He had wanted to do things differently, planning to start his year as the Queen’s representative with a major event in Chichester Cathedral - the first declaration of a High Sheriff to take place in West Sussex, as up until now, it has been done at Lewes Crown Court.
Instead, the ceremony will be unique for a different reason. It will be held on Thursday, March 26, using a video link, so it completely complies with social distancing, and the declaration will be witnessed over the internet by Mrs Victoria Atkins, a West Sussex JP.
Dr Fooks said: “I think it will work terrifically well. The key thing is, I have to make my declaration and have my signature witnessed.
“All in all, it has been an extraordinary experience. I wanted to start my year in West Sussex and make it relevant to the county. The big event was going to make sure people were clear it is here to serve the community and bring everybody together. In a funny sort of way, doing it this way reflects the time we are in.”
Dr Fooks is the only medical doctor on the list of High Sheriffs for England and Wales for 2020/21 and after only two weeks of retirement, he has gone back to help his old practice, Pulborough Medical Group, during the pandemic.
He said: “I am first and foremost a vocational doctor. I was obviously extremely excited by what was going to be a very busy year as High Sheriff, and it still will be, but clearly, while I cannot use the role to visit people at all, it makes terrific sense to make use of my skills.”
As well as helping his former practice, Dr Fooks will work with ipc, Innovations in Primary Care, which handles out-of-hours GP surgeries, so will be serving various different areas of the county.
Dr Fooks said: “I am keen to be back. I have been incredibly fortunate with my career - being a GP is amazing.
“It has been very difficult at my old practice because of doctors having to self-isolate, so there is a real shortage of people in the building. It is obvious now that this is needed.
“The NHS has to carry on providing a safe service and it is very heartening to see what the response has been and how people are returning.
“GP practices are still having to take care of all the other things people have, alongside COVID-19, amd being able to do telephone consulations is absolutely essential. There will be times when actually most of the things will be dealt with just on the telephone, to keep everybody safe.
“Most practices have been running telephone services for many years, so there is nothing new about it. Increasingly, with the use of technology, we are able to send photographs and we can do consultations using video links, and that will be done a lot more.”
Dr Fooks, who lives in West Chiltington with his wife Sarah, has been pleased to be part of the early community response to the coronavirus outbreak, helping to set up a shopping and support service for the village.
He said: “Being part of the community at this time is really important and adds to the reality of what I am experiencing.”
Rather than support a specific charity during his year as High Sheriff, Dr Fooks will be basing his work around the theme Safeguarding the Vulnerable.
He explained: “I developed this theme about 12 months ago, while I started to prepare for the role. It reflects the strategic role I had for some years in the county with children and young people’s healthcare, my work on the early detection of sepsis in children, and the increasing number of safeguarding issues I have had to deal with affecting older people.
“Sadly, these words have taken on an added significance with the advent of COVID-19.”
Although unable to meet people face-to-face for now, he already has a number of appointments for telephone calls and video calls.
Dr Fooks explained: “I will be speaking to people to help understand what they are experiencing, so that as we are able to come out of this, I have already get relationships building up.”
He particularly wants to work with charities supporting very vulnerable people, like those affected by domestic abuse.
In the meantime, he is looking at practical ways to help and asks that people show their support for the Sussex Crisis Fund, set up by the Sussex Community Foundation to provide grants to charities and community groups who need support in light of the pandemic.
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