Harrogate hospital bosses warn this winter will be ‘more challenging than ever before’
Harrogate hospital bosses have warned this winter will be "more challenging than ever before" as staff continue to battle with Covid backlogs and brace themselves for peak pressures.
While Covid patient numbers and deaths are much lower than this time last year, the hospital is now battling to clear a backlog of routine screenings, operations and other appointments delayed by the pandemic as it also prepares for a surge of seasonal illnesses.
Dr Matt Shepherd, deputy chief operating officer at the hospital trust, said: “Winter is always a challenging time and this year it will be more challenging than ever before as we continue to be affected by the pandemic.
"Whilst there are concerns about other respiratory virus infections occurring in high numbers, campaigns like the one for flu vaccinations are designed to protect the most vulnerable.
“The pandemic has also effected waiting lists, and waiting times have grown as it was not possible to sustain planned admissions for operations, outpatients and tests.
"It is now a major priority to return these services to pre-pandemic levels."
Last year saw hardly any winter flu, while other respiratory viruses were only circulating at very low levels.
This was put down to lockdowns and social distancing, meaning the normal winter viruses did not get the chance to spread.
But Public Health England has now warned that immunity to these viruses will have diminished, while very young children will not have been able to develop any at all.
This expected resurgence of winter flu, combined with the risk of increased Covid hospitalisations in the colder months, means hospitals local and nationally are now making preparations for peak pressures from October when seasonal illnesses usually escalate.
At Harrogate hospital, Covid patient numbers have remained steady over recent weeks but have climbed into double figures with 11 people needing treatment as of today (8 September).
The hospital has also reported five Covid deaths in the last three weeks after going more than four months without any fatalities.
Dr Shepherd said this has shown the risks of Covid remain "very real" - even with the success of the vaccination program.
He also said the virus was still having a knock-on effect on routine health services and causing delays for patients.
He said: “Whilst the latest Covid-19 admissions are significantly lower than the waves we experienced in the past, this virus has not gone away, it is still affecting how we operate, and we must be prepared if there is an increase in infections.
“We have been able to manage patients with Covid-19 by looking after them in dedicated areas, which prevents further transmission of the virus and keeps other patients and our colleagues safe.
"Whilst we do our utmost to see patients as soon as possible, these measures have on occasion led to longer waiting times in the emergency department than we would have seen before the pandemic.
"We know this is not ideal and we are grateful to our visitors for their patience and understanding."
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter