As we enter an extended period of lockdown it's important for everyone to heed the instructions about staying home, staying safe and protecting the NHS. There are cases of covid-19 in Hexham but by working together we can help stop this virus from spreading even more widely.
It is equally important for patients to seek help when then they need it. There are already examples nationally of people coming to harm because they didn't come forward with medical conditions that required treatment. Our message to our patients is that although we are working differently in order to protect our patients and our team, we are here for you.
We fully understand that this is an anxious time for everybody – whether that be regarding one’s own health, that of loved ones, or future financial security. We are here to help support our patients’ physical and mental health through this crisis. All of our team are happy to listen to your concerns on the phone and to give advice and empathy if you find that you are struggling for whatever reason.
We are still continuing with the cervical smear programme, coils and implants and routine child vaccinations.
Further information on our arrangements for safe working are described below.
We have resources on our website to help parents manage common illnesses in children and to help them identify when problems may need urgent medical attention. We would encourage parents to use the appropriate service just as they would at any other time if they have concerns. So during our opening times a phone or video call with a GP, out of hours speak to 111 and always in an emergency dial 999 or go to the Paediatric A&E at the RVI.
Cancer "Red Flags"
As a practice, we are currently aware that fewer patients are presenting to us with symptoms that may suggest a diagnosis of cancer. This is clearly very concerning for us, as early diagnosis and treatment of cancer is crucial. We understand that you may feel worried about ‘bothering us’ or having to go to the surgery or hospital and potentially being exposed to coronavirus.
However, please be assured we still want to hear from you, we are available, and there is plenty of work we can do by telephone. There are tests and referrals that can be arranged safely. And we can still refer all patients with suspected cancer for urgent review within a 2 week time frame.
Here is a list of some of the common ‘red flag’ symptoms that could indicate cancer. This is by no means exhaustive and if you have a feeling that something ‘just isn’t right’, we would definitely like to hear from you.
A persistent cough or hoarseness
A new lump anywhere e.g. in the breast, testicle or neck
Unexplained bleeding e.g. in the bowel motions, urine or vaginal
Difficulty swallowing or persistent indigestion symptoms
A persistent change in your bowels or bloating
A new mole or a mole that changes
Unexplained weight loss or sweats at night
Unexplained pain e.g. in your tummy or back or headaches
A sore on the skin or in the mouth that does not heal
If you are a carer then this may be an even more difficult time than usual due to changes to available services, social isolation and stress. Carers Northumberland is offering a telephone support service and they can be accessed on 01670 320025.
If you need help with shopping or medicine delivery then call the county council hub on 01670 620015 between 9am to 6pm, seven days a week.
If you need help with your mental health then see below.
This is undoubtedly a very stressful time for many people. There are a range of organisations that can help and our website has information which we will add to as time goes on.
We are here to support you in any way we can. If you feel you are struggling with your mental health please get in touch with us and we will do our best to help and support you.
Contraception and Sexual Health
We are still offering our usual range of contraceptive services and would encourage anyone requiring a coil, implant or injection to ring the surgery.
Dr Chalmers is providing appointments in the evenings when the surgery is very quiet. We are also able to prescribe certain types of contraception following a telephone consultation. If you have any queries about your current contraception, or would like to start a new method, please do not hesitate to get in touch. We are also able to provide self-taken swabs for sexual health screening.
Exercise and Weight
Daily exercise is allowed during lockdown and this is good not only for your physical health but also your mental wellbeing. It's also important that you try and maintain a healthy weight during a time when many people are spending long periods indoors and eating habits may have changed.
We have suspended our late appointment slots and so we are currently open 8:00am to 6:30pm Monday to Friday. Arrangements for the May Bank Holidays are being finalised. Further information will be posted on our website.
How do I access the Practice?
Firstly, DO NOT attend the surgery unless you have been asked to do so by a member of our team. Most appointments are being conducted by telephone and where it would be helpful the GPs and Practice Nurses can use video consulting as well. This has been working well. Where necessary we can see patients in the Practice.
If you need to speak to a GP or Practice Nurse do please call.
