When COVID-19 cases began to increase in the UK, we acted quickly to ensure NDHT was ready to care for COVID-19 patients in northern Devon.
One of the steps we took was to review all our patients who were due to have a planned procedure or outpatient appointment. We continued to carry out some clinically urgent work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, including urgent surgery for patients with cancer, and some outpatient appointments. We used video and telephone to carry out appointments where we could.
However, some procedures and appointments had to be postponed. This was not a decision we took lightly, and our clinicians reviewed every single patient on a case-by-case basis before making a clinical recommendation on patient priority.
As a result of this, our waiting lists have increased. Our data from May shows that we were only able to treat 56.7% of patients who had been referred for non-urgent care within 18 weeks. We know that we are not alone in this – all trusts across the country are in a very similar position.
We have been keeping a close eye on the situation, and in May, we established a group of senior clinicians and managers to look at the continued redesign and long-term recovery of services. The group’s aim is to ensure the Trust remains ready to care for patients with COVID-19 and manage future surges, whilst safely increasing our routine activity.
Jill Canning, deputy chief operating officer, is leading this work for the Trust.
Jill said: “We know how frustrating it is for patients to have their operations and appointments delayed and to be waiting longer than they, or we, would like. The safety of our patients and staff is our main priority, and we are looking carefully at restarting services with this in mind.
“Our staff are going to huge efforts and thinking innovatively to allow our normal services to resume, knowing that we need to be prepared for any COVID-19 surges too. Since May, we have restarted some non-urgent surgery and been able to carry out planned procedures. In July we were at around 75% of our pre-COVID capacity. Our clinicians are prioritising operations and procedures in order of clinical priority in line with national guidance.
“We are continuing with video and telephone outpatient appointments – which have been well received by our patients and, where clinically necessary, are increasing the number of patients we are seeing face-to-face with appropriate infection control measures in place.
“The measures we have put in place so far are important for keeping people safe, but they bring additional challenges. For example, between patients we need to undertake enhanced cleaning of rooms and diagnostic equipment, as well as allowing the air to circulate in areas such as CT scanning, all of which results in fewer patients being seen each day. Before procedures, and some outpatient appointments, we are testing patients for coronavirus – generally 72 hours in advance – to make sure we are maintaining patient safety. It is important that people have their swab when we ask them to do so, because if a procedure or appointment has to be cancelled for any reason, we can’t fit in another patient at short notice in the same way we could before COVID-19.
“We are grateful for all the support we have had during COVID and ask that people continue to bear with us as we work towards getting our services back to normal. At present we cannot say how long it will take for us to get back to normal but please be assured that we are doing all that we can, as quickly as we can, whilst putting patient safety first.”
For further updates on restarting our services, check our website: www.northdevonhealth.nhs.uk/our-hospitals-and-community-services-are-open/