'Trepidation over winter ahead for the NHS' - new Mid Yorkshire Hospitals chief says

The new chief executive of three West Yorkshire hospitals says there is "trepidation" about what winter will bring for the NHS.

Thursday, 25th November 2021, 6:11 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th November 2021, 6:26 pm

Len Richards, who took over the running of Pinderfields, Pontefract and Dewsbury Hospitals last month, said however that bosses were "overplanning" and as well prepared as they can be.

Hospital services are normally put under huge strain either side of Christmas, with poor weather and flu bugs contributing to higher numbers of admissions.

But there is particular anxiety for this coming winter, given Covid wards are still busy, staff are tired and thinly stretched and there is a huge backlog of non-emergency surgery.

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NHS staff are braced for a difficult winter ahead, but the scale of the challenge is unknown and unpredictable.

Asked how well prepared the Mid Yorkshire NHS Trust, which runs all three sites, is for the winter ahead, Mr Richards said that it was difficult to predict what will happen because of the last 18 months.

He said: "I think the organisation is well prepared.

"I think the issue that’s concerning all of us, is that we don’t know what this winter’s going to look like.

"We're in a difficult position of not knowing what the extremes of winter will be.

Mr Richards took over as trust chief in October.

"We’re going into that with trepidation in a sense, so we’re overplanning and we’re increasing the resourcing that we’d put into winter planning.

"Winter is always harder than summer and summer has been hard.

"We’d normally look at the winter in the southern hemisphere and see what happened there, but because of how the last 18 months has played out, we’re not really getting many clues as to how it will look."

Mr Richards said the prevalence of flu was one of the main unknowns.

Surgery staff needing to frequently change their PPE is one of the reasons for the slow-moving backlog of NHS operations.

Viruses other than Covid affected fewer people than normal last winter because of multiple lockdowns and social distancing.

As a result, there is no reliable data from last year to help forecast admissions for the months ahead.

Local health bosses recently urged anyone eligible for the free flu jab to take up the offer.

Mr Richards said there was high demand across the healthcare system, and that Covid safety protocols were slowing down other operations.

One of the reasons for the backlog in non-emergency surgery is that fewer operations can be carried out in a single day, compared to before the pandemic.

Mr Richards said: "I know GPs are working way beyond what they’d typically do and still it’s not enough.

"Social care (systems) are under a particular set of workforce constraints and the economic environment is uncertain.

"There’s an awful lot going on in our system, but I don’t think any of it is a lack of effort, lack of commitment, or a lack of staff doing their utmost to respond.

"We’re still in a pandemic, even if the numbers aren't as (high).

"We’re still working in an abnormal environment, which is just making it really challenging to get on top of everything."

Local Democracy Reporting Service