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Surgery leads community response to help elderly and vulnerable during virus outbreak

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Stansted Surgery is leading a community volunteer operation to help those struggling for supplies during the coronavirus outbreak.

It has launched a coordinated response in a bid to "to be ready when it happens" and already nearly 100 people have signed up to to deliver vital medication and food to the elderly and vulnerable within the village and its immediate surroundings.

Restaurants and business are also stepping in to offer deliveries to those in need and are providing take-out menus in a bid to keep trade going. Churches are continuing with services with precautions in place, but Stansted Parish Council has cancelled tonight's annual parish meeting.

Simon Wells outside Lower Street Brasserie which is offering a free meal to the elderly in Stansted (31796035)
Simon Wells outside Lower Street Brasserie which is offering a free meal to the elderly in Stansted (31796035)

Practice manager of the Castle Maltings surgery, Teresa Buglass, said it wanted to be proactive and have plans and a team in place during the months to come. It was aware that Uttlesford District Council was working on a support scheme, but was not willing to hold fire until it had acted. She said that once Uttlesford had a robust system in place, it would step back if needed.

"We are looking at a few months of community effort as this is not due to peak until May, but we just want to be ready when it happens," she said.

A post on the surgery website read: "There are many vulnerable patients who are going to need our help with shopping, getting their medication, dog-walking etc in the weeks to come. We have written to our most vulnerable patients to offer some reassurance that they will be looked after. The surgery team will do whatever we can to help patients, but we may also need some additional helpers."

And so far the response had been overwhelming, Mrs Buglass said. "We have had absolutely brilliant support from the community, it's been great. We have some 11,000 patients, many of whom have already been asking about getting their medication, so this has got to be up and running now. Pharmacies are not going to be able to deliver to everybody and we can also help with getting some essential supplies from the shops as well as the more social aspect - looking after people who are in isolation, chatting to them on the phone to make sure they are alright."

So far, there have been no reported cases of Covid-19 in Stansted. Mrs Buglass said a couple of patients had been tested, but their results were negative, but testing had now ceased. "It's such a fast-moving situation that swabbing has become irrelevant now.

"Some patients are still struggling to understand that you shouldn't come to the surgery if you have any of the symptoms so it's about changing people's behaviour now so that when it does peak, they have already become used to the new way of doing things. We are gradually nudging people in the right direction."

Other measures it has implemented include the cancellation of all routine face-to-face GP appointments, instead offering an advanced telephone service triaged by a clinician and if necessary, face-to-face consultations will be arranged.

It has provided two additional telephone numbers for patients to call during the hours of 8am-11am only to cope with additional demand. These are 01279 818057 and 01279 818053.

Video consultation will also be launched this coming week giving patients another option to connect with their GP, but this is only available to those with a Doctorlink account.

With around 30 staff, including the community nursing team which also operates out of the surgery, staff were now required to perform and record a temperature check on arrival at work, under the supervision of the Infection Control Lead, Nurse Jane Buckingham, and it had bought all the supplies necessary to make its own hand sanitizer.

All five GPs and the practice manager have NHS laptops with secure access to NHS servers to allow them to work securely from home if necessary to keep the service running.

Elsewhere in the village, Stansted Parish Council clerk Ruth Clifford said that the annual meeting had been cancelled. "We have had a number of telephone calls and emails to the office today (Tuesday 17) from regular attendees warning us that they would not be coming, this includes Essex Police," said Mrs Clifford.

"Several PC members have also commented that they consider it unwise to hold the meeting. We shall put this out across our website and social media. A decision on when it will be held will not be taken until we receive guidance from the National Association."

And in a further statement, the council added: "Much work is happening within the council to ensure the organisation is as prepared as possible. Decisions about meetings will be notified to the public on our website and via social media and the Stortford Independent. We hope that this pandemic will not require any closure of the parish council's offices.

"We would like to reassure residents that Uttlesford District Council is working together with health colleagues to respond to the emerging situation. Their communities team is also working alongside the West Essex Clinical Commissioning Group, Council for Voluntary Service and other care providers to ensure as little disruption to services as possible.

"We are aware that communities want to get involved and that is to be encouraged, but at this stage we would not advise residents to set up their own groups."

St John's Church said its services were continuing as usual, but it was taking advice and extra precautions to reduce possible infections. It has, however, cancelled St John's Tots on Tuesdays and Coffee Pot on Thursdays. "We will review the situation after Easter and will keep people informed," said a spokesman. "Our primary concern is the protection of those who are most vulnerable at this time."

Simon Wells, who owns Lower Street Brasserie with his wife, Kerri, said it was still open, but had created a take-away menu, including vegetarian options, and its launch on social media offering to donate a free meal to the elderly or to those who cannot get out, had received 29,000 hits.

"We have had an amazing response to this. It's a very simple menu with starter, main and dessert and we've said that if you buy two meals we will donate a meal to those in need and deliver it. We are asking people to nominate those in need and we'll see how it goes," he said.

"If this carries on we can at least do this for people, especially in this area where there are a lot of elderly."

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