'We’ve never done a winter in Covid' - Northumberland health services prepare for seasonal influx

The public is being urged to ‘do your bit’ as Northumberland health chiefs put in motion plans to deal with the pressures of winter amid Covid-19.
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The county council’s health and wellbeing committee heard at its meeting on Tuesday, October 6, about the winter planning work that has been taking place between all health and social-care partners in the region since the summer in a bid to ensure services can cope.

Representatives of NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group, which buys and plans the county’s healthcare, including overseeing GPs and primary care, and Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospitals, provided updates on what is being put in place for what is an unprecedented season.

Health workers are preparing for winter.Health workers are preparing for winter.
Health workers are preparing for winter.
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“While we’ve done lots of winters before, we’ve never done a winter in Covid, so we are really trying to work through what is going to come through the door and how best we manage all the varying tensions we have,” said Northumbria Healthcare’s executive director of performance and improvement, Birju Bartoli.

The plans include measures such as the trust having a four-stage system to provide additional beds and ward space so that it can treat Covid and other patients while continuing to carry out as much elective surgery as possible, NHS 111 connecting patients with a community pharmacy where appropriate, and reviewing GP out-of-hours rotas and capacity.

It requires the whole system to work efficiently, but Ms Bartoli added that ‘we need the public to help with this’. This will be flagged up to residents through a communications campaign urging people to ‘do your bit’, which asks patients to think pharmacy, GP and 111 first in order to keep A&E free for emergencies.

The meeting did hear some concerns from councillors about how the discharge of patients to care homes would be managed.

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In response to a question from Cllr Les Bowman, Ms Bartoli said that a Covid-positive patient who was medically fit and ready for discharge would either be isolated at the care home for 14 days if the home said it was able to accommodate them or an interim placement would be found if not.

“Once medically fit, we wouldn’t be able to hold patients for those additional 14 days, because clearly there’s a pressure on the front door,” she added.

Ms Bartoli later told Cllr Veronica Jones that it would always be a two-way conversation with the care home, as ‘it’s in nobody’s interest for a home to have an outbreak, neither the hospital nor the home, it’s our most vulnerable group and it’s the group we want to protect’.

Cllr Susan Dungworth said that she was under the impression that no Covid-positive patients were discharged to residential homes during the height of the pandemic earlier this year, but despite being offered further reassurance, she was still not convinced that this meant residents would be receiving the correct care.

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Ms Bartoli again said that nobody needing medical attention would be discharged, but added: “You’re not necessarily unwell with it, but it takes a long recovery period for some patients.”

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