Welcome to my first column of 2018.
It has certainly been a very busy start to the year for our teams here at Alnwick Infirmary, across Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, and for the National Health Service as a whole.
We expect demand to rise at this time of year. However, for us over the last few weeks, this has been exacerbated by outbreaks of flu and norovirus, often known as the winter vomiting bug.
We expect that when flu and norovirus are circulating in the community – as they are currently – they will affect our hospitals, and this is what’s happening at the moment.
Both are unpleasant illnesses to experience, but most fit and healthy people will make a full recovery from them.
Norovirus, in particular, usually clears up by itself within a few days.
Flu, however, can be outright dangerous for the frail and elderly, as well as for those with long-term conditions and weaker immune systems, or the very young.
These viruses are very easily passed on by patients and visitors, and the most important thing people can do to help control the spread is by regularly washing their hands thoroughly with soap and water.
In order to reduce the spread of viruses, we took the unprecedented step of imposing visitor restrictions across our trust at the end of last year and, at the time of writing, these remain in place.
This means that there is no visiting on affected wards, and visiting is restricted on unaffected wards to one hour, from 2pm to 3pm.
It is also limited to two relatives or friends per patient, with no children under the age of 16 permitted, given the fact that young people are more likely to pass on the virus.
During the outbreaks, our trust’s website is being updated at around 11am each day with the latest information for visitors.
We have had cases of norovirus on Ward 1 at Alnwick Infirmary so far this winter, which has led to the ward being closed to visitors.
I know this will have been disappointing for relatives because they have not been able to visit their relative at all, or as often as they have done previously, and I would like to thank the public for their ongoing co-operation, understanding and patience while we continue to deal with these outbreaks.
These restrictions are helping us to control these viruses and will continue for as long as they need to be in place.
I would also like to reassure residents that if a patient is receiving end of life care, their friends and relatives will still be able to visit. We would urge them to ring the ward directly for guidance.
I would urge people with flu-like symptoms, or those of diarrhoea and vomiting, not to come into hospital at all, either to visit or to seek help.
The best place for you if you are unwell with these symptoms is to stay at home and drink plenty of fluid.
If you need help, you can visit your pharmacist, contact your GP, or ring NHS 111, which is free and open 24/7.
And it’s never too late to have an NHS flu vaccination if you are eligible and you haven’t had it already.
Contact your GP to arrange this at the earliest opportunity.
People who are eligible for the vaccination include adults over the age of 18 at particular risk of flu, such as those with long-term health conditions, and everyone aged 65 and over.
It is also available to pregnant women, and children aged six months to two years who are at risk of flu.
Speak to your GP if you’re not sure whether you qualify for the vaccine or not, and arrange an appointment.
Returning to the ward, we are pleased to announce that our day room is going to be revamped to improve the environment for both patients and relatives.
Using funds from our Bright charity and the League of Friends, the space will be refurbished to provide a comfortable social area.
When patients are recovering in hospital from an injury or illness it is so important for them to interact with others, and often having a change of scenery, and time away from the ward, can lift their spirits and aid their recovery.
We thought that if we turn the room into a welcoming area in which people want to spend time, it would be a great asset to our ward and improve patients’ experiences of being in hospital.
Currently, we have to access our store room through the day room, which is not great for patients who require some quiet time.
We are going to change the access to the store cupboard, de-clutter the area, and improve the furnishings and décor as we are presently not using this room to its best potential.
At the moment, we’re working with our charity team on how to get the most out of the space, deciding what furniture we need and which colours will complement the room best, with a view to carrying out the improvement work over the next few months.
In 2016, we revamped the day room at Berwick Infirmary and giving it a new look and feel has made such a difference to our patients.
It has encouraged more of them to come together to socialise and to take part in group activities.
We hope for similar results here in Alnwick.
My thanks go to the Bright charity and the League of Friends for their continued support to enable this work to take place.
I would also like to thank Alnwick Lions Club for supplying the ward with new talking books equipment to allow patients to listen to the weekly local news, helping to improve their experiences of being in hospital.
At the beginning of this column, I mentioned that our services are very busy, and I would like to sign off by reminding people about our minor injuries service here at Alnwick Infirmary.
Our nurses are fully-trained to treat all types of minor injuries, such as those to ankles and wrists, for example, resulting from falls.
This includes the vast majority of broken bones as patients can have an x-ray here. Overnight, when our x-ray department is closed, patients will be given an appointment to come back into the centre the next day.
Other injuries that can be treated include cuts and sprains.
This winter we have sen lots of people attending the unit with medical problems such as chest infections. Unfortunately, our nurses aren’t able to deal with these types of conditions and people should contact their GP for advice.
If you need medical help in the evening or at weekends, please contact NHS 111 to see a GP out-of-hours.
For the Alnwick area these appointments will invariably take place at our minor injuries unit. However, the only way people can secure an appointment is to ring NHS 111.
That just leaves me to encourage you all to take steps to stay well for the rest of the winter and to play your part in helping us to reduce the spread of flu and norovirus in our hospitals.