Winter can be a tough time for everyone, but this pales in comparison to those working in Accident & Emergency departments up and down the country.
Last winter was particularly difficult for our NHS, none more so than in A&E at the Royal Stoke. A combination of several factors, including a long spell of extremely cold temperatures caused by the ‘Beast from the East’ and an increased number of flu cases, led to a huge demand at A&E.
Obviously, what was experienced last winter could not be allowed to happen again. With other local politicians, I met with local health bosses to discuss these issues last spring: planning for the next winter needed to start immediately. Much more needed to be done to address the areas causing blockages in the system, getting their houses in order as soon as possible, so that we did not see a repeat.
To the credit of our doctors and nurses, these issues have been addressed with an energy many would not have expected. Whilst there are still huge pressures from the numbers of people going to A&E and still areas to improve further, the hospital is now much better organised and prepared to effectively manage the level of demand through the front door.
We must ensure that people who need the most urgent care are prioritised and those with more minor illnesses or don’t really need to be in A&E at all are able to receive the most appropriate service. Most importantly the needs of patients and the quality of care received is being prioritised.
One of the key blockages at the hospital has been bed space. We all know that the new hospital was built with far too few acute beds and the average proportion of beds filled at Royal Stoke is far higher than nationally. It is fantastic to see in the last twelve months the hospital has now opened 45 new acute beds and I am delighted a further 65 acute beds will be coming forward by the end of the month, thanks to additional funding secured from the Government.
Alongside this, much more is now being done with health and local council partners, to ensure people can get out of hospital quicker with the right care package in place. Whilst there is still a significant demand for more community care workers and care placements, the situation has drastically improved from last year.
Last year there were over 200 patients medically fit to leave but not able to do so, thankfully the number has recently been nearer 50. More people getting the appropriate care they need when they need it is best for everyone, patients can go home quicker or receive appropriate longer-term care sooner and more beds are freed up in the hospital for those who really need it.
Aside from these necessary improvements, I also stated last spring that, whatever the situation, I would go personally to A&E this winter. I was grateful to have the chance last week to see for myself how the situation had improved and the work still to be done to improve things further. But more than that, to thank the wonderful staff for their dedication and commitment despite the huge pressures.
The doctors and nurses in A&E, and the paramedics out and about on our streets, have probably the most difficult winters of any of us. Even on Christmas day, while most of us are with our families, these professionals are waiting to see how many people, with a combination of serious illnesses, will need their help.
I was shocked to hear from some of the numbers of people turning up at A&E and even arriving in an ambulance who didn’t really need to be there, who could have better received treatment through a walk-in centre or their GP. Some even went as far as to say ambulances were now being treated as a taxi service rather than an emergency service by some.
It is clearly totally unacceptable for people to abuse such a critical service like this and could mean people who really are in an emergency who genuinely need an ambulance having to wait longer than they should.
There is, of course, more that still needs to be done. As I wrote about last month we need to make it easier for people to access health services in the community closer to home. I will continue to campaign for the fully serviced walk-in facility in Longton that is desperately needed for the south of the city. It is also essential that we see more GPs being recruited locally offering more appointments.
There is record investment going into the NHS nationally with an additional £394 million a week, we must see our fair share of this locally. I will fight to see as much of this as possible coming to Stoke-on-Trent.
Finally, I would like to thank Dr. Chris Pickering, and all the staff at A&E at the Royal Stoke, for taking time from their day to speak to me last week about the amazing work they do, and about the challenges they face. I was only able to see this first-hand for one shift, but this is what they do every day of the year. They deserve all our support.
This article appeared originally in The Sentinel, Monday 7th January 2019