Health bosses in Gloucestershire say they’re ‘well prepared’ for the expected peak in hospital admissions relating to the coronavirus this month.
Nearly half a million items of personal protective equipment have been given to care workers in Gloucestershire in the last two weeks, and fundamental changes have been made to hospitals and GP surgeries to cope with the anticipated pressure caused by Covid-19.
Dr Jeremy Welch, urgent care lead at NHS Gloucestershire clinical commissioning group (CCG) and a GP said people with non-coronavirus related health issues should still contact the NHS for help and advice.
In Gloucestershire, 113 people have died who had tested positive for coronavirus, according to figures released on Thursday.
Of those who died, 105 were being treated at Gloucestershire Hospitals while eight were being cared for through Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust.
The total number of confirmed cases in Gloucestershire stood at 904 in figures released by Public Health England yesterday.
The local NHS said it aims to increase testing in the coming days and weeks as Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, deputising for the Prime Minister, announced the UK lockdown will continue for another three weeks.
In Cheltenham General and Gloucestershire Royal Hospitals, iPads have been given to patients to contact their loved ones.
Wards at the two main hospitals have been split into Covid-19 positive wards and Covid-19 negative wards to safely manage these two groups of patients.
Between April 1 to 16, more than 370 tests were provided to staff at the two county’s two main hospitals, community hospitals and GP surgeries.
Staff from social care and pharmacies, as well as the family members of healthcare workers, are being tested as well.
Some of the advice and steps being taken in Gloucestershire to protect patients and staff and maintain essential services include:
There are far fewer face to face GP surgery appointments to support the safety of patients and staff, but there are significantly more telephone, on-line and video consultations.
A number of ‘community hubs’ have been set up 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.
Patients can only access the hubs after going through NHS 111 and/or initial telephone and video assessment by their GP.
Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust continue to support patients who receive regular care at home.
In some cases, the trust is covering visits and providing care using alternative qualified staff or in different ways, such as by telephone.
Essential community services are being prioritised, meaning some non-urgent work has been postponed and the trust is providing many services differently, either over the telephone or digitally.
Mental health and learning disability services continue to be provided although there are fewer appointments face to face.
Those with the most urgent and severe needs are being prioritised, however direct access services, such as Let’s Talk, continue to be available.
The Trust has set up additional wards at Stroud and Cirencester Hospitals and rearranged other wards at their hospitals to support patients.
Three of the county’s Minor Injury and Illness Units (MIIUs) – Dilke (Cinderford), The Vale (Dursley) and Tewkesbury have closed temporarily, so that staff can be re-deployed to where they are most needed. The opening hours for the other MIIUs are 8am to 6pm, 7 days a week, until further notice.
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.
Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has 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.
Following national guidance, the trust has reduced planned operations.
These staff, equipment and facilities are being prioritised to support essential services, such as vital life and limb saving operations and cancer treatments;
Emergency General Surgery has been centralised at the Gloucestershire Royal site. This is a temporary emergency change in response to Covid-19 to ensure safe staffing levels.
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: some of the trust’s services are now 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 is being performed, 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;
The trust has grouped wards at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital and Cheltenham General Hospital into Covid-19 positive wards and Covid-19 negative wards to safely manage these two groups of patients.
The areas are referred to as ‘pods’ and each pod is supported by a dedicated team including consultants, doctors, nurses, therapists, health care assistants, porters, domestic support and administrative support.
The Paediatric Assessment Unit (PAU) at GRH is being used for children and young people (16 and under) instead of the Emergency Department at GRH.
Speaking on behalf of the NHS in Gloucestershire, Dr Welch said: “Right across the NHS in Gloucestershire, huge efforts have been made to transform the way we provide care to ensure that essential services can continue.
“This has involved fundamental changes in local hospitals, community services and GP surgeries.
“A key priority is ensuring that health and care professionals have access to the equipment and information they need and the NHS has also introduced a wide range of staff support and wellbeing programmes providing practical as well as emotional and psychological support to colleagues on the frontline.
“It is important that people continue to contact the NHS for support with non-Covid-19 related health issues – whether those relate to physical health or mental health.
“Our message is clear – please don’t store your health concerns up for when the Covid-19 situation is all over. If you’re worried about something and need urgent help, get in touch.”