Health and care leaders in Gloucestershire have said that they are working as one to maintain essential services as the COVID-19 situation places unprecedented pressure on the county’s NHS.
Last week, the NHS issued a plea for local people to follow the new lockdown restrictions to the letter to save lives and protect health and care services.
They have warned of rising hospital admissions and a potential surge in COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks.
The last few weeks have seen a rapid rise in the number of COVID-19 positive patients being admitted to hospitals around the county, with numbers 60% higher than at the peak of the first wave.
Now further steps are being taken to ensure that essential services are protected whilst existing temporary changes remain in place.
Dr Jeremy Welch from NHS Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group said:
“The NHS has already put in place a wide range of measures for the winter period to ensure the safety of patients and staff and maintain essential health services for those that will continue to need them.
However the pressure now being placed on the NHS locally and nationally is of a very serious nature and NHS and care organisations are working as one to monitor and agree the additional steps that are needed.
GP surgery services remain in place for patients who have illnesses that won’t go away and need to get symptoms checked out urgently.”
Prof Mark Pietroni, Medical Director at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said:
“We continue to see higher numbers of COVID-19 patients than the first wave, and colleagues across both hospitals are working tirelessly to provide care for all our patients.
We are monitoring the situation extremely closely and this includes constant review of non-COVID and planned care services, focusing on safe rapid discharge from hospital for patients who are medically fit and redeploying some staff to where they are most needed.
It is essential that local people carry on supporting us by following the lockdown rules to reduce transmission.”
Dr Amjad Uppal, Medical Director at Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust said:
“Our response to the COVID-19 pandemic continued throughout 2020 and we have now escalated our plans in order to ensure we can respond to the increased pressures our services, and those of other health and care organisations, are facing.
Our main priorities are ensuring that our urgent services, including mental health crisis services, hospital care and community based care, which keeps people out of hospital or supports vulnerable people, remain resilient under the increased pressure they are now encountering every day.”
Some of the advice and steps being taken in Gloucestershire to protect patients and staff and maintain essential services include:
• People with symptoms of COVID-19 are asked not to book an appointment or visit a GP surgery or hospital. The advice is to stay at home, follow the advice at www.nhs.uk and if symptoms worsen, use NHS 111 online or call NHS 111
• Other patients should continue to contact their GP surgery if they need urgent medical help. GP surgeries will initially assess patients over the phone or online to make sure they are cared for by the right person, in the right place for their illness
• Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust continues to support patients who receive regular care at home. In some cases, the Trust is covering visits and providing care in different ways, such as by telephone
• Essential community services are being prioritised, meaning some non-urgent appointments may require a slightly longer wait
• Mental health and learning disability services continue to be provided. Those with the most urgent and severe needs are being prioritised, however direct access services, such as Let’s Talk, continue to be available
• Tewkesbury Hospital Minor Injury and Illness Unit (MIIU) is now temporarily closed so that staff can be redeployed to where they are most needed. Dilke Memorial Hospital MIIU remains temporarily closed along with the Vale MIIU, near Dursley
• Local people are reminded that visiting has been restricted in hospitals and five mental health and learning disability inpatient units across Gloucestershire to help contain the virus, protect patients and safeguard staff (check Trust websites for details)
• Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust continues to closely monitor the impact of rising COVID-19 numbers on all services. This includes redeploying staff, equipment and facilities when they are needed to support essential services
• The Trust has reduced the number of face to face hospital outpatient appointments in favour of video conferencing and phone calls. Arrangements are in place for patients who need to be seen face to face or need to access diagnostics as part of their appointment
• Cancer care continues – some of the Trust’s services are making initial assessments of patients’ symptoms by telephone or video conferencing. This allows the Trust to decide which patients can be booked for tests without any further appointment and which need to be seen face to face
• Cancer surgery continues – the regional cancer centre at Cheltenham General Hospital is fully operational and specialist treatments like radiotherapy and chemotherapy are continuing as are mobile and satellite services
• Both Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust have introduced virtual visiting with specially protected iPads and secure video software to enable relatives to speak to patients who are in COVID-19 positive areas of their hospitals
• The NHS in Gloucestershire is deploying more staff to support timely discharge from hospital and securing additional assessment beds
• The NHS has also set up COVID-19 ‘virtual’ wards to monitor and support patients with recovery at home
• Vaccination – the Edward Jenner Vaccination Hub at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital and a network of 10 community vaccination centres are in place in the county and tens of thousands of people in top priority groups have already been vaccinated
• Enormous progress has been made with vaccinating frontline staff, over 80s and care home residents and there is a real focus on vaccinating people in other top priority groups over the coming weeks
• The NHS knows that priority groups are keen to receive their first doses of the vaccine as soon as possible. Please wait for your GP surgery/NHS to contact you
• Testing – health and care staff, as well as patients scheduled to come in for operations, are still being tested for COVID-19 from a hub set up in Brockworth. This has continued throughout the pandemic, since March 2020 and approximately 115 tests are being carried out every day, including most weekends. This is separate to the testing centres available to the public.