during the crisis. Working with system partners we need to coordinate the restoration of services across our whole health and care system, to ensure we minimise inequalities of access for our citizens. Whilst the restoring of services progresses we must be mindful that hospitals, community, GP services and social care continue to experience increased pressure. Our hospitals are still caring for high numbers of sick patients and out of hospital services are still supporting large numbers of unwell people in their own homes and care homes. It is imperative that as lockdown eases over the coming weeks we are able to respond to a second or third wave of the pandemic should it occur whilst restoring what we can in a safe and staged manner.

It’s important that we also learn from our response to the Covid-19 pandemic, applying lessons learnt to our future work and embedding new standards into our working practices.

A key transformation that has been progressed at pace due to Covid-19 has been the move to more virtual ways of working across our whole health system. Acute Hospitals, Mental Health and Community Trusts have all accelerated their use of a virtual model of consulting with patients using ‘Attend Anywhere’. This service enables patients and their family members to attend a virtual outpatient appointment by video with their specialist without needing to leave their homes. It has clear advantages for many people particularly those people who have a health condition where a clinical examination is not required, for example a follow up appointment to discuss results or ongoing management.

For my own sector, the move for Primary Care from a largely face-to-face service to a mix of digital consulting and face-to-face consulting is a positive one. I am sure that whilst we look forward to being able to safely increase our face-to-face offering , we will not lose the ability to consult digitally by telephone and video as we acknowledge the many benefits this bought to both patients and staff.

Isolation and its impacts on our mental health should not go unnoticed. Whilst we have all risen to the challenges and adapted our working practices to respond to Covid-19 we must not minimise the effect it may be having on ourselves and our own families. Do take time to look after your own health and those of your family. There are many offers of help available for all. In Surrey we have recently launched a Virtual wellbeing and mental health hub which can provide support to anyone requiring mental health or emotional wellbeing support. It’s at these times I am reminded of the presentation given at the beginning of every flight when we are asked by flight attendants to fit our oxygen masks carefully before helping others. This imagery reminding us that caring for ourselves is vital if we are to be able to effectively care for others.

During this period I have witnessed the acceleration and maturing of collaboration across our system, not just within health but also between our district and borough councils and social care. This key transformation will have significant benefits in the months and years to come for our Surrey residents. It is vital that all the parts of the NHS and social care at local level plan together, as what happens in one part inevitably affects another. As we continue to restore services we need to take account of this.

When considering what the new normal for Surrey Heartlands may look like I have found it helpful to review the changes we have made that show signs of promise for the future; the examples I have highlighted certainly do that. Covid-19 has unleashed impressive innovation across the system, with new ways of working, new ways of supporting patients, and new collaboration between services. Looking ahead we want to be in a new place; this is very much about reset not just recovery.”

Next month I will consider the growing evidence of increased risk to BAME populations and how as a health service we must make sure we provide the safest environments for all our staff but take in to account the increased risks experienced by some.

Dr Charlotte Canniff, Clinical Chair, NHS Surrey Heartlands CCG