Wigan hospital boss speaks about busy start to 2023 amid 'critical' incidents and strike action

A Wigan hospital boss said lessons had been learned from “critical incidents” and staff taking industrial action, in a busy start to 2023.
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While the winter months usually see a rise in the number of patients needing NHS care, Wigan’s hospitals have been so busy that “critical” incidents have been declared twice in recent weeks.

As well as Wigan Infirmary’s A&E department being “full” and delays with discharging patients who were well enough to leave, the situation has been compounded by industrial action by nurses and ambulance service staff.

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Dr Sanjay AryaDr Sanjay Arya
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Dr Sanjay Arya, medical director and consultant cardiologist at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (WWL), said: “We were not the only ones in the NHS to declare critical incidents. Many other trusts in the country have had to declare critical incidents because of continuing intense, extraordinary pressure on NHS hospitals.

"We had to declare this because we had run out of capacity in the hospital and we wanted all our healthcare agencies within the borough, both health and social care, to work together even more to get patients who didn’t need to be in hospital ready to be discharged and create beds for those coming through A&E. We successfully did that.”

He praised the efforts of GPs across the borough, who saw more patients in their surgeries to reduce visits to A&E, as well as other organisations such as Wigan Council and those in health and social care.

Dr Arya said people did listen to messages given at the time to stay away from the hospital unless they were in a life or limb-threatening condition.

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“The people in the borough have been extremely helpful. They are choosing the services appropriately, but there can always be room for improvement for people to access the right services,” he said.

"My plea to them would be to continue to use services appropriately. If you have life, limb or sight-threatening illnesses, the hospital is absolutely the right place to come to and we have sufficient doctors, nurses and therapists available to look after you.”

That message was also shared during strikes by members of the Royal College of Nursing and staff from North West Ambulance Service (NWAS).

Dr Arya said the walk-out by staff did have an impact, but measures were put in place to ensure patients would still get the care they needed.

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He said: “We re-organised our services in a way that patients who were in the hospital or were coming through A&E were all safely looked after by working together. The doctors and nurses and therapists all worked together. They went the extra mile to try to maintain patient safety during those strike periods.

"Let’s not pretend, there were impacts because of the nursing industrial action and NWAS industrial action, but we gathered and rallied together, all helping each other. We weren’t saying ‘this is a nurse’s job or a doctor’s job’, we supported each other.

"We had to cancel some clinics and some procedures during those strike periods, but we are prioritising those patients because they had to be cancelled through no fault of their own.”

Preparations are now being made for further strike action, as the disputes with the Government over pay and conditions continue.

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Dr Arya said: “We have learned a lot of things from the previous strikes so that will help us. We have managed it well in the past and patient safety has been kept in mind. As far as I am concerned, we have not had any incidents I am concerned about.”

He said lessons had also been learned from the critical incidents and while he could not rule out more, he did not anticipate the need to declare another this winter.

As the spring approaches, it is hoped that fewer people will need care for conditions traditionally seen in the winter, such as respiratory illnesses and injuries from falls.

Dr Arya said some patients were still being diagnosed with coronavirus, but that was being managed well, and urged people to have vaccinations for both Covid-19 and flu.

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And while it has been a busy few months for hospital staff, bosses have still been busy improving and expanding services for patients across the borough.

This has included work starting on a new community diagnostic centre at Leigh Infirmary.

Dr Arya said: “We are really proud because this will help facilitate diagnostics at a much faster rate. We will be able to divert elective cases to this community diagnostic centre at Leigh, so we are able to do urgent diagnostics at Wigan quicker and faster. We are hoping it will be operational later this year.”

A new health centre in Aspull has just opened, offering more clinical services near patients’ homes, and the trust’s breast screening programme is being expanded.

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Patients from across Greater Manchester and even further afield are continuing to be treated at Wrightington Hospital, which is a centre of excellence for orthopaedics and rheumatology.

A new same-day ambulatory care service has recently opened there, so patients do not need to be admitted to hospital, and a state-of-the-art discharge lounge has launched for patients to recover after an operation.

Dr Arya said: “Despite the distractions of clinical pressures, our senior management team, led by our chief executive and chairman, have continued to invest into services for the people of Wigan.

“This is a tribute to the good work that the trust is doing, in partnership with other organisations in the borough like Wigan Council and Wigan GPs.”