Play your part to help stop the spread of winter illness

A belated Happy New Year to you all and welcome to my first column of 2018.

Saturday, 13th January 2018, 11:53 am
Staff in the minor injuries unit at Berwick Infirmary. Left Joanne Grant, emergency nurse practitioner, and staff nurse Eileen Knox.

I hope you all had an enjoyable festive season and were able to take some rest.

It has certainly been a very busy time for our teams here at Berwick Infirmary, across Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, and for the National Health Service as a whole.

Berwick Infirmary.

We expect demand to rise at this time of year, however, for us over the last few weeks, this has been exacerbated by outbreaks of flu and norovirus, often known as the winter vomiting bug.

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We expect that when flu and norovirus are circulating in the community – as they are currently – they will affect our hospitals, and this is what is happening at the moment.

Both illnesses are unpleasant to come down with, but most fit and healthy people make a full recovery.

Norovirus, in particular, usually clears up by itself within a few days.

Berwick Infirmary.

Flu, however, can be downright dangerous for the frail and elderly, as well as for those with long-term health conditions and weaker immune systems, or the very young.

These viruses are very easily passed on by patients and visitors.

The most important thing that people can do to help control the spread is to regularly wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water.

To date, and this changes on a daily basis, flu or norovirus haven’t reached us here in Berwick this winter.

However, given that patients move around our trust regularly due to clinical need, every hospital in our trust must play its part in helping to control the spread of the viruses.

At the end of last year, we took the unprecedented step of imposing visitor restrictions across our trust and, at the time of writing, these remain in place.

This means that there is no visiting on affected wards and visiting is restricted on unaffected wards to one hour, from 2pm to 3pm daily.

It is also limited to two relatives or friends per patient, and no children under the age of 16 are permitted to visit, given the fact that young people are more likely to pass on the virus.

During the outbreaks, our healthcare trust’s website will be updated at around 11am each day.

I would urge people with flu-like symptoms, or those of diarrhoea and vomiting, not to come into hospital at all, either to visit or seek help. The best place for you if you are unwell with these is to stay at home and drink plenty of fluids.

If you need help, visit your pharmacist, contact your GP or ring NHS 111, which is free and open 24/7.

I fully appreciate, especially over Christmas, that people may have been disappointed that they have not been able to visit their relative as much as they have been previously and I would like to thank you all for your co-operation and understanding.

These restrictions are really helping us to control these viruses.

I would also like to reassure residents that if a patient is receiving end of life care, they will be able to visit them, and I would urge them to ring the hospital ward directly for guidance.

Back in November, you may recall that we held two Join Our Journey roadshows in Berwick as part of the trust’s tour of Northumberland and North Tyneside.

We were pleased that local people came along to share their views about our ever-changing NHS and the healthcare services available locally – thank you.

We did receive feedback from residents about having to travel long distances to access appointments, and this is really useful.

Whereas we always try to provide appointments as close to home as possible, we would urge people given an outpatient appointment at another hospital to ring our Berwick Bookers line on 01289 356625 or 01289 356626 to see whether this can be held locally instead.

We also heard from people who have had difficulty accessing patient transport. If someone needs this, we would always urge them to contact the patient transport service as detailed on appointment letters, and if they are turned down, to appeal this decision.

If they remain unsuccessful, are a patient at either of the two GP practices in Berwick, and are needing to access Wansbeck General Hospital or the Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in Cramlington, please give us a ring on 01289 356604 and we will see what we can arrange for you as part of a pilot scheme that we’re running.

In addition, if you have a close relative in Wansbeck or Cramlington hospitals and do not drive, we run a relatives’ transport service – please ring our porters on 01289 356664 to book.

At the roadshows, people were also unsure about when to access which service, in particular our minor injuries service here at Berwick.

Our nurses are there and fully-trained to treat all types of minor injuries, such as those to ankles and wrists resulting from falls. This includes the vast majority of broken bones as patients can have an x-ray here. Overnight, when our x-ray department is closed, patients will be given an appointment to come back in the next day.

Other injuries that can be treated in Berwick include cuts and sprains.

Since my last column in October, our minor injuries service has been very busy, with 23 per cent more people accessing the service in November and December compared to the same period the previous year.

This winter we have had lots of people attending the unit with medical problems, such as chest infections. Our nurses aren’t able to deal with these types of conditions and people should contact their GP for advice.

If it is in the evening or at weekends, please contact NHS 111 to see a GP out-of-hours. For the Berwick area these appointments will invariably take place at our minor injuries unit, however the only way people can secure an appointment is to ring NHS 111.

If you weren’t able to get along to either of our roadshows, you can still give your views about our ever-changing NHS.

Here at Northumbria, we have a strong track record of being at the forefront of innovations in the NHS. In many ways, we are already embracing many of the challenges faced by today’s NHS. But there’s more we can do to get fit for the future. We would welcome your views via our website

We did, understandably, receive lots of comments relating to our plans for a new healthcare facility in the town,and people had a strong desire to be kept informed.

The Berwick Healthcare Commission, set up to ensure local insights are fed into the plans, has met a few times since its inception in November and we will update you on next steps as soon as we’re in a position to do so.

That just leaves me to encourage you all to take steps to stay well for the rest of the winter, and if you are eligible for a flu jab and haven’t already had one, to get one without delay.