It seems that everyone who lives in South Tyneside has been in hospital over recent weeks, or at least that’s the way it feels!
This has without doubt been one of the busiest periods South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust has known.
The teams at the district hospital, Palmer Community Hospital and Primrose Hill Hospital, have, for some weeks now, been working flat out to manage a high number of emergency admissions and cope with not only the usual winter illnesses, but the recent episode of flu cases.
They do plan to have additional capacity every winter and swing into action when needed, with additional wards being opened and staff ready and waiting to come in and support increased demand.
This year, however, the demand has been such that the Trust has, at times, had to have the equivalent of four additional wards open, and even with this it has had to cancel some planned surgery cases to make space for the number of medical emergencies.
It’s not only the frontline medical and nursing staff who have to gear up to deal with the additional numbers.
Throughout the system, every department has to be ready to increase its efforts by making sure that plenty of staff and equipment is in place, whether it is in diagnostic services, such as radiology and pathology, clinical support services such as pharmacy, phlebotomy, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and dietetics, or other support services such as portering domestics and catering.
Clinical business manager Ceri Bentham said: “It’s at times of increased pressure like this that we really see the excellent teamwork, which the NHS is known for.
“Staff, across the board, in each of our hospitals have consistently gone that extra mile and although it’s been tough, they have always put the patient first, with many staff doing extra shifts to cover where needed and help out their colleagues.”
This year, of course, was made harder by some really severe weather conditions, which saw many staff valiantly digging their way out of snowbound estates to walk to work, sometimes having to stay at friends’ houses nearer to the hospital, leaving their own families behind.
Without these fantastic efforts, the Trust would not have been able to meet the very high levels of demand it has experienced to make sure patients were cared for when they most needed it.
Sam Carman, manager of the emergency assessment unit, said: “This has been the busiest year we have had for a long time.
“We have been very lucky to have such a committed and fantastic group of staff, who have really pulled out all the stops to keep services going, not just on the emergency assessment unit, but on every ward and department throughout the hospital.
“It’s been outstanding teamwork from everyone involved, which is helping us to get through this extremely demanding time.”
For the moment, there is little sign that this increased pressure is abating and the Trust is asking people to bear this in mind.
Make sure you only come to hospital if absolutely necessary and not for things which could be dealt with elsewhere, such as at GP surgeries or the local walk-in centre.