People in Devon are being reassured there are extensive measures in place to keep them safe when attending hospital, as doctors urge patients to make sure they take up appointments.
Many services were suspended to free up beds and staff for COVID-19 patients, but as the number of cases falls across Devon and nationwide, hospitals in the county are increasing the number of urgent and routine appointments for non-COVID illnesses.
These include tests and scans which help diagnose illnesses, allowing patients to begin potentially life-saving treatment.
But doctors are worried that too many patients are failing to attend or are cancelling at short notice, meaning serious illnesses are going undiagnosed and precious appointments are being wasted.
Due to strict measures to keep patients safe, like extra cleaning and changing personal protective equipment like masks and gowns between appointments, the number of slots available for diagnostic tests like CT/MRI scans and endoscopies is around half what it would normally be.
And the NHS’s ability to call in people at short notice due to cancellations is sometimes hampered by the need for certain groups of patients to be swab tested for COVID-19 72 hours before their appointment.
Not all patients need to be swab tested before attending, however.The NHS in Devon has been asking patients about their concerns when attending hospital appointments and is now seeking to provide reassurance on the wideranging measures in place to keep people safe.
Among the concerns raised by patients are:
• Concerns about catching COVID-19 while in hospital
• Not wanting to burden the NHS
• Concerns about getting (more) time off work to isolate before an appointment
and then attend it
• Not being able to attend appointments with a family member, friend or carer –
or have visitors
Prof Adrian Harris, medical director at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, said: “It’s perfectly understandable that people may have a number of worries about coming into hospital.“However, I want to reassure people that we’re open for business and the acute hospitals are safe. If you feel you need to be seen, whether it’s for an outpatient appointment or in the emergency department, come to hospital. We will help you in the safest possible manner.”
“We’re now seeing about two thirds of the patients we’d like to see and we are concerned that some people are not attending urgent appointments that could potentially be lifesaving.”
Safety measures include:
• Staff wearing masks, including non-clinical staff
• Patients must wear a face covering and will be provided with one if they
cannot bring their own
• Testing of staff
• Rigorous social distancing
• One way systems
• Regular hand sanitiser facilities
• Testing patients before they come into hospital for certain appointments
• Designated separate areas – sometimes referred to as blue and green – for
patients with and without COVID-19, respectively. In both types of area, there
are precautions in place to ensure that patients and staff are not put at risk
• Doctors and nurses are experts in infection control
Prof Harris added: “We know many people think hospital procedures like operations and investigations are not happening – but that’s not the case. We are very carefully selecting those procedures that are safe. So if you get a call for an appointment, please attend.“We also know it can be a little daunting to attend hospital when you unable to bring a loved-one or friend with you, but please rest assured, our staff will look after you and do everything they can for you.
“At the moment there is very little COVID-19 in Devon, which is also really reassuring.”Prof Harris also reassured people living in care homes and their families that residents can visit hospitals safely.
Alan Haynes, of Dolton, near Great Torrington, is among the patients who have been regularly attending hospital during the COVID-19 outbreak. Mr Haynes currently receives fortnightly intravenous chemotherapy for myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow, at the Seamoor Unit, North Devon District Hospital, Barnstaple.
He said: “Accessing the hospital has been easier than normal and when attending for blood tests I have been in and out in minutes.
“I wear a mask when I go to the hospital and I have found hygiene standards to be fantastic. They have rearranged the waiting room at the Seamoor Unit so that people can keep social distancing. The nurses and doctors wear masks and aprons and there is plenty of hand sanitiser and the toilets are always clean.”
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