Monday, 27 April 2020

Northumberland News Magazine: COVID-19

I'm really pleased that Northumberland County Council has published a COVID-19 version of the regular Northumberland News magazine, which will be delivered to every household over the coming days - and many will have already received it.

We are living in unprecedented times, and I know everyone at Northumberland County Council is working hard to deliver key frontline services, like protecting those who are being 'shielded', as well as providing financial support for businesses.

The magazine contains lots of helpful information, including:
  • Northumberland Communities Together - enhancing the work of local community and voluntary groups. 
  • Keeping yourself safe from scams.
  • Schools, and accessing free school meals. 
  • The difference between self-isolation and social distancing. 
  • How you can get help if you are being 'shielded'. 
  • Getting help if you are suffering from domestic abuse.
  • Financial help available from both the County Council and the government.
  • Important contact details for the council. 
You can read the magazine below: 

Sunday, 26 April 2020

Nine years ago today, the Budget nearly killed me.

Today’s date is etched on my memory, and it will be forever.

On Tuesday 26th April 2011, I was embarking on a normal day in the House of Commons. It was the first day back after the Easter recess, and I’d just spent the previous three weeks at home in Hexham. I had been an MP for 11 months and was starting to make a real difference. Over recess, I’d been campaigning across the North East, leading the regional ‘No to AV’ campaign and fighting the local elections.

Since being elected in May 2010, I had increasingly found myself exhausted, but I didn’t put it down to anything. Why should I? I was a newly elected MP doing dozens of visits every weekend across Northumberland. I was working from the early hours until late into the evening almost every night and had a 600-mile weekly commute between Hexham and London.

I simply put the tiredness down to the new job. I was young, and despite suffering a fall as a jockey at Stratford races a few years earlier, I would consider myself to be reasonably fit.

I started the day like any other, with a three-mile run through central London, before heading into Parliament. We were debating the Finance Bill, but through the day I began to feel progressively worse. I had a blinding headache, like something I could only describe as the worst hangover you could imagine. I often say that the Budget nearly killed me.

At 10:30 pm, I was violently sick.

Thankfully, my good friend and colleague Nadhim Zahawi, the MP for Stratford-upon-Avon found me in Central Lobby and put out a call for a doctor. Another new MP, Dr Dan Poulter arrived in minutes.

Dan is a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology, so I greeted him weakly by saying, ‘Dan, I am not pregnant, but I don’t feel very well!

With Nadhim and Dan in Central Lobby – they both played a crucial role in getting me the help I needed nine years ago today.
I wanted to go home and get some sleep, but Dan knew something was seriously wrong and insisted I went to hospital. An ambulance was urgently summoned to take me to St Thomas’ Hospital which overlooks the House of Commons. I was taken to the exact same hospital ward the Prime Minister was being treated for coronavirus.

After a series of scans, a young doctor, barely aged 30, and covering the busy night shift in A&E came over. He calmly said to me, ‘Mr Opperman, I am so sorry. I have had a look at the scan of your head. You have a tumour on the inside of your skull pushing down on the brain. You will need an operation to remove it’.

I was numb with fear and shock. I quite literally had nothing to say. Thinking back to that moment now still sends a shiver down my spine. I was shown the scan, and above my left ear was a 2-inch white lump. There was something alive inside my head.

Thankfully, the doctors told me it was treatable, but would require emergency surgery. I was told there was a 1% chance of death, a 1% chance of paralysis, a 1% chance of loss of sight, and a 1% chance of disability. I added these up and didn’t fancy my chances, but surgery was the only option – without it, I would die. 

My surgeon was the quite incredible Dr Neil Kitchen. Under his care, I had a variety of scans which showed I had a meningioma, a type of tumour that grows from the meninges, the layer of tissue that lies above the brain. Neil advised me that I needed both a cerebral angiogram, and an embolisation first before they removed the tumour by craniotomy.

I saw myself as relatively fit, still riding an amateur jockey. 
An embolization requires the femoral artery in your thigh to be opened and then a wire passed up through your body into your head, where they burn off the base of the tumour to prevent future bleeding. After being told the details, I thought it best not to think about the process.

Over the next two weeks, I received visits from friends, family and colleagues every day. When in hospital, you have a lot of time to think, and I had a lot of questions. What if the tumour is cancerous? What if the surgery goes wrong? What about my constituents who need my help? Would I have to call a by-election?

