My thoughts are with the many Chelmsford residents who have been sick or have lost loved ones due to this dreadful pandemic. However, it is good news that, at the time of writing all our GPs practices are working together in networks to deliver the covid vaccine. They were initially running centralised clinics at Whitley House Surgery, Rivermead Gate Medical Centre and Parkside Medical Centre (Melbourne). GPs are prioritising their over 80s patients, frontline care staff and care home residents. Many Chelmsford residents have already received the vaccine at other sites, for example at the centre which was rapidly established at Basildon Hospital in the first week of the programme.
The Mid Essex Clinical Commissioning Group reiterated to me the message that your surgery will contact you regarding vaccination and not to contact the surgeries directly. A new rapid testing centre has opened at Central Baptist Church, Victoria Road South, Chelmsford, CM1 1LN, you do need to book and can do so here: https://www.essex.gov.uk/getting-tested-for-covid-19/if-you-dont-have-symptoms or you can call 0333 772 6144 to arrange an appointment. Lines are open from 8am to 8pm. The tests are only for people for who do not have symptoms and give results in around 30 minutes.
Our Royal Mail postal workers have done an exceptional job during the pandemic and have recently had a very challenging time with a number of staff off sick or self-isolating. My thoughts are with all of those affected. Royal Mail are taking steps to ensure that vaccination letters are delivered as a priority, so we are able to get as many people vaccinated as possible.
The Government has offered grants to businesses affected by the pandemic. These are being distributed by Chelmsford City Council. They are offering four different types of grant, one of which is a discretionary grant where businesses who do not fall into the categories for alternative funding can apply. I understand some local businesses have not received the grants they eligible for and I would urge business owners to contact the city council if they are eligible.
For those people on a low income whose work has been disrupted by COVID-19 because they are required to self-isolate, the £500 grant from the Government is being distributed by local councils. I understand that Essex County Council also have a discretionary grant if you are unable to apply for the self-isolation grant.
I know people were very distressed by the images of unacceptable lunch boxes for children that circulated on social media. As Children’s Minister I immediately acted, calling in the caterers at the centre of the row and demanding improvements. Lunch parcels should be of a high quality and nutritionally balanced. I also set up a hotline for complaints at the Department of Education. We have actually had very few complaints from parents and each one has been investigated. Schools are doing an excellent job of managing many challenges. Our National Voucher Scheme for free school meals has also gone live again and appears to be working well.
Our Covid Winter Grant Scheme provides food and help with other essential bills at this difficult time. It supported children over the Christmas period and is there to give support this term and during half term. Over £4 million has been allocated to Essex County Council from this scheme. If you need urgent assistance you can call them on 0300 7900124 between 8:45am - 5:00pm. From Easter, our Holidays Activity and Food scheme will be offering disadvantaged children fun activities as well as food all across the country in the Easter, Summer and Christmas holidays this year.
I would like to thank all NHS and frontline staff, it is vital we continue to follow the guidance in order to protect them. I am in regular contact with our local NHS and the Essex Resilience Forum and post updates on my Facebook page. I know just how hard all of those in our NHS and in our social care have been working throughout the pandemic, as well as our key workers in other sectors. I would like to thank all of them for all their hard work at this difficult time.