As ‘Freedom Day’ on Monday, July 19, inches closer and will see restrictions eased once more, the number of coronavirus cases across the North East is continuing to rise, with South Tyneside seeing the highest case numbers across England.
South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust is now treating 80 patients compared to just two a month ago, with many seriously ill and receiving intensive care support.
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From today, Wednesday, July 14, it will no long allow visitors into its adult inpatient wards at South Tyneside District Hospital, Sunderland Royal Hospital and Intermediate Care Assessment and Rehabilitation (ICAR) unit based at Houghton Primary Care Centre to protect staff and patients at what it says is a critical time.
The surge in cases coincides with a large number of staff having to self-isolate and “relentless pressure” on its emergency departments, which are seeing in excess of 600 attendances a day as well as pressures on GP and primary care services.
While the use of face masks will not be advised by the Government from Monday, the trust has said people should still stick to the ‘Hands, Face, Space’ advice to help stop the spread.
Yesterday, Tuesday, July 13, South Tyneside reported 294 new cases, while the borough’s weekly rate recorded 2,052 new cases in the seven days to July 8, the equivalent of 1,359.2 per 100,000 people.
In Sunderland, the number of new cases reported yesterday stood at 410, while the weekly case rate was 893.4 per 100,000 people, with 2,481 new cases reported in the seven days up to July 8.
Dr Shaz Wahid, Medical Director at the trust, said: “Our services both in hospital and in the community are being stretched like never before as we strive to keep the recovery of services on track whilst managing this
"It certainly feels like we are entering the most difficult period for NHS staff, after the long slog of the past year, we are now gearing up again for another wave of pressure.”
Dr Tracey Lucas, a Sunderland GP, added: "Staff right across the NHS are doing their very best to make sure everyone can get the care they need.
“Just like our hospital colleagues, GPs across the region are also seeing significant pressure after radically redesigning services during the pandemic and supporting the ongoing vaccine roll out.
"You can really help us by using some of the newer ways of getting advice from your local pharmacy or by using self-care for minor problems.
“This is an increasingly tough time for everyone and we appreciate how difficult it can feel for the public at the moment.
"Above all, please be kind to our staff and each other – we are doing our very best to look after you.”
The trust has said people should wear a facemask when entering hospitals, GP practices and other healthcare settings and attend all appointments alone where possible.