On Thursday 5th May I was operated on – I had been an MP for exactly one year. It was the day of the referendum on AV, and local elections across the United Kingdom. After the anaesthetist began his work, my last words were apparently ‘It’s the AV vote today – don’t forget to vote against it.’

A craniotomy is performed by shaving the hair, then cutting the skin with a scalpel to reveal the skull, which is then opened with the medical equivalent of a tiny circular saw. The surgeon then removes the tumour with an even smaller circular saw. Neil managed to remove my tumour without damaging the brain or causing any bleeding. I was very, very lucky.

As I came round that afternoon, Neil came to see me beaming ‘We got all of it out, Guy’. I was beaming too, and said ‘And I can talk, and move my arms and legs!’

Two days later came more good news. The test results came back showing my tumour was benign. Neil advised me that the tumour would not recur. In fact, he told me I would be even better than before.

I was then discharged and went home to my parents. It was odd to be back at home again in my 40’s, but my parents cared for me in a way that only parents can.

I slowly began to read the hundreds of amazing cards and letters I had received from colleagues, friends, constituents and even the Prime Minister. As a new MP, I was still getting used to Westminster. As an outsider, it is easy to think of the Commons as a permanently tribal place, but I received cards from right across the political spectrum. I even received the biggest bouquet of flowers I can genuinely say I have ever seen from a Labour MP.

Walking Hadrian's Wall in 2011
These messages of support helped sustain me through the long months on the road to recovery that followed. I needed extensive tests and lots of physiotherapy to get my limbs back into action.

I was able to return to work in August, less than four months after my diagnosis.

That summer, I decided to walk Hadrian’s Wall to raise money for the Tynedale Hospice in Hexham, and the National Neurological Hospital that saved my life, which helped fund a new Neuroimaging Analysis Centre for clinical research.

In early 2012, I presented a cheque to the National Neurological and Neurosurgery Hospital in London

In August of 2011, my Labour colleague Paul Bloomfield was also diagnosed with a brain tumour, one extremely similar to mine. Thankfully, he also made a full recovery, and in 2012 we walked the first section of the Pennine Way together to help raise money for Headway UK, a charity helping both adults and children recover from brain injuries, including tumours.

Labour MP Paul Bloomfield and I in Parliament before walking the Pennine Way together

More recently, I took part in the 100-mile Prudential charity bike ride through London and Surrey. Research is vital to improving life chances for those diagnosed, so I will never stop fundraising. Once Britain gets through this coronavirus pandemic, I am planning to take part in another sponsored walk along Hadrian’s Wall.

I have regular scans, and nine years on, I am still tumour free and still often return to the National Neurological and Neurosurgery Hospital to say hello and take a box of chocolates to the team.

Whilst Britain faces this Coronavirus pandemic, there is a serious point I want to get across - the NHS is still there for us all. If you are concerned about a health problem, please make sure you contact your GP. Other illnesses do not stop because of coronavirus and people will continue to get sick. Please make sure you seek medical attention if you need to.

I will never be able to repay the debt of gratitude to our amazing NHS. It literally saved my life. So let’s all make sure we work to protect the NHS front line staff helping to fight coronavirus by making sure we stay at home.

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Important updates to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Today, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced important changes to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

The scheme means that companies can 'furlough' staff if no work is available for them, or who would have been laid off during this crisis. The government will cover 80% of employees wages, up to £2,500 per month.

Today, the Chancellor has announced that the 'cut off' date for the Job Retention Scheme has been extended from 28th February, to 19th March. 

This means thousands of people who changed jobs between the end of February and the date the Job Retention Scheme was announced will now be eligible. 

As we face the challenges of coronavirus, this is clearly a very difficult time for our country. As your local MP, I am here to help in any way I can. My new coronavirus website is being updated almost daily with all the latest key information. You can find out more by visiting, or clicking the links below.

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Coronavirus FAQ: Your questions answered!

Local residents across Tynedale and Ponteland have been contacting me with hundreds of questions about Coronavirus on everything from education to employment.

That's why I've launched my Coronavirus FAQ's website. It aims to answer as many of your burning questions as possible, with sections on staying at home, self-isolation, employment, housing, education and travel.

Click here to visit

There are dozens of questions on the site, with more being added regularly. The Coronavirus FAQ's is part of my comprehensive Coronavirus website, a detailed guide with lots of useful information. Of course, if you can't find the answers you need on the website please do not hesitate to get in touch, and I and my small team of staff (who are all working from home) will do our best to help. 

