‘Hero’ NHS staff praised for 17-hours A&E shifts as hospitals face growing winter pressures
- Credit: Archant
Hospital bosses have praised the “hero” NHS staff who gave up their free time and worked 17-hour shifts as the region’s health service faced another year of unprecedented demand over the festive period.
An extra 87 patients a day visited A&E at the region’s three main hospitals over Christmas and New Year compared to last year, pushing the figure to 726.
Hospital managers said it is the busiest “we have ever seen” but insist they are not compromising patient safety. High A&E demand is expected to last until next week.
At Ipswich Hospital, an average of 259 patients attended A&E each day from December 19 to January 2, up from 232 last year – a rise of 11.6%. There was a bigger rise at Colchester General Hospital, from 229 to 267 (16.6%). It rose from 178 to 200 at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds (12.4%).
Elderly patients who are sicker are behind the rise rather than alcohol, health chiefs said.
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She said: “We are facing an exceptionally busy period. It hasn’t been this busy before. The ambulance service is under extreme pressure.
“But Ipswich Hospital always somehow manages to cope very well. We are a very cohesive and very strong team, and always pull together. Many of us are used to working very long hours and on days off, which we have done over this festive period, probably more so than last year.
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“Quite a lot of consultants are working extra hours, senior nursing staff are working on days off; everyone is working very hard, from the cleaners to the junior doctors.
“On behalf of the trust, I would like to thank all of them. They go the extra mile and are definitely heroes. We do this because we care about the people who we help. We want them to get better. They’re not doing it for the money.”
Asked if the voluntary work helped prevent a crisis, the 33-year-old, originally from Fife in Scotland, said: “Yes, it would have been, absolutely. There is a really big strain on the system. The thing that we are lacking in the NHS is funding. If we had adequate resources and adequate funding, we could continue to provide the service that patients expect and what we have provided in the past.
“But year on year, we don’t get the funding that we need. The NHS is just used as a political football. It’s tough but we are managing at the moment.”
Routine appointments and non-urgent surgery have been postponed across the county. At Ipswich Hospital, routine elective inpatient admissions have been postponed until mid-January, although some non-urgent surgery was carried out before Christmas.
Neill Moloney, managing director and deputy chief executive at the hospital, said staff are under “significant pressure at the moment”.
Mr Moloney said: “This is invariably the highest level of activity that we have ever seen but we have planned for that appropriately. It is incredibly busy but I believe that Ipswich will cope with all of that admirably.
“We haven’t been in a situation where we have had patients queuing up for beds in our A&E department that I know other organisations have experienced.
“At Ipswich so far, we have been able to create the capacity in line with our plan. Undoubtedly what that has done, we have experienced some real challenges in trying to get all of those areas staffed, but we have looked at all those other nurses working in the organisations that are not directly on the wards and we are using them to provide that support for those wards, so we have got the staff that we need.”
“I am immensely proud of our staff. Some have given up time over the new year and at weekends to come in and help support their colleagues to ensure we continue to deliver safe and high-quality care.
“We developed our plan in June/July with our community health partners to find ways of getting patients back into their own homes much earlier, and that has been very successful. Frankly we would have been in a much more difficult situation this year. We have been able to accommodate that increase in activity because we have been able to facilitate earlier discharge for patients back into the community.
“One of the things introduced last year was the Frailty Assessment Base, in which elderly patients are comprehensively assessed and we try to get them home on the same day with support from community partners.
“We have strengthened our reablement, a facility we have at Blue Bird Lodge which enables us to provide some good reablement, which means patients recover quicker and get home quicker.
“If everything remained the same, we know we would not have the capacity required in the future. What we have been doing over the last year, and we have plans now to do this, is to consider how we work with all of the professionals in the local areas is to think about ways in which we might prevent patients from deteriorating and provide that care out in the community so we are able to cope.
“I am not going to say that we have cracked all of that but I am much more confident now that we have developed relationships now with all our local organisations that we will be able to significantly address that growth in activity that is likely to come.
“I say that with some degree of confidence. In the early part of this year we actually say emergency admissions reducing.”
Crawford Jamieson, medical director at Ipswich Hospital, said sicker and more frail elderly patients were largely behind the increase.
He said: “It has never been busier but that doesn’t mean we didn’t expect these numbers.
“We have done a lot of work keeping frail and elderly patients mobile and not stuck in bed as it is harmful to their fitness. We are extremely keen to get patients back into the community with the right support.
“We are also enormously proud of our staff. Many are working beyond their hours. We are confident our plans will keep staff and patients safe. We never put staff under pressure. We are very aware it is a marathon, not a sprint, and we will make sure they can catch up and sustain their fitness.”
Helen Beck, chief operating officer at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, said: ““This is a significant and sustained increase in demand compared to the same period last year. We’re very grateful to all our staff, who are working incredibly hard and are continuously pulling out all the stops to provide high-quality care to people.
“We are following national guidance and reviewing our pre-planned surgery list on a daily basis to help manage demand and care for patients who need urgent care as a priority. We will continue to treat urgent and cancer patients, while deploying clinical and surgical staff to our emergency department and wards.
“The care and treatment of all our patients is our highest priority. We will do all that we can to keep the cancellation of any non-emergency pre-planned operations and appointments to a minimum, however, at the moment we must care for our sickest patients first.
“Patients affected by the cancellation of any non-emergency operations or appointments will be contacted directly and dates will be rearranged at the earliest opportunity. We thank our local community for their patience while we care for those currently in our hospital.”