Winter health plan could see more people treated in own homes
By Daniel Mumby, Local Democracy Reporter
MORE people could be treated in their own homes or designated “frailty units” this winter to relieve pressure on the NHS during the ongoing pandemic.
The Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which is responsible for allocating the county’s health resources, has published its plan for how hospital services will cope with additional demand over the winter months.
The CCG puts a ‘winter plan’ in place for Somerset every year to reflect the higher pressure on certain services as a result of winter flu outbreaks and a typical rise in A&E admissions, requiring more inpatient beds.
But with the coronavirus pandemic not looking as though it will be over any time soon, additional precautions are being taken this winter to shorten the second wave and prevent any localised spikes in Somerset.
Here are eight things which the health service will be doing differently this winter as a result of the ongoing pandemic:
1. The fire service could help out ambulance crews in parts of Somerset: while paramedics and firefighters regularly interact at crash sites, fire crews do not normally assist with transporting patients for treatment. The CCG has said Avon Fire and Rescue Service – which covers Weston-super-Mare, the rest of North Somerset and North East Somerset – could provide “additional support over the winter” if there is overwhelming demand for ambulance crews.
2. Dedicated “frailty units” could be set up: Musgrove Park Hospital already has four wards dedicated to older inpatients – Triscombe, Wordsworth, Eliot and Mendip wards. The Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, which runs both Musgrove and the county’s community hospital, could spend up to £169,000 on new “frailty units” in Taunton and Glastonbury, where over-75s can be admitted, assessed and if need be remain for up to 72 hours. The trust believes this will take the pressure off both A&E and inpatient beds in Taunton.
3. More capacity at Yeovil A&E: A&E departments in Yeovil and Taunton have implemented social distancing measures – meaning fewer people can currently be in the department at any one time while waiting to be triaged or assessed. Yeovil Hospital will spend up to £850,000 to open up new area by the end of October, allowing more people to be admitted at any one time.
4. More beds for elective operations: the coronavirus crisis has led to elective operations (ie. those which are not deemed urgent, such as a hip replacement). To ease the backlog and prevent further cancellations (and therefore patient inconvenience), Musgrove will provide an additional 54 beds for elective patients over the winter, at a cost of up to £1.9 million.
5. More space for cancer patients: Musgrove’s ward nine provides treatment and support for patients with haemotological cancers (including leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma). The trust is spending up to £12,000 “optimising capacity” so more patients can receive treatment while observing covid-19 precautions – preventing them from having to go to A&E if they fall ill.
6. More people will be treated in their own homes: Somerset’s rapid response service involves health professionals visiting elderly or vulnerable people in their homes when they fall ill, and wherever possible treating them in their homes to prevent an admission to hospital. The service will be expanded over the winter with a further £2 million of funding, which could free up more than 80 acute beds across Yeovil, Taunton, Bath and Weston-super-Mare’s hospitals.
7. A “respiratory assessment zone” will be created in Yeovil: around £276,000 will be spent creating a “respiratory assessment zone” at Yeovil Hospital, where those admitting with breathing issues or displaying coronavirus symptoms will be assessed and admitted separately to other patients. The zone is designed to “maintain patient and staff safety, as well as privacy and dignity”, as well as aiming to “reduce in-hospital spread of the coronavirus”.
8. Changes will be made to the NHS 111 service: the NHS 111 service is designed to initially assess patients and direct them to the service which is most appropriate for their needs at a given time. By changing the way in which frail or elderly callers are assessed (so they are fast-tracked to a service specific for them), others will have their calls answered faster and will be diagnosed more efficiently.
Maria Heard, the CCG’s incident director, said: “The system has been under severe pressure during the pandemic, but our incident processes and procedures have largely worked very effectively in order to identify and minimise any risks as they have arisen.
“There is likely to be an increase in the pressure again as we move into the winter months, and so the priority is to build upon the first phase of our incident response and plan for the key pressures identified.”
• Picture: Yeovil Hospital (Daniel Mumby)