A reflection on the extraordinary response of our teams to the demands of COVID-19 | News and events

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A reflection on the extraordinary response of our teams to the demands of COVID-19

From Lance McCarthy, chief executive of The Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust (PAHT)

As we continue to work to manage the demands of coronavirus (COVID-19), I am taking this opportunity to reflect on the extraordinary response of our teams across The Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust (PAHT) over the last couple of months.

Our colleagues have gone over and above in delivering care to our patients – or supporting those who are delivering care – and have met the challenges they have faced with energy, effort and above all, dedication to our patients. I know I speak for everyone across the hospital when I say that we are all truly grateful for the support we are giving to each other in these unprecedented times.

We have transformed the way that we provide care, to ensure the safety of our patients and our people. Walking through the corridors now is a completely different experience to what we would have expected just two months ago. We have suspended visiting, apart from in exceptional circumstances, which means there are fewer people moving around the hospital. We understand how important visitors are for the holistic care of our patients, so we have responded to meet this need, together with our charity partner The Anne Robson Trust. We are now offering the Message to a Loved One service to complement personal video and phone calls, where families and friends can email or phone in with a message, which will be shared with patients on the wards. We have also just introduced a video calling service for those staying on our coronavirus (COVID-19) allocated wards, with plans to provide this on other wards in the near future.

We have changed how we offer our outpatient services, with approximately 80 per cent of outpatient appointments carried out over phone and video since 23 March. This compares with approximately 3.5% of outpatient appointments delivered virtually over the same period last year. While we have had to take the difficult decision to cancel non-urgent surgery so that we have additional capacity to care for patients with coronavirus (COVID-19), we are ensuring that all patients have the opportunity to discuss plans for their care with their clinician during the present time. I would also like to reassure patients that all urgent treatment and surgery will go ahead.

Other routine services continue as usual. We have carried out 3,761 X-rays and 1,345 CT scans. We have performed 3,104 ultrasound (US) and 492 MRI investigations and have continued to offer urgent imaging services, including for patients with cancer. The radiology department has adapted services in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic by providing more imaging services at the patient bedside, including chest X-rays and ultrasound scans. We have dedicated one of the CT scanners to scanning coronavirus (COVID-19) patients (confirmed or suspected cases) only and the radiographers have all been working on the front line ensuring timely diagnostics. 

We are also working to detect signs of coronavirus (COVID-19) in outpatients without symptoms who have attended for chest scans and X-rays by reviewing the imaging whilst the patient is still in the radiology department. The radiologist then informs the patient of the findings and gives advice to self-isolate and call 111 if their symptoms deteriorate.

Other tests to help diagnose conditions and illnesses for our patients are continuing too – in biochemistry (analysis of blood, urine and other body fluids) 320,701 tests were carried out from 23 March to 23 April; in haematology (study of the blood and blood-forming tissues), 323,607; and serology (study of serum and other body fluids), 79,098.

We have been concerned to hear nationally that some patients are anxious about coming to the Emergency Department (ED/A&E) when they are seriously unwell, due to being worried about contracting coronavirus (COVID-19). We urge everyone to come to ED/A&E straight away if they are concerned about themselves or their child being seriously unwell. Our teams are here to care for you or your child and as always we take all precautions to ensure the safety of our patients.

Last week, we saw on average 150 patients a day at our Emergency Department, with a range of different illnesses and injuries. On our wards, treatment for patients without coronavirus (COVID-19) is ongoing, from gastroenterology patients requiring diagnostics and specialist treatment to emergency hip operations following trauma; rehabilitation with our therapies teams; blood transfusions; intravenous (IV) antibiotic therapy; sepsis; kidney infections; cardiac conditions and more. Our patient at home team have been continuing to see a range of patients virtually in their own home who require ongoing care in relation to antibiotic therapy, blood monitoring, and anticoagulation support (to help prevent blood clots). Since 23 March, 340 babies have been born, with our midwives continuing to ensure the safety of women and their birthing partners at our hospital.

At St Margaret’s Hospital in Epping and Herts and Essex Hospital in Bishop’s Stortford, many services are also being provided. We continue to offer a number of face-to-face outpatient appointments that our clinicians have reviewed as medically appropriate, specifically at the fracture clinic and breast clinic. The Oak Unit at St Margaret’s Hospital is running some one-stop urology clinics face-to-face and we are about to restart a number of dermatology minor operative procedures and appointments at both St Margaret’s Hospital and Herts and Essex Hospital. The remaining outpatient appointments are being carried out either by telephone or video consultation. There is also a limited phlebotomy service for urgent blood tests at both St Margaret’s Hospital and Herts and Essex Hospital and we are running limited imaging services at both hospitals during this time.

We know that across the country, health and care professionals are feeling anxious about the availability and appropriateness of personal protective equipment (PPE). At PAHT, our teams are working tirelessly to ensure we have the supplies we need to care for our patients safely and have carried out a fantastic job in ensuring that we continually replenish our stock. We have also introduced a team of PPE safety marshals who give colleagues advice on the latest guidance from Public Health England, updating this when it changes, advising on how to ensure they are wearing PPE appropriately to protect themselves, and offering other assistance required including discussing any particular concerns. We have had feedback that this has really helped to give our staff additional support during this challenging time.

I also absolutely want to acknowledge the vital role of our other support staff, from the hard work of the catering team in providing high quality meals for our inpatients and staff, to the estates and facilities teams who keep our buildings and equipment well-maintained, and the sensitivity and kindness of the bereavement and mortuary teams in their support of families and friends of patients who have sadly passed away. Our porters are providing a fantastic service in accompanying our patients and moving essential goods around the hospital; as are our domestics in keeping the hospital clean and safe; and our administration colleagues in ensuring the effective running of the hospital.

Every day, our amazing people work to provide high quality care and treatment for our patients. While coronavirus (COVID-19) remains at the forefront of the national consciousness, we are also looking to the future. We continue to progress our plans and I’m delighted to be working towards a new hospital for Harlow to serve our community. We are also strengthening our relationships with other health and care organisations through the One Health and Care Partnership.

The outpouring of support we have seen from our local community through generously raising more than £28,000 for our coronavirus (COVID-19) charity appeal, the donation of gifts via our Amazon WishList, and the numerous messages of thanks has been truly overwhelming, and so gratefully received.

We are proud of the professionalism and compassion of our amazing people – please take the opportunity to thank them if you can, I know it means a great deal to all of us.

Best wishes,

Lance McCarthy

Chief executive

Thank you to you all at work in these tough times. You are all brilliant trying so save lives and trying to beat this horrible virus. Without you we don’t know where we would be now. Love to you all in these challenging times for our NHS.                                      

                                                                                     Patient