Town and Around's Special Investigator reports on Covid-19 at the QEH

Town and Around's Special Investigator reports on Covid-19 at the QEH

With some reports claiming that 1 in 3 people who became infected with Covid-19 and needed hospital treatment have died, Town and Around asked the special investigator to see what the situation was locally. It is very clear we hit a raw nerve. This is the response.

Even though the number of people who die daily from the coronavirus Covid-19 rises across the country, the message from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital is that, while it is still not out of the woods, the number of people infected is slowing suggesting the Government lockdown is helping to contain the spread of the killer virus.

That should be a sobering thought for people who stood in the queue at B&Q in the Lynn sunshine, because it is impossible to get away from the fact that many people have died who have been infected with Covid-19 in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. However, the figures from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital show that many more people have been discharged than have died. The ratio is likely to increase in favour of patients recovering as the results from clinical trials around the world become known, giving medical staff a guide as to what works to alleviate the symptoms. At the time of writing this report 154 patients have been discharged after being treated for Covid-19 at the QE.

While the Holy Grail is a vaccine, with testing on human volunteers already under way, it may take many months to be certain that any of the proposed vaccines work, and with billions of people seeking the vaccine, years to produce and distribute. There are clinical trials taking place involving drugs used to treat conditions from cancer to HIV/AIDS and from malaria to Ebola.

Other trials include the use of convalescent plasma therapy. This was used as long ago as the 19th century to treat victims of measles. It involves taking plasma from sufferers who have recovered and introducing it into patients who have not so far to date recovered. The theory is that survivors have developed antibodies to combat the virus, and by introducing plasma containing these antibodies into sufferers it will improve their own immune system. The National Blood Transfusion Service is screening for the antibodies. But science theory is far from being confirmed as fact at this stage with many decisions needed even if the theory proves correct.

Where practicable Queen Elizabeth Hospital staff are working from home enabled by technology and equipment. Even so, and while numbers are changing almost daily, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital has around 1 in 7 of staff off with what is termed medical suspension. It's not a disciplinary suspension, but a concern for their medical well-being. Normally the hospital may have 1 in 20 off on medical suspension.

With the extra constraints this puts the hospital under 2 separate Emergency Departments have been set up. The yellow emergency department is for Covid-19 cases and the green emergency department is for no Covid-19. The hospital also has yellow Covid-19 zones and intensive care units, and green non Covid-19 zones and intensive care units. The aim is to prevent the spread of the virus. There are 2 Covid-19 assessment wards which will be expanded if necessary.

The usual number of intensive care units in the hospital is 13. Originally it was planned to quadruple the number, but to date yellow Covid-19 ICUs number 17 and green non Covid-19 number 8, but there is spare capacity as there are a total of 37 ICUs with ventilators available if needed. Appointments requiring visiting the hospital have been kept to a minimum with around 80% being conducted either via telephone or video calling.

Supplies of personal protective equipment has not been an acute problem as has been the problem in other areas of the country. A daily stock take of scrubs, gowns and other PPE is taken in every area. PPE is used in accordance with Public Health England's guidance. Staff have expressed concerns given the situation elsewhere in the country, and it has not gone unnoticed that Public Health England downgraded their guidance during the present pandemic. PPE Officers are trained and working in yellow areas to support staff to always wear the correct PPE and make sure it is put on and taken off correctly. Surgical masks that were out of date and re-labelled have been used. They came through the NHS Supply Chain. Management did check to see if they were safe to use, Public Health England confirmed they were. Although that does beg the question why the expiry date was put on the masks in the first place.

Health and care work has never been well paid and some staff do have difficulties making ends meet. It is well documented that around the country nurses are visiting foodbanks. The Queen Elizabeth Hospital has set up a Hardship Fund to try and ease staff concerns who are struggling due to a loss of household income. Small amounts of money can be advanced, but an extra pound from an external source to the Hardship Fund would not go amiss.

Families and relatives of people with Covid-19 are being updated on a regular basis, daily whenever possible, about the condition of their loved ones. Ipads and smartphones are being used to help keep patients in ICUs keep in contact with their families during the restricted visiting period.

A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since I sat down with the then Chairman and Chief Executive of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital to listen to their concerns about funding and loss of services. Anytime I have spoken to union representatives they were the exact fears raised.

The announcement by the Health Secretary on April 2nd that more than 100 NHS hospitals were to be rid of historic debt was good news for the QEH, as they stand to have just over £134m wiped out.

The thing that cannot be left unsaid is that the Queen Elizabeth Hospital has in recent years been abandoned by the political class with budget cuts and penalties for not staying with in budgets going unchallenged, as the staff struggle to meet the growing demand on dwindling resources. For the past 2 years the hospital has been in so called special measures. Many Members of Parliament have been almost silent, and councillors blind. I suspect if John Dobson were still leading the Borough Council he would be marching on Downing Street.