Published on: 15 January 2021

If you’re a BBC Radio Lancashire listener you might have heard me on the breakfast show earlier this week where I was really honest about the current situation facing colleagues at both East Lancashire Hospitals and Blackpool Teaching Hospitals.

I want to be honest with local people as well as staff and system partners about our response to the pandemic. As a whole, our intensive care, high dependency, critical care and enhanced care units are at bursting point. We are making decisions daily about non-urgent care facilities and staff redeployment to enable us to respond as effectively as possible.

But East Lancashire has seen very high numbers of people infected and needing hospital care throughout the pandemic and this is no different now. The headlines may point to London and the South East experiencing very high demand, but we currently have well over 300 people in hospital with Covid, which is roughly 200 people more than we had at the height of wave one last year and almost the same number of patients as the rest of Lancashire and South Cumbria put together.

I am grateful where colleagues from neighbouring settings are able to help us by admitting patients, but we are all dealing with people, often old and frail, who are very sick indeed. I am asking myself and colleagues each and every day what more can we do, is there anything we can approach differently and have we considered all our options – even the normally unthinkable – in helping us to provide care, whilst the number of people with Covid in our communities or who need to come into hospital continues to rise beyond anything we have ever seen before.

We are adding beds wherever we can – moving to ‘surge’, ‘super surge’ and, extraordinarily, ‘super super surge’ plans in place for this level of demand. This is placing huge pressure on staff and whilst we have a great team here, we are always looking for more people and especially colleagues on the bank to come into permanent roles. Please recommend us to family and friends as a place to work and you can find our vacancies here including for people who would like to be volunteers.

We have made some very difficult decisions this week with partners across the healthcare system to temporarily close the minor injuries unit at Accrington Victoria and the birthing centre in Rawtenstall. We are postponing appointments at outpatient clinics and some elective surgery to enable people to stay safe at home if they do not need to come into hospital but, also, so that we can use these brilliant staff elsewhere.

We are also working closely with our staff and partners in community health services and settings to ensure we are supporting people to avoid them coming into hospital where possible and if they are admitted, to get them home as soon as we can.

Please be assured that we are closely tracking everyone who has an appointment or surgery postponed and each and every day we are challenging ourselves to see if we can get them in for their treatment. Where we are moving staff or re-designating wards for Covid-related care we are then making full use of the resource as quickly as we can – nothing will be done without it releasing support to those that currently need it most.

In addition, we are prioritising the vaccination programme and it is making great progress with hundreds of staff, care home workers and over-80s receiving jabs every day. We hope to have all staff vaccinated in the next few weeks which will have a significant impact on the number that become unwell or have to isolate when they’d rather be supporting their colleagues and patients at work.

In the community, we are working with partners across Lancashire on the mobilisation of the mass vaccination centre which will open in the crypt at Blackburn Cathedral on Monday and we will support similar centres as they are established in our worst-hit areas. I want to sincerely thank each and every person who is working around the clock on this – it is a brilliant achievement which is going to be a huge boost in our fight against Covid.

This is a moment of extreme pressure and everyone has to play their part. Please encourage your own family and friends to follow all guidance and restrictions in place and if they can, stay at home. When people do go out everyone should wear a mask, remain socially distant and wash or sanitise hands regularly. Everyone can make a difference by following the rules and you can encourage everyone else to do the same.

I believe the next few weeks will be some of the most difficult we have ever faced in the NHS. If this is not the eye of the storm, I hope we are very close to it. We know the demands on our service are having a real effect on staff and this was noted a number of times during the Trust Board meeting on Wednesday. Our Chair Eileen Fairhurst, along with all the other Non-Executive Directors (NEDs), asked me to explicitly pass on their thanks and admiration to all staff for the extraordinary effort in every single team across the organisation.

Please remember there are a number of ways to access support if you or anyone you’re working with needs it. I want to highlight the Staff Guardian Service in particular. Staff Guardian Jane Butcher and Deputy Staff Guardian Nicola Canty are doing some amazing work and have established a network of ten Staff Guardian Champions from our vibrant staff networks including the disability, LGBTQ+ and BAME networks. The Champions provide another avenue for you to speak up about anything that’s troubling you at work and they can support you to raise your concerns. You can find out more on OLI.

I will end with a positive. One of the things that I am extremely proud of within ELHT is our research which is vital to our services, continuously finding new innovations and treatments to help us provide safe, personal and effective care. I was delighted to hear we are the first unit in the UK breast screening programme to fully implement radiographer-led results clinics for all outcomes (including malignant). This ground-breaking work, led by consultant radiographer Jolene Kirsty Eden and the team, has been published in the British Journal of Radiology and there’s no doubt this global reputation will help other units to improve workflow and efficiency whilst providing the best patient care. This collaborative work is outstanding - thank you to our inspiring advanced practitioners who have taken part and pushed the boundaries, with clear benefits to the breast screening service and the wider radiography profession. You can read the published article here.

Thank you in advance for everything you are doing. In any moments of doubt, let me reassure you it is making a difference.