Health leaders say they are taking proactive steps to resume many of the services that were paused or reduced during the recent pandemic, whilst remaining focused on minimising the risk to patients of coming into healthcare settings.
Importantly, all services remain prepared to respond to a further spike in the virus, should it happen.
The scale of the steps taken by health and social care staff over the last three months have been unprecedented with the NHS putting in place a wide range of measures to ensure the safety of patients and staff whilst maintaining essential health services.
The NHS locally is now restoring many of the services paused or reduced in recent weeks such as cancer treatments, planned operations and diagnostics.
Temporary service changes have been put in place at the two acute hospitals to ensure all patients, including those who are vulnerable, can access the care they need with confidence whilst the virus remains.
The NHS in Gloucestershire is also leading the way in expanding the existing COVID-19 testing programme for staff, including rolling out at speed the new antibody testing programme. Over 7,000 staff have had antibody tests so far with a plan to offer over 18,000 tests in the coming weeks.
Speaking on behalf of the NHS in Gloucestershire, Urgent Care Lead at NHS Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group and local GP, Dr Jeremy Welch said: “Right across the NHS in Gloucestershire, huge efforts were made in recent weeks to transform care to ensure that essential services could continue and to keep people as safe as possible.
As we continue on the road to recovery and reinstate services, our focus is on getting the balance right, so we can meets the needs of those patients who have stayed away from healthcare in recent weeks, whilst minimising the spread of the virus and remaining well placed to respond to a second surge, should it occur.
Front line health and care professionals have done so much to support patients, their families and each other during the pandemic, but many other teams have also responded in extraordinary ways, to the challenges we have faced.
This includes supporting staff to rapidly adopt new ways of working such as working from home or delivering ‘virtual’ care to patients via video or telephone, taking on new roles and adapting to major service changes and wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) for long periods of time.
In the weeks and months ahead, we want to take full advantage of the great advances made in these new ways of working and use of new technology. Video consultations for example are now in widespread use and feedback from patients has been very positive.
Again, it’s about getting the balance right in meeting the health needs of our diverse communities.”
Summary of advice and developments:
• People with symptoms of COVID-19 are asked not to book an appointment or visit a GP surgery or hospital. The advice remains 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 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
• There will continue to be fewer face to face GP surgery appointments than normal to support the safety of patients and staff, but there are significantly more telephone, on-line and video consultations
• A number of ‘GP community hubs’ are open in health centres and surgeries across the county for patients who need face to face medical support and may have possible symptoms of COVID-19. These will remain in place for the foreseeable future
• Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust (GHC) – the Community Minor Injury and Illness units at the Dilke (Cinderford), Vale (Dursley) and Tewkesbury remain temporarily closed and the units at Lydney, Cirencester, Stroud and North Cotswolds (Moreton in Marsh) are continuing to operate with revised opening hours of 8am to 6pm, 7 days per week
• Community and mental health hospitals continue to have arrangements in place to ensure patients who are confirmed as having COVID-19 or suspected of having COVID-19 are separated from each other, as well as from patients who don’t have COVID-19. The Trust continues to review services and capacity at their hospitals to minimise the possibility of cross-infection between patients and staff
• Community services and teams – GHC continues to provide services to those people most in need of treatment and support, however much of this has been done through digital appointments, rather than face to face
• Community services and teams – GHC is gradually opening services more widely and increasing referrals, but is doing so carefully to reduce the spread of infection, ensure premises are safe and maintain a state of readiness should there be a second ‘peak’
• Visiting restrictions at the county’s hospitals and five mental health and learning disability inpatient units across Gloucestershire will remain in place for now to help contain the virus, protect patients and safeguard staff. This will be reviewed in July (check Trust websites for details)
• The NHS Trusts continue to support virtual visiting through use of iPads and their patient support hubs to enable relatives to speak to loved ones in hospital
• Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (GHFT) – temporary COVID-19 related service changes such as centralisation of Emergency Department (A&E) services to Gloucestershire Royal and changes to cardiology and stroke services are in place to support testing, reduce the spread of infection by service and site and ensure robust clinical staff cover at all times, providing confidence to the local population that both hospitals are safe places to receive care – see the Trust website for details
• Cheltenham General Hospital continues to provide a Minor Illness and Injury (MIIU) service, 8am to 8pm, 7 days a week, supported by an enhanced Ambulatory Emergency Care service (AEC), operating Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm, to see patients referred by their GP who require specialist review, but are unlikely to need a stay in hospital
• GHFT is working to increase cancer surgery, planned care and specialist diagnostic services (services that help to identify an illness or injury), especially to those patients who are most vulnerable
• GHFT is working to gradually increase the number of face to face hospital outpatient appointments if needed, whilst continuing to offer video and phone consultations where appropriate.