A doctor's view on how coronavirus deaths have compared to winter flu fatalities in Northumberland

Dr Jeremy Rushmer, medical director at the Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital near Cramlington.Dr Jeremy Rushmer, medical director at the Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital near Cramlington.
Dr Jeremy Rushmer, medical director at the Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital near Cramlington.
Covid-19 was ‘only a little bit worse than the flu from a hospital death point of view’ in Northumberland, a leading doctor has said.

Jeremy Rushmer, a critical care doctor and the executive medical director at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospitals in Northumberland and North Tyneside, was talking at a meeting of the county council’s health and wellbeing committee on Tuesday, July 14.

He reported that the first 13 weeks of the year were below average for the number of deaths in Northumberland before an eight-week period of excess deaths.

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However, this was not much different in terms of hospital deaths to the flu outbreak in the winter of 2017-18, he said, although he noted that the impact of coronavirus had been more significant in the community.

Between March 18 and July 5, the trust had 27,000 admissions, which resulted in just 771 confirmed cases of Covid-19, including five on the day of the meeting. Of those, 589 patients survived and were discharged.

The respiratory unit at the Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital at Cramlington, which uses non-invasive ventilation, had 133 admissions during that period, half with Covid-19, and 42, or 60%, survived.

Dr Rushmer said that ‘it has become time to talk about the fact that the population risk is not just coronavirus’ with issues such as isolation and economic turmoil likely to have health and wellbeing impacts.

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“The focus now is on getting services back to normal, but we will be keeping a weather eye on things,” he added.

Dr Rushmer also praised both staff and residents for their response to the crisis.

“The staff, we couldn’t have really asked more, we’re really privileged to work with them as a health provider,” he said, noting that ‘if we didn’t create PPE ourselves (setting up a new manufacturing facility in Cramlington), there’s no doubt that we would not have been able to protect staff and keep them safe’.

In terms of support from the public, he added: “There’s a real sense of community in the North East and it’s been absolutely out of this world.”

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Coun Susan Dungworth said: “Our figures are awful, but compared to other areas of the county with similar demographics, we have managed to keep a lid on this disease and that’s down to the trust.”

This is supported by Northumbria Healthcare’s latest research which shows that overall public satisfaction is at record levels despite the challenges posed by Covid-19.

The trust regularly asks the public for feedback on services and the most recent shows that 94% of respondents were satisfied with the services provided – the highest number since polling began in 2012 and a 10% increase since 2018.

People also felt Northumbria Healthcare has managed the coronavirus pandemic well with more than 80% saying the handling had been good or very good.

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Where people had experienced direct care in the past 12 months, satisfaction was above 85% for all hospitals, with North Tyneside and Wansbeck seeing particularly high approval levels (96% and 95%).

The trust’s chief executive, Sir James Mackey, said: “We’ve had amazing support from the public, businesses and partners during the pandemic and it’s pleasing to see that our services are rated so highly by the whole community even when facing such challenging circumstances.

“We’ve worked incredibly hard to ensure we provide the best possible services over a long period of time and will continue to strive for improvements as the country continues into this new phase of recovery.”

A new online forum has just been set up to get the public involved in discussions about local NHS services – https://northumbriacommunity.explainonline.co.uk/login/

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