LISTEN: Hospital boss admits staff burnout fears - but says they’re onto it

Sam Higginson, the chief executive at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Photo: NNUH

Sam Higginson, the chief executive at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Photo: NNUH - Credit: NNUH

The boss of Norfolk’s biggest hospital discussed a wide-range of subjects such as staff burnout, PPE levels and how coronavirus might change the way they work in future.

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN - Credit: Archant

The boss of Norfolk’s biggest hospital has admitted his fears over staff ‘burnout’ as the coronavirus crisis continues, but said plans are in place to try to ensure it is avoided.

In a wide-ranging interview for the EDP Daily Briefing podcast, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital boss Sam Higginson praised the hundreds of workers working to combat covid-19 for going ‘above and beyond every single day’.

He also moved to reassure both staff and patients about Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), saying the stocks we’re currently ‘good’ while also confirming that was not the case until recently.

Mr Higginson, who only started the role in October, said: “We’ve got about 65 patients in the hospital currently who have covid-19 and about 10 in intensive care unit. That level is about the same as it’s been for the last couple of weeks. So, while we have been very busy and we are under pressure, it does feel like we are coping.

A&E staff at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital . Image: Supplied

A&E staff at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital . Image: Supplied - Credit: Archant

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“I’d like to pay an enormous tribute to staff as it feels like every day they are going above and beyond and every day we are asking them to work in very different ways. We’ve also been joined by many people, final year medical students and people who have retired or left the NHS and have come back to us.

“I’m incredibly grateful to all of them. They might be doing one week on, one week off and spending a long time away from their families. We even have some who are having to stay away from their families completely. We’re also asking some of them to be retrained and help on the wards or some of our nurses to skill up. I’m struck by how flexible and positive our staff has been and the real sense of camradrie down on the wards.

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“However, I think the burnout point is really important. Typically in a crisis situation people rise to the challenge for a certain period of time. If you look at the emerging evidence about covid-19 I think it’s going to be here for a significant period of time. Therefore we are increasingly looking at how we rotate staff and make sure people get a proper break because there is a real risk otherwise that we burn people out.”

In the last few weeks the hospital has come out of special measures and Mr Higginson said he felt that overall it had performed ‘well’ during the crisis, while admitting there had been some ‘teething problems’.

He added: “We are one of the least developed hospitals in terms of our IT structure and moving to a world where we do much more online has been quite a big challenge for us. At times our IT capacity have not been able to keep up.

“I’m also acutely conscious that, like the rest of the country, there have been times where we’ve been acutely challenged by our PPE stock and staff have been very worried about that. Our current position on PPE is good but if you rewind a week ago we were very challenged, particularly with our gown supply. We’ve just about managed to keep that going through additional deliveries and working with James Paget Hospital, Queen Elizabeth Hospital and local businesses and the position is significantly better today. Ensuring we have a good level of PPE into the future is going to be really important, firstly so that staff in the hospital have enough confidence to perform operations and so that the public and the patients feel safe enough to come to be looked after.”

Looking to the future, Mr Higginson said that he felt the crisis would result in some long-term changes to how hospitals work, adding: “The NHS set out an ambition to move a third of out-patients online or into telephone consultation within 5 years - we’ve done that within six weeks. I think elements of this will be a permanent fixture. Though I am worried about some of the patients not appearing at the hospital. Some of our A&E figures are down and I would like to reassure people that we have all of the processes in place to keep them as safe as possible.

“(Top the public) I would also like say is please stick with the government’s social distancing advice. Everyone has noticed a few more people out and about in recent weeks - but it is really important we keep going.”

To listen to the interview in full log onto

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