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COVID-19 cases in Portsmouth have been rising rapidly in recent weeks, with a surge in infections seen since the easing of restrictions in February.

This is having a severe impact on NHS services, including Queen Alexandra Hospital where inpatient beds have been consistently full. As of midday, Thursday 31 March, there were 243 patients with COVID in the hospital. Staff sickness levels are very high, adding additional pressure.

It’s not just hospital departments that are under pressure from rising COVID infections and high demands for care and treatment – ambulance crews and call handlers, GP practice staff, community teams and mental health workers are all facing significant demands.

While services are extremely busy, this means that some patients are having to wait longer for treatment.

Helen Atkinson, Director of Public Health at Portsmouth City Council, said: “It is concerning that our local NHS services are experiencing such pressures, which are only likely to increase with the Easter holidays ahead – a time when we know the Emergency Department is likely to be very busy.

“There are actions we can all take to look after ourselves and support NHS staff at the same time.

“Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 will provide the best defence and reduce your risk of serious illness, hospitalisation and Long COVID. If you are unwell, stay at home and avoid contact with other people, especially those at higher risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19.

“We can all reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus, and indeed other viruses, by adopting these safer behaviours we have learnt over the last two years. Simple measures such as letting fresh air in, washing your hands and wearing a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces will also help to protect yourself and others.

“We can also reduce the strain on our local NHS services by ensuring we choose the right service for our healthcare needs. This includes only attending the Emergency Department if your need is life-threatening and instead making use of other services such as Urgent Treatment Centres, pharmacies, and your GP practice.

“We must keep the Emergency Department free for emergencies – there could be a danger to life if people who do not need to be in ED are taking up spaces for those who do need to be”

Residents are reminded they can contact NHS111 online at 111.nhs.uk or by dialling 111 if they are unsure where to go for medical help and need advice.

The council’s COVID-19 support service can advise residents on any coronavirus-related queries including how to limit the spread of coronavirus if residents have symptoms or have tested positive. They can also provide information and guidance on testing, vaccination, Long COVID, and signpost to wellbeing and financial support. The service is available from Monday to Friday on 023 9260 6562 or covidsupport@portsmouthcc.gov.uk For more information, visit www.portsmouth.gov.uk/covid-19-support.