Health boss highlights pressures on NHS in Herts as Covid-19 cases rise

Hospitals are treating increasing numbers of Covid-19 patients, while continuing to offer a wide range of other services

Wednesday, 16th December 2020, 3:23 pm
Updated Wednesday, 16th December 2020, 3:24 pm

A leading health official has highlighted the pressures facing local NHS services, as Covid-19 cases continue to rise – but urged those with ‘worrying symptoms’ still to seek help.

Just days after parts of the county were put under Tier 3 restrictions, chief executive of the Herts and West Essex ICS Jane Halpin has highlighted the current pressures on NHS services.

During the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic much of the ‘routine’ activity stopped – so local hospitals could focus on Covid-19 patients.

NHS stock image

But now hospitals are treating increasing numbers of Covid-19 patients, while continuing to offer a wide range of surgery, diagnostic procedures and mental health services.

And, says Dr Halpin, increasing activity and cases of Covid-19 are now “stressing and stretching” NHS services.

Nevertheless – speaking at a media briefing today (Wednesday) – Dr Halpin urged those with serious illnesses or ‘worrying symptoms’ to seek help.

“We do want to encourage people who really need help to come forward – whilst encouraging people who don’t have such significant illnesses to seek advice from their GPs or NHS 111 First,” she said.

The new NHS First service assesses patients before directing them elsewhere for further advice or treatment – whether that’s a pharmacist, a GP surgery or mental heath services.

But they can also book appointments for patients at Accident and Emergency departments and urgent care centres.

And although patients will still be seen at A&E if they turn up without an appointment, Dr Halpin is urging patients to use the new NHS 111 First route.

She says the service will allocate patients a ‘one hour’ slot at A&E, which will be more efficient and cut waiting times.

As a result, she says people will spend less time in an A&E waiting room.

And that means they are less likely to be exposed to any illnesses other people may be carrying at the time, whether Covid-19 or something else.

“If people turn up they will still be seen, ” said Dr Halpin. “This is just a way of streamlining the service, helping patients to have a better service and taking an element of stress and pressure off the system at the moment.”

Meanwhile Dr Halpin also confirmed that vaccinations had started in the county – but said that the vaccination programme would last for a number of months.

Currently vaccination has been focussed at hospital sites. However this week, she said, would see the county’s first GP led vaccination centre for priority groups.

She said patients would be contacted, based on GP lists – and that there was no need to try and get in touch

She said the vaccination programme would take ‘some months’ to roll out – and that it could be the early part of the summer before a normal way of life could be restored.

Until then she stressed the need for people to continue to follow the ‘hands, face, space’ precautions.

At the briefing she also highlighted concern that scammers may try to take advantage of the vaccination programme.

She stressed that the NHS would NEVER ask for any payment for the vaccination. And she urged patients to seek advice if anything ‘didn’t sound right’.