Chesterfield Royal boss speaks of challenges and triumphs of Covid-19 as she reveals new year plans for hospital
The chief executive of Chesterfield Royal Hospital has spoken of the challenges and triumphs of Covid-19 care – and revealed what the new year has in store for the hospital.
NHS services faced enormous pressure throughout the coronavirus pandemic due to rising virus cases, large numbers of staff self-isolating, a heavy backlog of work, and busy A&E services.
Looking back over the past year at the Royal, Angie Smithson described the situation as “really tough” but said the whole hospital team has been “amazing”.
Speaking to the Derbyshire Times, she said: "It’s hard to actually think what January was like as it feels like a lifetime ago but we’ve certainly seen continued pressure throughout the year.
"In fact, we’re seeing more patients come through at the door at the minute both from an emergency perspective and in terms of out patient referrals which has been, in part, due to people having that confidence to come back into a hospital or to present to their GP with conditions they stopped doing at that initial phase of the pandemic.
"For all our staff it has been really tough because it’s relentless but they are all amazing. I’m so proud of my team, they’re absolutely brilliant.
"I’ve been in Chesterfield just over two year. I had six months pre-pandemic of the world before it really did change and I got round to meet loads of people. They do me proud every day.
"We’re not perfect, we don’t always get it right; there’s lots of demands on us right now and lots of patients waiting much longer than we want but the effort that everyone puts in every day across the whole board is incredible."
The chief executive said everyone - from doctors and midwives, to porters and the personal switchboard - is “hanging on in there” as the hospital continues to care for some Covid-19 patients – a total of 35 as of noon on Tuesday, six of whom were in intensive care.
She added: “There’s been some really great achievements and things that we’ve done that, even in normal times, I’d be shouting from the rooftops so I shout them from the rooftops given all the pressure that everyone’s under.”
Ordinarily, the NHS sees extra pressure on its services during winter as many health conditions, including respiratory system diseases such as asthma, can be caused or worsened by cold weather, and there are higher incidences of so-called ‘seasonal illnesses’ including flu and norovirus.
Some say this, coupled with the ongoing challenges of Covid-19, could cause a winter crisis.
But with Chesterfield Royal Hospital now entering this period, Ms Smithson how the hospital continues to work as part of Joined Up Care Derbyshire to bolster its response and care for patients.
"One thing in the NHS we’ve not always been good at is working across the whole system,” she said. “We’ve often been quite hospital focused or GP focused whereas something we’ve learnt through the pandemic, and something I think we’ve done really well across Derbyshire this year, is work across that whole system.
"That’s not just as two acute hospitals – University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust and ourselves – but with the mental health trust, the comunity trust, with all our GP practices, and with local authority and social care.”
She added: "In preparing for winter, we always try to put as much prevention in as we can so people don’t pitch up at the hospital door.
“Whether that’s with schools or GP practices, we try to educate everyone not only on staying well but also, this year especially, on vaccination whether that’s Covid or the flu vaccination, particularly for those vulnerable groups.
"That works much better if we do it as a system. We’re also directing the public to where to get the right advice, such as the 111 service.
"It’s about speaking to whoever you can first before you pitch up at hospital – obviously if there is major illness then the ambulance crews will bring you – but all that work we doing is to try and ensure that people only come to hospital if they need to.
“Then it’s about the work with those patients that come to hospital; whether we turn you straight around after a few hours in A&E and get you home or whether you spend a few days in with us.
"Again, we’re working with our other health care colleagues to make sure the right care is there for you and the right support is in place so you can get home as quickly and as safely as possible, but that you stay home as otherwise a lot of our patients can end up coming back to us.”
This year, the Chesterfield Royal Hospital NHS Foundation Trust refreshed its ‘Together as One' strategy, a five-year strategy and vision for improved care for patients.
Looking ahead to 2022, Ms Smithson said it is all about this strategy – which focuses on five aspects including a strive to provide exceptional care and support within the community through partner organisations.
"It’s about continually checking back to ensure we’re working towards being the best employer in the locality, what we’re doing to support our staff and develop them, encourage them to speak up,” she said.
"There’s work around staff, health and wellbeing and development; work around particular services and how we’re developing them, both in terms of the services themselves and how they’re delivered; and then thinking about how we are part of the system in Joined Up Care Derbyshire, how we contribute and work with colleagues to address health inequalities across the whole area.”
The hospital itself is also undergoing some major changes, including a £24million project to build a new A&E department on an existing staff car park at the front of the Calow hospital site which will open in 2023.