THE ROYAL BERKSHIRE HOSPITAL says it is ready for any second wave of the coronavirus.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Janet Lippett told Wokingham.Today that the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust had learnt a lot from the first wave in the spring and has adequate PPE for the future.
But it is not a place for people to turn up thinking they’ve got Covid-19 symptoms and need a test.
“The best thing for people to do, if they have got symptoms they are worried about, is to call 111 and have triage over the phone. People will be reassured or, if it was felt that they need a test, then they will be able to make provisions for it.
“But please don’t come to the Royal Berkshire too – we are as busy as we would be in a normal winter already.”
Dr Lippett added that earlier this week, the hospital’s A&E department was busier than this time last year, so it was important that people didn’t turn up hoping to get a Covid test.
“We are managing very few, if any, patients with Covid, but if we do get busy with Covid patients again I don’t think anyone will be wanting to come down here unnecessarily,” she said.
Patients can also help by turning up to appointments on time, an essential in normal times but even more so during the pandemic.
“We are able to get patients safely through outpatients or when they’ve come in for diagnostic tests and radiology,” she explained. “We have to schedule the appointments with gaps in between so that we can ensure the rooms are adequately cleaned.
“If people attend late, it makes that scheduling complicated, we start running into the next appointment which isn’t helpful or wise.
“We’re trying to see as many patients as we possibly can, because we’re conscious of the fact that during the pandemic there were patients who didn’t get to see their GPs, didn’t get referred to us or weren’t able to come in for an appointment, so we are dealing with a little bit of a backlog. Turning up on time is really important.”
Attendees may also be asked to complete a questionnaire and to ensure that they don’t have any Covid symptoms: “If they do, it’s really important they don’t come in for their appointments, but ring us to let us know,” Dr Lippett said. “When they do arrive, they will get their temperature checked and ensure they are well enough to attend their appointment.”
These measures are in place to protect both staff and patients, something that matters when, like most businesses, team members are self-isolating as a result of the back to school bugs floating around.
“We are reintroducing our facilities for testing staff for the coronavirus,” Dr Lippett said. “We have had staff who have had to stay at home until their family members have been tested.
“Fortunately at the moment, the number affected is very low, so we’re not having a problem with (clinics) going without cover.
“In a way, it’s giving us an opportunity to get that testing in place as we move into winter. If we did nothing, it would be a problem, but it’s fine at the moment.”
The Royal Berkshire team has been, like most of the country, keeping an eye on the number of people testing positive for Covid. Dr Lippett said that so far, the numbers here have been “very low”, with some days at the hospital being Covid-free.
“We are mindful of the fact that it may well start to impact on us,” she said. “We urge everyone to stick to the rules around social distancing and isolating if you’ve got symptoms.
“If you’re contacted (by test and trace) follow the advice because we don’t want to see lots of old patients affected again, as they were before.
“If that does happen we have plans in place to escalate up the services that we might need. In March, we expanded our ICU (intensive care unit) capacity, we can do that again.
“We’re hopeful that with all the measures that the government are putting place that (any second wave) won’t be as impactful as it was back in April.”
She added that they also have a plentiful supply of PPE, with new stock “coming through nicely”: “We’ve been assured that supplies will continue to come through and I’m confident that we’re getting the PPE we need.”
There are some people who think coronavirus is made-up. Dr Lippett is not one of them.
“You only have to have been here in April and seen the patients with serious lung disease needing ventilation, and the patients that are on our respiratory wards to know that this wasn’t a hoax.
“Also for the poor people who have had Covid perhaps not as severe but are now suffering with what we were starting to call either chronic Covid or long Covid syndrome – profound fatigue and symptoms, weeks if not months after their infection.
“I’ve seen with my own eyes, it’s definitely not a hoax.”
She added: “We’ve been living with this now since March and people are just getting tired of it.
“They’re desperate to meet up with friends and family and to get some kind of normality. That’s the greatest challenge.
“How do you give people as normal an existence as you can? Protecting their mental health and the human need for comfort along with observing social distancing and the restrictions. That’s the hard bit.”
She said that the instructions should be understandable and as least restrictive as possible to keep the population safe.
Anyone needing medical advice can call 111