Independent Shropshire hospital busier than ever helping to clear NHS backlog

The boss of an independent hospital in Shropshire says it is 'busier than ever' as it helps to tackle growing NHS waiting lists at the county's major hospitals during the pandemic.

Hospital director David Wells
Hospital director David Wells

Nuffield Health Shrewsbury Hospital has treated about 4,000 patients on behalf of Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust since NHS England and NHS Improvement formed a contract with the independent sector at the start of the coronavirus crisis.

It comes as Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and Princess Royal Hospital in Telford have been caring for large numbers of Covid patients, but latest figures show they have been falling since the end of January – 104 coronavirus patients were occupying beds at the trust last Tuesday.

It means there has been a 'significant' reduction in planned operations at the county's acute hospitals, leading to record waiting lists.

Patient support administrator Zoe Steele

In December, the number of people having to wait more than a year to start treatment at the trust stood at 1,932, according to a recent report to SaTH's board.

It said, historically, the trust has had no 52-week breaches but "since elective work was reduced at the start of the pandemic, the number has increased significantly".

Issues have been around insufficient capacity, although some patients are also choosing to wait, and bosses say those on waiting lists are put in order of priority.

However, hospital chiefs say capacity for patients with urgent and life-threatening conditions is being protected.

Health care assistant in outpatients, Lisa Griffiths

Nuffield Health Shrewsbury Hospital is being used for some scheduled surgeries, while there is also capacity for cancer and urgent surgery at RSH.

David Wells, director of Shrewsbury's independent hospital, said it is 'absolutely vital' that it is seen as part of the local healthcare system.

He said: "Whilst we are not a part of the NHS, it's probably fair to say we are partners with the NHS and wherever we can we are helping to keep waiting lists down and clearly, as and when this goes away, there's going to be a tremendous amount left behind that will take some time to clear, but we will be doing our bit.

"We've been doing a lot of surgery – urology, gynaecology, general surgery and the like, but also we've been doing some outpatient stuff, MRI scans, ultrasounds, x-rays, as well.

"We're busier than we've ever been. It tends to mirror what's happening in the community at large.

Pathology lab assistant Sanela Bruneau

"If there's a high level of infection then there are more patients going into the trust and they are more likely to ask us for help at that time.

"At the moment with infection rates, although they are falling, we speak to the trust probably three times a week at least on this subject.

"In the summer, when it looked like infection rates were relatively low, we were less busy. Probably mid December until now, we've probably been busier than ever.

"We are pretty much full most days. We work very closely with the people in SaTH to ensure the right patients go to the right place."

As well as operations, several other services have been relocated to the Nuffield venue over the past year including the bowel infusion service, diagnostics, outpatient clinics and a biopsy clinic.

Hospital director David Wells

Some private operations are still going ahead at Nuffield Health Shrewsbury Hospital, but NHS patients are taking up to 80 per cent of the capacity there, David says.

He says the organisation is committed to helping the NHS and will be continuing to offer help in the future.

According to David, staff have got into a 'fairly well trodden rhythm' since the start of the pandemic when guidance was changing on a regular basis.

The hospital in Longden Road has 30 en-suite bedrooms, three operating theatres, an endoscopy suite and an outpatients department which includes physiotherapy and diagnostic imaging.

It employs 140 staff, with access to an additional pool of bank staff.

Customer service advisor Amanda Harris

David says its staff are also being supported through this difficult time, with bosses ensuring they take their full annual leave entitlement while online quizzes, treats and praise from the public are helping to raise morale.

Measures have also been taken to ensure services at the hospital are Covid safe.

"Essentially it starts before you get here so anybody who comes to the building we ask to be lateral flow tested," said David.

"The staff are tested twice a week. Social distancing is rigorously enforced.

"We have blue and green areas so a blue area is one where essentially it's people coming in, doing something and going back out.

The outpatients reception area

"A green area is where someone is coming in, going to theatre or staying in a bedroom.

"The two should not mix because there's obviously a different infection risk there.

"Hand hygiene, mask wearing are paramount as well.

"We have a zero tolerance type approach with everyone.

"Every surgical patient who comes in attends for a swab beforehand so at the time they are admitted for surgery they are Covid negative."

Nuffield Health, the UK’s largest healthcare charity, has 31 hospitals, 113 fitness and wellbeing clubs, healthcare clinics, and over 200 workplace wellbeing services.

The organisation has treated more than 230,000 NHS patients across the UK since the start of the pandemic.

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