‘People are heeding advice’: A&E visits drop at Norfolk hospital

Dr Frankie Swords, medical director at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, has spoken about the hospital's

Dr Frankie Swords, medical director at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, has spoken about the hospital's pandemic plan. Picture: Archant/Joshua Yates - Credit: Archant

A reduction in patients to A&E and following social distancing measures is ensuring staff at one Norfolk hospital are getting “breathing space” during the coronavirus pandemic.

Senior members of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn have outlined its ongoing pandemic plan as it braces itself for a “peak” in cases.

As part of the plan, the hospital has created four dedicated wards for patients and increased critical care capacity from 13 to up to 35 beds.

It has also separated the hospital into a series of zones and a separate A&E for those with or suspected Covid-19 symptoms.

Dr Frankie Swords, medical director, said to meet the demand, the hospital had made preparations to admit four times the usual number of patients that would need intensive care.

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Dr Swords said it was using a model of information from Imperial College London to develop the plan.

Read more: Prime Minister ‘very likely’ to need ventilator in intensive careDr Swords said: “We want to reassure people we are actively planning for this, expanding capacity when it’s going to be needed and using science and data to identify it.

“The government are using it, the region is using it and we are using it. We are not making it up as we go along.”

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The doctor urged people to continue to stay at home as the only way the hospital could ensure it continued to be well prepared was to not have cases arrive all at once.

The hospital expects the peak to occur mid-April.

As of April 3, at the QEH 71 patients have tested positive for COVID-19, and on Monday April 6, 18 have been confirmed to have died.

The hospital has also treated 22 patients, who have been released home.

Read more: Coronavirus patient recovers at Norfolk hospitalDr Swords said: “Having said that the data so far suggests we are doing better than we thought, we have been planning for the worst and hoping for the best.

“We have been seeing fewer patients coming up to A&E. If you have an emergency they have to come but it seems people who have more minor ailments are heeding the advice and calling 111, their pharmacies, their GPs and it is giving us the breathing space.

“You are protecting yourself, you are protecting other people and stopping the chain of infection.”

The medical director said it was vital to keep staff up-to-date on areas including protective personal equipment, new wards and testing.

The QEH has around 3,500 staff, of whom 16 doctors and 97 nursing staff are currently off work.

It has been approached by more than 70 former staff across the departments as well as an extra 35 domestic staff.

Last week, the hospital began recruiting a “swab squad” to carry out tests for staff and inpatients.

Dr Swords said: “Around four per cent of the work force is off work because they or a family member might be positive. Staff want to be working and helping each other. They are very keen to get tested and if they are positive or a family member is they must stay off but if they are negative they can come back.”

She praised the support of businesses from across West Norfolk and the resilience and flexibility of staff, who were working “flat out” during the pandemic.

Dr Swords said: “It is so much easier for the staff, they know what’s coming next. These are not normal times and having that in place it means no-one has to make a hard decision late at night or without senior support. We are making these decisions in the day and in advance.”

Read more: Norfolk actress Claire Goose sends message of support to hospital staffThe hospital’s board of trustees will meet on Tuesday, to hear updates from chief executive Caroline Shaw and chief operating officer Denise Smith.

In her report, the chief operating officer wrote: “We expect the peak of demand on our services to be mid-April and therefore have plans to increase ICU and base ward capacity as we plan for worst case scenario, which will likely include building modular wards on site.

“We will separate our emergency department and our hospital into zones (COVID-19 and non COVID-19) as we plan for the increase in COVID-19 patients. We are also working as a whole system across Norfolk to plan for the peak in demand on our collective capacity.”

Read more: ‘They are doing an incredible job’ - restaurant donates meals to staff at Norfolk hospitalShe added: “For Team QEH – it is fair to say working worlds have been turned upside down. It is truly unprecedented and the hospital I report from this month is a very different place to the one I reported from at the beginning of March. I could not be prouder of the way in which our staff have embraced change and pulled together to focus on keeping our patients safe, and importantly, looking out for and after one another.”

To keep up to date with the latest coronavirus information click here.

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