Wigan residents urged to 'be sensible' as Covid-19 rules are lifted to prevent fourth wave

Wigan’s hospitals boss is urging people to “be sensible” as coronavirus restrictions are lifted, amid concerns for a fourth wave of the pandemic.

Wednesday, 21st July 2021, 11:13 am
Updated Wednesday, 21st July 2021, 11:14 am

The number of patients needing hospital treatment is continuing to rise both in the borough and nationwide, with fears it could climb further following so-called Freedom Day on Monday.

Silas Nicholls, chief executive of Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, has spoken out to ask Wiganers to do what they can to prevent the spread of the illness as restrictions ease.

He said: “Enjoy it, but go easy. We are not out of the woods just yet. I don’t want to be a party pooper – we all want to go back to normal – but be sensible.

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Silas Nicholls

“Where appropriate, maintain social distancing, if you are feeling poorly get tested, if you are contacted by the app please do follow the instructions.”

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But with the number of cases of coronavirus continuing to rise nationally – passing 50,000 per day recently –there are concerns about the impact of removing these measures.

Mr Nicolls said: “I am hoping we won’t see a spike in demand as a consequence of the unlocking, but I think it’s fair to say that myself and the clinical team at the hospital are feeling a little bit anxious and watching the situation really closely.

Ambulances outside Wigan Infirmary's busy A&E department

“We have got plans in place. We have got really first-rate clinical staff here as well, but having been through three waves of Covid already, the thought of going through a fourth wave is filling us with trepidation.”

There is already a “slow but steady increase” in the number of patients being admitted to Wigan’s hospitals with coronavirus.

There are now 33 patients who have tested positive, with two of those on the intensive care unit (ICU) and 14 receiving CPAP treatment.

Worryingly, more people under the age of 30 are being admitted.

Mr Nicholls said: “Sometimes younger people in society can feel they are invincible, but unfortunately they are not.”

Fortunately fewer people are dying, with mortality rates reduced by 50 per cent as medical staff have learned more about coronavirus and how to treat it, but patients still spend several weeks or even months in hospital needing care.

Mr Nicholls said: “It’s a big step forward, but it is still a nasty disease. Even if we save someone, there is an awful long time needed to recover.”

While restrictions are being lifted nationwide, the trust is still asking people to wear a mask, wash their hands and have their temperature taken when they go onto one of its sites.

Bosses are also reviewing the visiting policy, to see if any restrictions can be safely lifted.

It is not just the rising number of coronavirus patients putting pressure on the hospital and its staff.

Mr Nicholls said: “Although the hospital isn’t under the same pressure that it was at the peak of the pandemic in the winter-time, we are still really busy and we still have quite a lot of pressure on our staff. They are doing a fantastic job, but it feels like we have a perfect storm starting to emerge at the moment.”

One factor is the large demand for care in the A&E unit, where there has been an “unprecedented” 30 per cent increase in the number of patients usually seen during the summer months.

There is understood to be a number of reasons for this – patients on waiting lists becoming concerned about their conditions, people struggling to get an appointment with their GP and those who have listened to previous messages to stay away from A&E who now need treatment.

Those who turn up at A&E face long waits to be seen and patients are being urged to seek medical care elsewhere if possible, such as by calling NHS111, using the NHS website and accessing virtual clinics run by GPs.

Mr Nicholls said: “There are lot of alternatives. Please only come to A&E if it’s clearly a serious injury or complication of an existing, well-known life-threatening health condition.

“It’s really for accidents and emergencies, not for day-to-day primary care stuff.”

Another issue has been staff isolating when “bubbles” have burst at schools attended by their children.

Mr Nicholls said five per cent of staff had been off work for that reason over the past month, though it was hoped that would ease over the summer holiday.

From this week, double-vaccinated frontline NHS and social care staff in England who have been told to isolate will be permitted to attend work in exceptional circumstances and replaced by testing. It is hoped this will also help to keep NHS staff at work.

Mr Nicholls said: “I think it is a step in the right direction. I think it was a further pressure on us in terms of staff not being able to work.

“We have to risk assess each case on its merit, but if people who have had both jabs are testing negative, then it seems daft being at home when they could be at work caring for people.

“We need every single doctor, nurse, therapist, support worker, whoever in work looking after people.”

He praised the efforts of his staff, who have worked hard throughout the pandemic and are now feeling the toll it has taken.

Some employees have been invited to an awards ceremony and work done by some staff has been picked up elsewhere in the country as examples of good practice.

Mr Nicholls said: “I think they are tired. I think people have had a bit of downtime, but it is not a huge amount. We have had three waves to get through and people have done an amazing job. We have also been busy getting through our backlog of patients. People are busy.

“I want to express a huge thanks to all of our staff. They have done an amazing job and gone above and beyond what we would expect of them.”

And while they have already had a tough 16 months, it is not over yet, with hospital bosses already looking to the winter and how they will cope.

Meetings are being held with key leadership teams to look at what extra resources could be needed, such as staff and equipment, and there are also discussions with other parts of Wigan’s healthcare sector, such as the CCG.

The trust is also looking at its longer-term future, having released its 2030 strategy recently.

It is also looking at how to develop its orthopaedic services further and what investment is needed on the Wigan Infirmary site.

As one of the largest employers in the borough, bosses are also keen to do what they can to help those affected financially by the pandemic, including recruiting staff locally and trading with local businesses.

Mr Nicholls said: “We want to pump money back into the local economy as best as we can.”

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