We are also trying where possible to conduct routine review appointments by phone, for example diabetes and asthma. Please ensure that you have your phone to hand if you are expecting a call back.
Should I visit the Practice?
Please do not arrive unannounced as you will not be seen. While most people with COVID-19 will have symptoms such as a new persistent cough or a fever, some people will have no symptoms at all but will be spreading the virus.
We are trying to ensure that our team stay healthy so we can help our patients. We also do not want to inadvertently pass on the virus to our patients. So we have to weigh the risks to you and us of face to face consultations, versus the risk of you not being seen face to face. The fewer patients we see, the less chance there is of the virus being passed on.
However, there are some people who have to be seen such as those who are on medication that requires them to have regular blood tests. Babies still need to be immunised and we are continuing to provide coil fitting, implants, depot injections and smear tests.
So to help minimise the risks further we have designated separate time of day for different types of patient and our staff are conducting our own cleaning regime several times each day.
If you are asked to attend, please come into the building on your own. Parents should accompany children who have an appointment but please don't turn your visit to the Practice into a family outing.
Patients who have been asked to attend the surgery should wait outside the building - in your car if you have driven. You will be telephoned to enter the building and go straight into the consulting room. There will be no need to check in at reception or sit in the waiting room. All clinical staff will be wearing protective equipment. Please do not be alarmed, it's a precaution to ensure that virus is not transferred to or from the patient.
We are also undertaking in-car assessments where this is indicated. You will be asked to drive into the patient car park, round to the far bays and wait in your car.
What about prescriptions?
Our usual repeat prescription ordering services are working normally. So please use our online service or call 01434 603627. If you do call please wait until later in the day when it's less busy on the phones. You can also complete a written request but please use the outside post box to drop it off.
Wherever possible we would like to send your prescription electronically direct to the pharmacy of your choice, rather than printing the prescription on paper and waiting for the pharmacy to collect it from the surgery.
Whilst we are processing requests as normal all of the local pharmacies are experiencing very high workloads and are asking for longer to have medication ready for collection.
Do I need to be shielded?
Coronavirus is generally a mild to moderate illness. However, for some people it can be severe or even life threatening.
For younger people with no underlying health conditions the risk of serious illness is low.
For anyone over the age of 70 or who has a medical condition that means they are eligible for a free flu jab, these people should practice social-distancing.
Some people are at the highest risk and should not leave their home even to pick up medicine or buy essential supplies. People in this group should have received a letter or text message from the NHS but we know that some did not. We will try and identify and contact patients in the high risk group ourselves but if you believe that you are at high risk, whether you received a letter or not then you can register on the government website to get coronavirus support.
I'm shielding or self-isolating. How do I get help?
There are several ways in which you can access help and support if you need help with deliveries of food or medicine, transport to hospital appointments or a social chat.
The county council has set up a hub for people to contact if they are self-isolating. They can be contacted on 01670 620015 between 9am to 6pm, seven days a week.
The NHS has recruited 750,000 volunteers and you can find out more about how they can help on the Royal Voluntary Service website.
I have regular blood tests / injections. What do I do?
If you take medications that require regular blood monitoring (for example methotrexate or warfarin) please contact us and a Practice Nurse will review your records to see whether your test can be safely delayed or if you need it sooner. If a test is needed they will discuss this with you and book an appointment.
If you have regular injections, then again a Practice Nurse can help. For patients who receive regular B12 injections we have received guidance that we should suspend those injections for 6 months. In the meantime our GPs are reviewing patient records individually. While patients can safely delay their B12 injection, some people may be started on B12 medication that will mean they do not require regular injections. Other people may be asked to attend on a different schedule. We have taken consultant advice on B12 as well as the recently produced local guidelines. So if you are used to coming regular for a B12 injection this may no longer be necessary in the future.
What if I become unwell with COVID-19?
111 is the best place to get help, using their online tool as noted above or calling 111 if necessary.
Simple advice such as taking regular paracetamol, rest and plenty of fluids are all that our GPs can offer for this disease. If you are struggling and unable to cope at home you will need hospital admission which 111 will arrange. Antibiotics do not work on viruses.