Monday, 13 April 2020

A message from the Prime Minister Boris Johnson

We've had very good news this weekend that the Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been discharged from hospital and is now recuperating. His experience shows that Coronavirus can affect anyone. That is why it is so important that we all stay at home, to protect the NHS and save lives.

As the Prime Minister sets out in the video below, our NHS workers across the country are doing an incredible job looking after those suffering from COVID-19. We should all be extremely grateful for what they are doing, and play our part by staying at home.

Friday, 10 April 2020

How you can keep supporting our local producers

The Hexham Farmers' Market is a regular and much-loved event on the Hexham calendar, but due to the measures in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, its organisers have taken the decision to suspend the Farmers' Market for now.

However, you can still support our local businesses, as many of the Hexham Farmers' Market producers sell their products direct over the phone or online, and either deliver or send out their products to your door. The link below contains a list of local businesses that are currently taking orders (minimum orders may apply).

It is vital that we continue to support our local businesses whenever we can during this challenging time, and this is a great and safe way to support them!

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Get well soon Boris!

A great picture from the Nason Ward team at George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust 
All our thoughts and prayers are with Boris Johnson and his family at the moment. I hope he gets well soon. We need him back in Downing Street to beat Coronavirus.

I know Guy's and St Thomas' hospital very well, having spent weeks in the Intensive Care Unit after collapsing with a brain tumour in 2011. I owe my life to the amazing team there.

Our PM is in good hands.

Monday, 6 April 2020

Support available as we face coronavirus

COVID-19 (coronavirus) - the latest | Healthier North-West London ...

Coronavirus is clearly a massive challenge for our country. It is a new illness, and the approach of the government is supported by opposition parties, and guided by Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, and Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance. 

As your local MP, I am here to help in any way I can. That is why I have launched by Coronavirus website - It contains lots of information on the support made available, as well as a 'FAQ's' section to answer burning questions. 

You can access each of the pages by clicking the links below: 

Please get in touch if you have any issues or concerns. My office is physically closed, but my small staff team are working from home. Email correspondence sent to will be replied to in the usual way, post is being redirected and phone messages will be responded to. 

A moving address from Her Majesty The Queen

I was very moved by Her Majesty's address to the nation last night - "We will be with our friends again. We will be with our families again. We will meet again."

Britain will get through this, but we all have to play our part. So please do your part, and stay at home. Doing so will slow the spread of coronavirus, so we can protect the NHS and save people's lives.

Watch the Queen's full address below, or read the transcript. 

I am speaking to you at what I know is an increasingly challenging time.

A time of disruption in the life of our country: a disruption that has brought grief to some, financial difficulties to many, and enormous changes to the daily lives of us all.

I want to thank everyone on the NHS frontline, as well as care workers and those carrying out essential roles, who selflessly continue their day-to-day duties outside the home in support of us all.

I am sure the nation will join me in assuring you that what you do is appreciated and every hour of your hard work brings us closer to a return to more normal times.

I also want to thank those of you who are staying at home, thereby helping to protect the vulnerable and sparing many families the pain already felt by those who have lost loved ones.

Together we are tackling this disease, and I want to reassure you that if we remain united and resolute, then we will overcome it.

I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge.

And those who come after us will say the Britons of this generation were as strong as any.

That the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humoured resolve and of fellow-feeling still characterise this country.

The pride in who we are is not a part of our past, it defines our present and our future.

The moments when the United Kingdom has come together to applaud its care and essential workers will be remembered as an expression of our national spirit; and its symbol will be the rainbows drawn by children.

Across the Commonwealth and around the world, we have seen heart-warming stories of people coming together to help others, be it through delivering food parcels and medicines, checking on neighbours, or converting businesses to help the relief effort.

And though self-isolating may at times be hard, many people of all faiths, and of none, are discovering that it presents an opportunity to slow down, pause and reflect, in prayer or meditation.

It reminds me of the very first broadcast I made, in 1940, helped by my sister.

We, as children, spoke from here at Windsor to children who had been evacuated from their homes and sent away for their own safety.

Today, once again, many will feel a painful sense of separation from their loved ones. But now, as then, we know, deep down, that it is the right thing to do.

While we have faced challenges before, this one is different.

This time we join with all nations across the globe in a common endeavour, using the great advances of science and our instinctive compassion to heal.

We will succeed - and that success will belong to every one of us.

We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.

But for now, I send my thanks and warmest good wishes to you all.