Interview with the Council's new Director of Public Health, Rachel Wigglesworth

Since the coronavirus outbreak we have all heard a lot about the importance of following advice from Public Health England, the council's comms team caught up with our newly appointed Interim Director of Public Health for Cornwall & Isles of Scilly, Rachel Wigglesworth. Who better to provide an overview of how current advice relates to the islands and our residents?

Welcome Rachel! Please tell us a bit about the Public Health remit and your role in delivering it….
The main role of Public Health is to protect and improve the health of the population, and to reduce inequalities in health. This work includes the provision of a wide range of services, including sexual health and drug and alcohol services, for example. We also promote healthy lifestyles and work with Councils and other third-party partners to ensure good health is promoted through their policies. We also give advice to the NHS on health services, and we are required to produce a Joint Strategic Needs Assessment, a Health and Wellbeing Strategy as well as an independent Director of Public Health report on an annual basis.

My role is Director of Public Health for both Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, but they are totally separate statutory roles. I am a member of the Health and Wellbeing Board for the Isles of Scilly. I am employed directly through Cornwall Council, but there is an independent part of the employment process via Public Health England. I am your Director of Public Health for the islands and I am currently undertaking the role on an interim basis.

So how does the role differ on Scilly, if at all?
Well, we don’t have a Public Health team located on the islands, for a start, so we deliver advice remotely and work with local services closely. We have an annually negotiated agreement between Cornwall Public Health, the Healthy Cornwall service and the Council of the Isles of Scilly. There’s a small sum of money that’s ringfenced from the Public Health grant for the Isles of Scilly.

I have a consultant led Public Health team based in Cornwall, including myself as Director and 4 consultants (not all full time) who have expert training in Public Health and particularly in health protection. Then we have other practitioners, admin and finance support. The team is about 20 people strong in all. The Healthy Cornwall team does all the face-to-face delivery in Cornwall, who provide some support to the Isles of Scilly.

So where should our residents look for the most up-to-date advice?
The government's Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance page is the best place to look for the most up-to-date information. You can subscribe to email alerts from the site directly. Isles of Scilly residents should be looking to the Council of the Isles of Scilly website for any local updates and for direction to or NHS guidance.

The email address is available for anyone to contact us with a question or concerns about COVID 19. Your email will be triaged and sent to the relevant department to get back in touch with you, including public health.

What do you want people to know about the virus?
We want people to be aware of the main symptoms: a new or continuous cough and a high temperature. If you have these symptoms you must stay at home for 7 days, and if you live with someone who has these symptoms you must stay at home for 14 days. You don’t need to call NHS 111, just go into self-isolation and manage the symptoms at home for as long as they are mild.

Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds remains the most effective way of protecting yourself and others from the virus. Covering your mouth when you cough also helps to prevent spread.

Social distancing is still crucial to minimising and slowing the spread of the virus.

Although we know that this is a mild disease for many people who contract it, it remains much more serious a threat than flu as it is 10 times more likely to result in death. If people are beginning to think that the threat of the virus is diminishing, we would urge them to consider this.

So the government’s restrictions regarding movement outside of the home are still in place?
Very much so yes, until we are told otherwise people must abide by these rules as they are having the desired effect. The only acceptable reasons for leaving your home are:

  • shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible.
  • one form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle - alone or with members of your household.
  • any medical need, including to donate blood, avoid or escape risk of injury or harm, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person.
  • travelling for work purposes, but only where you cannot work from home.

What can you do in a day? For instance can I run, then take the dog for a walk, then go to the shop? Or does it have to be a single reason to leave the house per day?
One form of exercise should include the dog walk. The reasons for leaving the house should be combined in as few trips as possible. Don’t make it difficult for other people by going out more than is necessary.

We’ve heard about the COVID-19 symptom tracker app – is this something people should download and use?
Yes it is, the more people that use it, the better the estimate of the broad infection rate will be. It does include the Isles of Scilly with 103 people currently signed up, but it would be good to get more people on the islands involved. We are not however aware of any laboratory confirmed cases as yet on the islands. You can sign up here.

Who is likely to be the worst affected by the virus – is it still the over-70s?
It is age-related, but it also depends on people’s underlying health conditions. The risk of becoming very ill from coronavirus increases with age, but it isn’t the only vulnerability. Anyone can get the virus at any age so it is important to follow good hand hygiene, cover cough and social distancing.

If you do become ill most people will be able to manage their illness by staying at home and resting up. The NHS has provided some advice on how best to manage symptoms yourself.

If you feel you cannot cope with your symptoms at home or your symptoms get worse and you're not sure what to do Use the 111 online coronavirus service. Only call 111 if you cannot get help online.

What is the impact of self-isolation on mental health? What should people be doing to protect themselves in this respect?
It is important to acknowledge that everyone reacts differently to being at home and it can be frustrating or lonely. If you are required to self-isolate and are finding it challenging, it is important to take care of your mind as well as your body. We have been promoting the NHS’s '5 ways to mental wellbeing' messaging. It includes advice on how to stay connected with other people, support other people, talk about your worries, look after your physical wellbeing and improve your sleep.
Cornwall Council also have mental health guides for quick ideas on how to support mental health for different age groups:

It is also advisable to manage how much coronavirus media coverage you access.

Should people returning to the islands self-isolate?
In accordance with national guidance there should not be any unnecessary travel and this would include visits by tourists at this time.

There is no need to self-isolate if you are travelling to the islands for an essential reason, such as for vital maintenance work, or if you live on Scilly – unless you begin displaying symptoms.

If you travel to the islands and a member of the household in which you are staying becomes symptomatic, you must isolate for 14 days.

Only the Police can enforce the social distancing restrictions.

Will people on Scilly be able to get tested?
Yes, and you should follow advice from St Mary’s Hospital with regard to how best to access tests.

Will a vaccine be available any time soon?
Trials are underway, but it is likely to take 12-18 months until these trials have been completed and there are still no guarantees. It is an important part of strategy for the future.

Thank you Rachel!  Very informative.

Did you know our public health colleagues are now sending weekly Isles of Scilly tailored updates on the status of coronavirus in the area? You can find them on our Coronavirus Daily Update, listed under 'Public Health Cornwall.'


Publishing date: 
Monday, 4 May, 2020