Fewer Covid-19 admissions at Wigan Infirmary as vaccination rollout continues
Lockdown and the rollout of the vaccine are contributing to fewer people being admitted to hospital with coronavirus.
That was the positive news from the borough’s health chiefs 12 months after the first patient with Covid-19 was treated at Wigan Infirmary.
The number of cases has dropped in recent weeks, but there are still patients needing vital care in hospital.
Dr Sanjay Arya, medical director at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust, said: “Twelve months down the road, it looks like there is light at the end of the tunnel.
“The hospital situation is a lot better. The number of Covid admissions has significantly come down on the medical wards. They are in low two figures as opposed to hundreds which were coming through the doors just two months ago.
“However, the situation on the critical care unit still remains intense and significant. We are still using all 15 of our critical care beds and they have remained full over the last 12 months. This is because patients with Covid pneumonia need a longer period of support to their lungs.”
Bryn ward, which was opened at the infirmary to care for coronavirus patients, remains operational and has proved essential during the pandemic.
Dr Arya conceded some patients had contracted coronavirus while being treated at the hospital, but insisted it was a “small minority” and was due to the nature of the virus and how it was transmitted.
For patients who do not need to be admitted to the infirmary, they are given an oximeter which will read their heart rate and oxygen level at home.
It is used to monitor them remotely and they can be advised to return to hospital if their health deteriorates.
Dr Arya said the past 12 months had been “extremely difficult” for healthcare staff, as well as residents across the borough.
But the national lockdown is helping to prevent the spread of the virus, alongside more and more people receiving the Covid-19 jab.
More than 90,000 people in the borough have been vaccinated, including 16,000 this week alone.
Dr Tim Dalton, a GP and chairman of NHS Wigan Borough CCG, said surgeries also remained busy due to the pandemic but the vaccination programme was making a difference.
He said: “It’s been generally well-received by our population. Certainly for our over 70s, over 95 per cent of our population have now had a vaccine. We are working down the lower age groups and the groups of people who are clinically vulnerable who would normally have a flu jab. Even in those cohorts, the uptake was 68 per cent and we are working our way through them.
“We have vaccinated a huge number of health and social care staff, around 17,500.”
He said all 52 care homes in the borough had been offered the vaccination for all residents and the take-up had been “tremendous”.
Nearly all staff within the hospital trust have also been vaccinated and a quarter have received the second dose.
Both Dr Dalton and Dr Arya allayed any concerns people may have about the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, after several countries stopped using it due to concerns about blood clots.
Dr Dalton said while there were “very small studies” in Europe, there was no evidence in the UK of such issues.
“If you are offered the vaccine, it’s really important that you take it up,” he said.
“Covid will cause harm to you, the vaccine will not.”
He also urged people to keep following the national lockdown, social distancing, hand washing and other measures to prevent the spread of the virus, even if they have been vaccinated.
Now that coronavirus cases are falling, hospital chiefs are looking at how to deal with the backlog of cancelled operations that has built up during the pandemic.
They will be prioritising patients so procedures can resume for those who need them most.
Dr Arya said: “However, because there is such a large backlog, I would urge people to be patient and understand the difficulties that we may face and we are facing.”
He said some staff had been working “non-stop” for the past 12 months caring for patients with coronavirus and had not taken annual leave.
It will also take time for them to return to operating theatres after being deployed elsewhere in the hospital, particularly as the critical care unit remained full.
People on waiting lists were urged to contact their GP if their condition had worsened so they could be made a higher priority.
Across Wigan, people are being reminded to seek medical help if they are unwell, particularly as some issues can be life-threatening.
Dr Arya said: “In the first phase of the pandemic and even the second phase, people with heart attacks, strokes, kidney issues were not coming and seeking help, which was causing harm.
“We want to send out the message that hospital is safe and it still remains safe for patients with these conditions.”
He said there were separate areas for patients with and without coronavirus and other measures were in place to prevent it spreading.
People are also encouraged to go to GP surgeries for help, as well as for routine checks such as smear tests.
Dr Dalton said: “There is an open door, there is open access to people who feel themselves to be poorly, who are worried about their physical or mental health. Please come and speak to people to get the support you need.”
People are also being encouraged to seek help if they have long Covid, with a “significant” number of people in Wigan having physical or mental health issues weeks or even months after contracting the virus.
Wigan is one of the first places in Greater Manchester to set up clinics specifically for people with long Covid, who can get help from a range of experts, such as chest specialists and psychologists.
n As the vaccination rollout continues, volunteers are wanted to help at centres in the borough.
They could spend a few hours a week meeting people as they arrive and guiding them through the process.
Anyone interested in helping is asked to contact NHS Wigan Borough CCG by calling 01942 482711.
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