As you will have no doubt already seen, today the Government has announced a new, three-level, alert system and the suggestion is that South Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire will be within the second tier (also known as ‘high’).
Similar to the lockdown earlier this year, there will be a number of measures in place to try and reduce the rise in transmission in our communities, and I urge everybody to read the newly published guidance to understand what it means for you and your household. While I understand these new challenges might be frustrating for some, it will help us to once again flatten the curve locally so that less people need hospital treatment, or even intensive care, as a result of Covid-19.
There is some speculation as to what is driving this apparent second-wave, and I am aware that there is a suggestion that the increases in testing is resulting in the rise in reported rates of Covid-19. However, the reality is that patients who are Covid-19 positive and in hospital need hospital care, and this is why together we need to lower the transmission rates.
At our hospitals in Doncaster and Bassetlaw, we have seen our numbers of Covid-19 positive patients increase sharply from single digits in early September to now more than 50, representing a faster increase in admissions than we saw earlier this year. While colleagues are handling this surge in activity with the same determination as in March and April, it is clear that we now need your help as we did during the first-wave of this disease if we are to ensure that our services do not become overwhelmed as we head into the colder, and traditionally busier, months.
Currently, the vast majority of those in our care who have tested positive for the illness are over 70, which means that we are seeing a rise in transmission to people more at risk of serious illness. We are also seeing a significant number of people within the community who are asymptomatic, or have mild symptoms of the disease who are testing positive, and this creates further challenge within our hospitals, and different pressures to what we faced during the first-wave.
Every patient with Covid-19 in our hospitals is, and has to be, cared for in a very specific way, however the illness may be affecting them. This impacts in all manner of areas from what protective equipment colleagues must wear, what treatments are used, which areas these individuals are transported through to what infection prevention and control procedures are in place. With the additional pressures of ‘traditional’ seasonal illnesses, this has the potential to be a very challenging winter period and we need everyone to do as much as they can to prevent the spread not just of Covid-19, but also Influenza. Even if you have never had, or even never considered having the flu jab before, please make it a priority to get the vaccination this year.
Adding to the above, since July we have been seeing more patients within our Emergency Departments, and we are continuing to scale up our elective (planned) operations and diagnostic tests, working through the backlog of appointments and procedures generated earlier this year. We are committed to trying to keep these services at a higher-level than in the first-wave, and if we can keep admission levels and community transmission of Covid-19 as low as possible we will be able to deliver on this ambition through the next few months.
In terms of readiness, we have kept in place a lot of the safeguards that were implemented earlier this year to manage the flow of affected patients across our hospitals, and our supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) are much better and much more robust than in April and May. We have also taken the opportunity to increase our intensive and high dependency care beds, our piped oxygen supply and have taken delivery of new equipment such as ventilators to further increase our resilience. We are also working on further developing our testing capacity, with point of care testing (POCT) on the horizon in the not too distant future, POCT will allow us to identify whether patients who are to be admitted have Covid-19, influenza or neither, cutting down on the time it takes for results to be known to 90 minutes – this will be a game-changer for the Trust.
In all, we think that we have prepared as much as possible, and we are once again relying on our health care teams to take us through the next few weeks. We have asked our NHS workers to make such sacrifices throughout this year, and with just a few weeks of relative calm in summer, we are asking them to go again, fighting an illness that it still very much unknown to us, and for that I will be forever grateful to my colleagues.
On behalf of Team DBTH, I ask that you again give them as much support as possible by adhering to these new items of guidance and restrictions. As a nation, we have pushed Covid-19 back once, reclaiming parts of our summer in the process – so please, put in the hard work now, dig a little deeper and keep up your commitment to beating this disease. If we manage this, we will be able to look forward to a spring that will not just inhabit a ‘new normal’, but will be just instead moving back to normal.
Please remember hands, face and space if you’re out and about, stick to the guidance and look after the vulnerable. As a hospital and a community we have some difficult times ahead – however, as the people of Doncaster and Bassetlaw, you showed us earlier this year that you want to keep each other as safe as possible – if everyone sticks together and looks out for one another in the same way now, we will ensure this second-wave does not have the same impact as the first.
Let’s keep going just a little while longer and let’s do it for Doncaster and Bassetlaw.
Richard Parker OBE