Unprecedented pressures caused by Covid laid bare by Shropshire hospital bosses

The unprecedented pressures caused by the pandemic have been laid bare by hospital bosses who have spoken about the challenges of battling Covid on the frontline.

Louise Barnett, SaTH's chief executive, speaking during the trust's AGM
Louise Barnett, SaTH's chief executive, speaking during the trust's AGM

Health bosses at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust (SaTH) reflected on 2020/21 during its annual general meeting, which was held virtually on Tuesday.

Nigel Lee, chief operating officer at the trust, which runs both Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and Princess Royal Hospital in Telford, said the organisation had struggled to consistently achieve some national healthcare standards during 2019/20, but the new financial year "brought no respite to the challenges".

He described how staff had to learn to adapt as the pandemic swept the nation.

Nigel Lee, chief operating officer at SaTH

"At the peak of the pandemic we cared for 165 inpatients with Covid and we increased our critical care capacity from 14 to 26 beds," Mr Lee said.

"With the use of improved technology, we were able to undertake virtual consultations and to communicate with our high risk patients.

"By the end of March 2021, consultations with over 2,500 patients per week were taking place virtually or via telephone clinics." He said waiting lists for routine operations and treatments had grown massively, with the number of patients waiting over a year increasing from 37 at the start of the 2020/21financial year to more than 3,200 in March 2021.

Urgent and emergency care services were also affected during the year, with more than 2,000 ambulances facing waits of an hour or more to handover patients at the county's acute hospitals.

Mr Lee said: "To support improvements in patient flow through our hospitals a same day emergency care unit in Shrewsbury for medicine was constructed between August and December 2020 to allow enhanced treatment of patients and help avoid unnecessary admissions.

"In August 2020 construction commenced on a new fracture clinic at Shrewsbury.

"This work was completed in March 2021 and has freed up space in A&E to allow subsequent refurbishment and expansion work to be undertaken which is on target to complete by the end of 2021."

The trust's chief executive Louise Barnett said in response to the pandemic, colleagues had been "truly remarkable".

She said its hospitals had handled more than 90,000 inpatient admissions, over half a million outpatient appointments and almost 100,000 A&E attendances during the 2020/21 financial year.

She also acknowledged that waiting lists for routine treatments had grown, adding: "Whilst we are committed to reducing the backlog of appointments this will take some time.

"We are working to improve communication about the delays."

Dr Catriona McMahon, SaTH's chairwoman, thanked the trust's 'key partners' for their support during the pandemic.

She said: "During the initial phase of the pandemic, we alongside other NHS organisations reduced or paused a number of services to ensure we could free up maximum capacity to deal with the anticipated surge in patients affected by Covid.

"This was a complex process that involved many stakeholders to ensure the best patient care was provided and it demonstrated without a doubt the power of the system working together."

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