Health services across Gloucestershire such as cancer treatments and planned operations are now being restored after being paused or reduced due to the coronavirus pandemic, the local NHS says.
But all services remain prepared to respond to a potential second spike in Covid-19 cases and deaths – so it’s uncertain how permanent the resumption of services could be.
Work to increase specialist diagnostic services which help to identify an illness or injury, cancer surgery and planned care is going ahead by the local hospital trust.
Cheltenham General Hospital’s emergency department temporarily closed earlier this month in preparation for a potential second wave, and telephone, online and video consultations will continue to replace face-to-face GP appointments.
Gloucestershire experienced its peak of cases and deaths in mid-April, and more than 560 people have died in the county from the virus as of May 29.
Covid-19 testing for NHS staff in Gloucestershire is being expanded, including the roll-out of a new antibody test programme which will tell employees whether they have had the virus.
More than 7,000 staff have had the tests so far and a further 18,000 tests will be offered in the coming weeks, the local NHS said.
It added that the steps taken by health and social care staff to cope with anticipated pressure caused by Covid-19 has been “unprecedented”.
These are some of the developments taken place since the start of the pandemic earlier this year, and what’s happening next:
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.
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.
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 Vale (Dursley) remains temporarily closed and the units at 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.
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 meet 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.”