Published on: 1 April 2021

I hope this weekly blog is useful in providing insight and information about the Trust and our services, as well as an honest viewpoint from me about the big issues of the day.

It’s important to me that we are open and transparent as an organisation and I am always interested in feedback about how we can improve as well as any questions or suggestions you have. These are really very welcome indeed.

In many ways this blog, in recent months in particular, has enabled a memory folder to be created – a bit like you find on social media, where you log on and what you were doing on the same day some years ago pops up.

These reminders can often be positive, with smiling images of moments captured in happy times. Others serve to prompt more reflective thoughts of those we have lost, times we might want to forget or an illustration of how things have changed; sometimes dramatically and in a very short space of time.

For example, just a year ago this week we had 10 inpatients in Royal Blackburn Teaching Hospital who had tested positive for Covid-19 and we were really just starting to feel that first wave of the pandemic in our day-to-day lives. We couldn’t have known how it would continue to unfold. I don’t think we would have believed it if we did.

I remember those first few weeks of lockdown and how we grappled across the Trust and the wider health and social care system with how we would respond and, if I am honest, cope and continue to work safely across the NHS.

In our communities, people were simultaneously coming to terms with the imposed restrictions on our movement that we had never previously experienced.

This week’s warm and sunny weather provided a flashback to those unusually warm spring days of 2020. When those asked to stay at home were flitting between laptops and home schooling – but with sunshine prompting many to observe that this new lifestyle was perhaps an opportunity to improve work life balance and reset priorities in a positive way.

People talked about enjoying the extra time gifted to them and noted how the lockdown was having a profound impact on things like climate change. It might have been a coping mechanism for some of course but in true British spirit we attacked the challenge by looking for silver linings and unexpected benefits.

In direct contrast, this latest lockdown has been so, so hard for so many.

And for colleagues at the Trust, across the NHS nationally and the vast range of key workers tasked with keeping essential services running and delivering an effective response to threats posed by the virus, those positive feelings were and remain some significant way away.  

At first people were scared to come to work because we did not know what we were facing and the risk to our own health and that of our loved ones was always lurking. Learning to work whilst wearing more personal protective equipment in that spring sunshine and warmth was a challenge. The idea that we then wouldn’t have enough to last the week, even more so.

Just a day after we admitted those 10 patients to our wards, the number tripled and there were over 30 people being treated for Covid. The increase in community infections and subsequent hospital admissions continued to rise, particularly in East Lancashire, and we climbed to a peak of 343 people on our wards with the virus in January 2021.

I remember this day with crystal clarity. We wondered how many more people would come to hospital and require admission. Where would we find more beds and more critically, the highly trained people we needed to staff them and look after people who were very poorly indeed. Where would our staff find the energy to continue after such a huge and relentless effort over a protracted time. Where, in all honesty, would it end?

Thankfully we have seen a steady reduction in numbers since then and just almost exactly a year later, on March 30, 2021, there were 16 patients in our  hospitals with Covid. It has taken every second of every minute of every day for an entire year to get here. No one will ever fully understand the experiences of each person that contributed, but together we have pulled off a great feat.

This incredible progress is down to a combination of things in my view – an unwavering determination to beat this from all colleagues and the most inspiring delivery of the vaccination programme.

Both come down to this – amazing people doing amazing things. That’s the memory that will pop up for me without any prompt, time and time again.

You have been part of that too. However hard this last lockdown has been and I know it has been difficult for most people to take, you have helped make this progress a reality. Following restrictions and taking the vaccine when it is offered is the best thing you can do to help us continue to beat Covid.

When we look back over a year which unfolded in a way we could never have predicted, it reminds us we cannot predict the future of course. But what is clear to see is that the human spirit is great and together we can overcome most things.

Please don’t forget that whilst we now turn our time and energy and determination to clearing the backlog of people waiting for treatment, care and support as quickly as we can – our staff are going to do this whilst recovering too.

I want to take a moment and just highlight the difference between returning to normal and staff feeling normal. Of course, in the NHS it is business as usual to serve our patients as best we can but I don’t expect it will feel that way for colleagues, emotionally, for quite some time and I want to be up front and acknowledge it.

There’s been a sea of change in how we live and work. Our wellbeing offer to staff won’t be scaled down and we will continue to be here to support colleagues now and in the long-term as people process this journey for much time to come.

If you’re enjoying a long weekend this Easter, please do enjoy it safely. If you’re joining the teams across the Trust who will continue to work the weekend and Bank Holidays – thank you for everything you do, it is much appreciated.

Take care as always,