Senior hospital staff have admitted the prime minister’s roadmap out of lockdown is making them “a bit anxious and nervous”.
Doctors and nurses at Warrington Hospital have weathered the first and second wave of the pandemic and are now bracing themselves for the “cold wave”. This is the winter surge of patients coming into their emergency department with seasonal respiratory illnesses.
This year the cold wave came late, but the sharp spike in A&E attendances means it is here now.
In the past 48 hours, at least 392 patients have come to Warrington Hospital’s emergency department seeking treatment – comparable to one of the hospital’s busiest winter days.
Ali Crawford, lead nurse in urgent and emergency care, told Sky News: “We are starting to see what we would say are winter pressures.
“The next couple of weeks are going to be very challenging. The roadmap comes with good news but it makes me bit anxious and a bit nervous.”
There is a triple-whammy. Not only is there the winter pressure, but sick patients who have stayed away from hospital are now presenting themselves for treatment. And there is still the pandemic to deal with.
The hospital’s intensive care unit remains full of very sick COVID-19 patients. But at least there are fewer patients now than during the peak of the second wave.
The lockdown has brought infection rates down – but according to one of the unit’s senior consultants, it does not mean there will be no future surges.
Mark Forrest, clinical director of critical and medical care, said: “At some point lockdown has got to be eased, but the government is in an impossible situation. When do you do it?
“Numbers are certainly dropping and the pressures are certainly easing on the NHS. We are starting to see some of the normal winter pressure.”
But he added: “I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t another surge or wave.”
There is a lot to manage at the same time as the pandemic and all hospitals are facing the same challenges, from infection control, to hot and cold zones to separate COVID-19 and other patient flows.
New ways of working must be found.
Only one part of Warrington Hospital has remained non-COVID for the treatment of patients through the pandemic, and this area has now been re-modelled with the construction of individual pods to take pressure off its emergency department.
The small room with a bed and emergency medical equipment can be used to treat and shield vulnerable patients from the rest of the ward. The beds can be wheeled out into an empty bay for patient examination.
Saagar Patel, acute medicine and respiratory consultant, said: “We are noticing the normal COPD and asthma patients coming through the door now, that we didn’t see a little while ago.
“That presents another challenge, as we need to protect those that have come in with frail lung conditions from any other patients that may have COVID within the hospital.
“It’s creating areas like this (non-COVID sections) that means we can move them out of A&E as quick as possible.”
It’s right to look forward to the summer. The vaccines and falling infection rates give us hope.
But it is wrong to think this emergency is over.