Open letter from Martin Barkley, Chief Executive, The Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust
Over the last six months we have all felt the profound impact of Covid-19 on our lives, and it has given the NHS the biggest challenge it has ever had. At Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust we have had to significantly change the function of many wards across three hospitals sites, substantially increase our intensive care capacity almost overnight, retrain hundreds of staff, and completely transform the way we deliver patient care.
At the time of writing this letter, we have discharged 653 Covid patients. This is a credit to our staff who have given their all – spending hour after hour in hot and uncomfortable PPE – to help patients recover. I also know from the many letters and emails I receive that, in the saddest of cases when patients have died, staff have made those awful moments a little easier by showing help, support and kindness to families.
I could not be prouder of our staff. I am also so grateful for the incredible support our community has shown us during this period – a massive thank you.
Of course we are now focused on getting services back up and running, no less a significant challenge. During the pandemic we continued to provide urgent and emergency care, cancer care where it was safe to do so and we responded to urgent referrals from GPs for patients needing diagnostic tests. Many outpatient appointments also still went ahead via phone or video call, as well as some face to face.
We fully acknowledge, however, there are many of you whose appointment or procedure was postponed, or whose GP has not been able to make a routine referral to the Trust. And some of you will still be waiting. We appreciate how frustrating and upsetting this may be. One of the things that keeps me awake at night is how we can reduce the waiting times for our patients in these incredibly challenging times we find ourselves in.
Unfortunately, it is not like turning on a switch. It is clear this wretched virus is going to have an impact on how we do things for some time to come. Redesigning hundreds of treatment pathways for patients in a Trust of our size and complexity - and in a way that keeps everyone safe - is a huge amount of work. To give just two examples: we can’t do as many MRI scans in a day as we used to because of the time needed to clean the equipment thoroughly between patients; and a clinic that may previously have seen 24 patients face to face may now only be able to see half that so that social distancing can be maintained in waiting areas.
I am pleased to say our staff are taking up this challenge. Pontefract Hospital has become a dedicated cancer centre so that we can treat some of our most vulnerable patients quickly and in a Covid-secure environment. All our hospital sites have been risk assessed, with appropriate signage in place to maintain social distancing, as well as sanitiser stations being available. We have increased the number of theatre sessions available and opened up services seven days a week, meaning that many hundreds more patients will safely resume treatment. As well as increasing face-to-face appointments again, our doctors are continuing to do video or phone appointments, so patients still get support without having to leave home. And we have been working closely with our GP colleagues to restart referrals in a staged way.
The coronavirus crisis required the NHS to respond creatively and to do things differently. Our teams continue with this fresh-thinking approach. For example, we have been trialling a new process that allows a GP to discuss their patient’s needs with the hospital to agree a course of action much earlier in the process. This minimises unnecessary referrals and gives the patient a much better experience.
Nevertheless, I know there will be many patients who will feel they have not been seen and treated soon enough. I can’t promise we can fix this overnight. What I can promise is that we are making decisions on the basis of clinical priority and then the patients who have been waiting the longest, all with the patients’ best interests at heart.
Our commitment to you is that we will do everything we can to offer you an appointment or treatment as soon as we possibly can. We also need your continued support. Please do not attend if you have any Covid symptoms, do wear a face covering when you attend any of our hospital sites, and maintain social distancing. It is also important you closely follow any advice you are given about self-isolation and testing before a procedure so that we can maintain your safety and that of our staff.
Our Emergency Departments are also getting busier. We are absolutely open for the treatment of serious and potentially life-threatening conditions, and all precautions have been taken to keep you safe when you seek help from us for a medical emergency. However, to ensure our staff are able to treat those who most need it, we ask that those with less severe injuries and illnesses phone NHS 111 first. There are also other options available: our Urgent Treatment Centre at Pontefract, and walk-in-centres or minor injuries units. A&E is not and must not be used as an alternative to a GP appointment, either in hours or out of hours. GP services can be accessed on evenings and weekends by calling your usual practice telephone number.
Finally, as I write this the number of Covid cases across the country, including here in West Yorkshire, is increasing rapidly. The number of Covid positive inpatients at Mid Yorkshire, whilst still relatively low, is also rising. It is clear we all need to work together once again to control the spread of the virus in our communities. Please keep on supporting your NHS by following the guidance - wash your hands regularly, use a mask when appropriate and keep your distance from others.
Chief Executive, Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust