'NHS heroes' adapt to new patient care as they continue providing Wigan's mental health services

Changes made by a health provider during the coronavirus pandemic could become permanent additions to benefit patients and staff.

North West Boroughs Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has continued to provide mental health services, both in the community and at Atherleigh Park Hospital in Leigh.

But there have been many changes to how it operates.

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John Heritage, chief operating officer and deputy chief executive, said: “Like a lot of places, when the pandemic hit we looked at the services where we need to stop delivering as much face-to-face activity because that’s problematic in terms of protecting staff and protecting people who need the services.

John HeritageJohn Heritage
John Heritage

“We scaled back a lot of our face-to-face services, apart from those clinically required. Clearly we continued to operate our in-patient services as we would and made sure our staff had the appropriate PPE in place.”

Staff found new ways of helping their patients.

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Mr Heritage said: “We flipped very, very quickly a lot of our activity to video consultations and on the phone. I’m incredibly proud of our staff in terms of how they made that flip very quickly. It sort of happened overnight, where we had to adjust to providing support to people and patients had to adjust to getting help in a different way.”

While the trust did not really use video consultations before, it now offers 350 each week, along with thousands of phone calls.

They have been used to provide psychiatric nurse support, therapy sessions and have been particularly popular among patients with eating disorders and young people.

Video and phone appointments have been such a hit that they could still be used once the pandemic is over.

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Mr Heritage said: “What we have found is as well as patients telling us they have really appreciated it, our staff have as well. They said this has given them and their patient flexibility and convenience in how they provide support.

“Rather than being face-to- face in the past or some telephone support, they have had to move to this but they can see the opportunity in the future for real choice. They can talk to their patient about what is best for them.”

While lockdown brought many organisations to a halt, Mr Heritage says it was business as usual for the trust.

“We didn’t actually close any of our services. We continued to receive referrals and triaged and dealt with them in the best way, whether face-to-face or digitally,” he said.

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Some staff have worked from home, while those who could not were given PPE.

Mr Heritage said there was a “quite small number” of patients with coronavirus at Atherleigh Park Hospital.

Staff worked with Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust in case patients needed to be transferred, but there was also an enhanced physical healthcare team to treat those on the site.

All patients were tested when they arrived and staff also have access to tests.

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Mr Heritage said: “We have done a lot of work in terms of infection prevention and control. We have made sure staff have the right equipment and support. Getting equipment hasn’t been a problem for us at all.”

Restrictions have been placed on visitors, but technology has been provided so patients can make video calls to their loved ones.

While the pandemic continues, staff are already looking to the future and which aspects of care they will continue post-Covid-19.

But they are also preparing for more patients, amid concerns that the outbreak and lockdown could have a real impact on people’s mental health.

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Mr Heritage said: “We are planning for how we respond if we get increased demand, but also how we offer services in a different way.

“Things like video technology are an example.”

He said he was “very proud” of the way his staff had handled the pandemic and continued to care for patients.

He said: “They are in a tough job and it is a really tough time for people.

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“People talk about NHS heroes and what I saw in my teams, both in the hospital and across community services, were time and time again real NHS heroes.”

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