Extra wards and beds opened at Wigan's hospitals for coronavirus patients
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After the omicron variant spread through London’s population in December, it has now taken hold in Wigan, partly due to socialising over the festive period.
The borough’s infection rates were the highest in Greater Manchester earlier this month and the virus continues to spread.
The impact is certainly being felt at Wigan Infirmary and the other sites run by Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
While it was initially younger people being admitted to the hospital with omicron, older people with other health problems are now being seen.
It is believed the virus is travelling through generations as families spend time together.
Doctors are seeing patients who have not been vaccinated at all or have not received some but not all three jab, putting them at higher risk.
Dr Sanjay Arya, consultant cardiologist and medical director, said: “I want to make people aware of the pressures we are facing in the NHS and particularly at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh. I will be honest that there is absolutely huge pressures on the hospital and huge pressures in the A&E. There are very long waits for patients to be seen in the A&E. Unfortunately there are long waits for ambulances because of the pressures in A&E.
“It’s all compounded by high staff sickness, because they have unfortunately caught Covid or because they are having to isolate.
“But I would like to reassure the people in the borough of Wigan that we are continuing to provide high-quality and safe care to patients who are critically ill. Those who present to us with life, limb and sight-threatening illness are prioritised.
“If our patients in the waiting rooms in A&E see that patients are jumping the queue, it’s only because some people are more ill than others.”
Dr Arya said the hospital was seeing a trend in people only going to the A&E unit if “absolutely necessary” and urged everyone to do the same.
It will help medical staff to focus on caring for the large numbers of coronavirus patients who now need help.
But other action is also being taken as the number of people with the virus continues to rise.
Dr Arya said: “We have had a significant increase in the number of Covid patients requiring hospitals admissions.
“In order to meet the pressures, we have opened up additional beds at the Royal Albert site but also at the Leigh site and at Wrightington Hospital. The Royal Albert site is for patients who are continuing to need medical care. The Leigh and Wrightington sites are for those people who have completed their medical care, but are unfortunately unable to go back to care homes or their own homes due to any social reasons.”
Patients and their families are being urged to make arrangements for people to recover at home where possible, as they can recuperate much more quickly and have less chance of catching coronavirus or another illness, as well as helping to free up hospital beds.
The benefits of being at home are being seen on a “virtual ward” run by the hospital, where patients with Covid-19 who fit certain criteria can be monitored at home using equipment provided and through access to healthcare professionals.
Dr Arya said: “We have a significant number of patients on these virtual wards and these patients are recovering much better and much faster because they are in their own home environment.”
To further help care for the large number of patients, some staff employed by the trust have been deployed to areas where they are now needed. And, along with other hospital trusts across Greater Manchester, most operations and appointments for elective care have been halted.
Dr Arya said this was vital to free up staff to care for those who are critically ill, prevent the spread of coronavirus and stop theatre time being wasted when patients chose not to attend because of the pandemic.
He said: “We are absolutely committed to restoring the elective recovery programme at the first opportunity.
“We are fully aware of the impact it must be having on patients and we are trying to work out how we can increase our activity as soon as the opportunity comes.”
Medical staff are continuing to work “around the clock” to care for patients, with many cancelling or not even booking annual leave due to the demand.
Dr Arya urged people to still seek help if they are unwell, but to consider turning to other sources before A&E, such as NHS 111, pharmacists and GPs.
And he hopes Wiganers will do everything they can to prevent the spread of coronavirus, including by following infection control measures such as wearing masks.
“The safety of our patients in the hospital is our absolute priority. We are committed to it,” he said.
“My message to the public is please, please take up the offer of Covid vaccination. If you have not had any dose or you have not had your second dose or you have not had your booster, please do.
“Wigan is one of the leaders in providing vaccinations to our people. I can tell you, as a doctor, this is the best defence again this virus.
“Unfortunately we have had some admissions of patients who have not been vaccinated and unfortunately they have become seriously ill and needed intensive care unit admissions.
“Those that have been vaccinated, it doesn’t protect you from getting Covid, but we have seen absolutely that the severity of the illness in this group of people is much less, as opposed to those who are not vaccinated. There is no doubt that vaccination prevents serious illness from Covid and prevents hospitalisation and prevents intensive care unit admissions.”
He thanked everyone in Wigan for playing their part during the pandemic, including primary care staff involved in the rollout of the vaccine and caring for patients outside hospital.
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