Derby hospital ‘as busy as in depths of winter’

Derbyshire’s NHS services say the healthcare system across the county and city is under “severe pressure” with strain compared to that faced at the turn of the New Year. This is due to a series of compounding reasons but problems stand out now most of all because the pressures are matching those felt in winter, but at a time when the strain typically declines.

The message from our health officials is that they are doing what they can but require public support to help ease some of the burden. Part of the crisis being experienced by our healthcare system relates directly to Covid-19, others indirectly and some are completely separate.

Read more Derbyshire health stories

There are still a large number of hospital patients with Covid-19 in Derbyshire, most of whom were seeking care for other ailments and tested positive for the virus. However, this places strain on the system due to the need to separate Covid-positive patients from those without the virus, using up vital space and resources.

Meanwhile, staff who test positive for Covid, and remain more likely to do so due to their close proximity to unwell patients, are also routinely off work, leaving gaps in staffing. There is currently a significantly high demand being faced by our hospitals in particular at A&E, with many more patients seeking help.

There remains substantial and unprecedented pressures on our ambulance services which is also being compounded by issues with both a surge in admissions and delays in discharge. Times like this show how interdependent all parts of the healthcare system are on each other and it is key that no one area is the source of the problem or the subject of the blame.

As Dr Magnus Harrison, interim chief executive of Derby and Burton’s hospitals says, “If I could sum up the week we’ve had as a Trust in three words I’d probably say busy, busy and, well busy”. He says the entire system is feeling the strain. Last week the University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust issued a social media post saying: “Our Emergency Departments at both Royal Derby Hospital & Queen’s Hospital Burton are extremely busy.

“To ensure we can provide our care to those who need it the most, please choose the right service for your needs. “Please only visit A&E if you’re experiencing a serious or life-threatening emergency.”

Similarly, the Chesterfield Royal NHS Foundation Trust issued a “high alert” post saying: “We are under severe pressure and are calling for your help to make sure we can focus care on the most poorly patients as we face high demand. “You can help by using the most appropriate service. Do not call 999 or attend the emergency department unless your condition is life threatening, otherwise it will mean very long waits and may delay results for seriously ill people.

“We are calling for your help to make sure we can focus care on the most poorly patients as we face high demand.” Waiting list backlogs remain staggeringly high, despite huge efforts to reduce the number on hold for treatment and large successes in bringing the figure down.

Derbyshire health officials have warned previously that capacity just is not there to purely focus on waiting list backlogs while emergency cases and general admissions are skyrocketing. This causes waits to continue to lengthen and the number waiting to grow. Dr Harrison said he could not recall a week in April throughout any of his years in the NHS which compared to the pressures seen last week, saying: “It feels like this is the first week of a New Year all over again – it’s that busy.”

He said the trust was still caring for 200 patients with Covid and that “many” staff had tested positive and were required to self-isolate. Dr Harrison said: “I know colleagues in the ambulance service are as stretched as they’ve ever been and they’re working flat out.

“Their pressure comes from the sheer volume of calls and then the time it takes for us to take those patients from them. This is a real issue nationally. “Then there are our own problems in trying to create flow in the hospital from our hard-working emergency department teams and into the wards

“Then we ourselves have difficulty discharging patients as our partners in community and social care have their own capacity constraints. “In short, the whole care and social care system is under huge pressure and the high rate of Covid infections in patients, communities and staff is adding significant stress.

“It might be that Easter comes to our rescue, given some non-urgent/emergency services run at reduced capacity at this time and that might release some beds. “We’re doing everything we can to ease the flow of patients.”

Papers published by the Derbyshire Community Health Services NHS Foundation Trust say that community transmission of Covid-19 is once again very high. They detail that, in the Midlands, hospital admissions of over 75s have now risen above their peak in January.

Tracy Allen, the trust’s chief executive summarises: “Coupled with high levels of staff absence, the situation remains a serious one.” She dubbed the pressure “relentless” and said it was taking a “personal and professional toll” with the healthcare “juggling precious capacity to deliver the best outcomes they can”.

Berenice Groves, Deputy Chief Executive and Chief Operating Office for the Chesterfield Royal Hospital trust said: “Alongside increases in hospital patients who have confirmed Covid-19, our emergency department is incredibly busy with many patients facing very long waits. “This means ambulances need to wait longer at emergency departments before their crews can handover the care of patients.

“Adult care and community services are also facing unprecedented demand, which means patients can’t be discharged in a timely manner once they are medically fit. The collective impact is that local hospital beds are almost full to capacity. “We’re working tirelessly with our partners across health and social care to ensure we prioritise those patients who really need us most.

“We need the public to help us too, and this might include helping us with getting their loved ones home from hospital when they are ready for discharge, avoiding unnecessary delays.”