Harrogate NHS boss reveals full Covid impact one year on from first positive case

A year that feels like a lifetime - that’s how Harrogate’s NHS boss would describe the Covid-19 pandemic so far.

Thursday, 11th March 2021, 3:12 pm

As next week marks one year since the first patient who tested positive for coronavirus was admitted to Harrogate District Hospital, Chief Executive of the district’s NHS Foundation Trust, Steve Russell, has reflected on a time like no other.

With Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, outlining a ‘roadmap’ out of national lockdown and the country’s vaccination rollout in full swing, things are certainly looking up - but Mr Russell says the impact and repercussions of the pandemic will be felt for some time to come.

Steve Russell, Chief Executive of the Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust, has opened up about the impacts the Covid-19 pandemic has had on his team. Picture: Gerard Binks.

He told the Harrogate Advertiser: “One year ago, when we got our first Covid patient, we were definitely a bit anxious but we were well prepared and knew what we had to do at that time.

“But could we have predicted the impact the virus would have and how much our lives would be changed by it? Definitely not.

“We knew it would be tough, we knew it would be a challenge, but we just did not realise what we would have to face.

“If we’d had to guess, I think we still would have only got to about 10% of what we have actually been up against - no one could have predicted the difficult and deep impacts this would have on both our work and our personal lives.”

Following the Government’s announcement that all restrictions could be lifted by the end of June if infection rates continue to fall and the vaccination programme continues to make impressive progress, hope and optimism for a return to some kind of normality have swept the country.

And while there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel, Mr Russell says we cannot simply sweep the last year under the carpet and forget the harrowing effect the Covid crisis has had on so many people.

He said: “This definitely will not be like flicking a light switch.

“The roadmap gives us hope and reintroduces lots of things we have missed, but there is no way people who have worked on this can unsee what they have seen and unfeel what they have felt when June 21 comes.

“We cannot just forget what we have been through.

“I never thought I would see something like this in my lifetime - when you think of pandemics you tend to think of times gone by.

“This virus has impacted every single person in the world in one way or another and I do think it will be a long process to get over that.”

Things are starting to look up for Harrogate however, with this week’s Covid-19 infection rate falling to 53.5 per 100,000 people - the lowest level since last September.

During the first peak last year, Harrogate District Hospital was treating around 30-40 Covid patients, a number which almost doubled during the latest peak, with between 60-70 people being treated for the virus at one time.

But the rate is falling once again, with an average of 10-20 patients on the ward at the moment - a figure which Mr Russell has deemed ‘incredibly positive and encouraging’.

“We have to focus on the good things and of course we are really excited for people to get back to doing the things they love and have missed throughout this time,” he said.

“That being said, we can’t become complacent and we have to realise Covid isn’t going to just disappear, we are simply going to live in a world where it exists but it is much more manageable.

“If everyone can continue to adhere to social distancing and hand hygiene rules that will be a huge help.

“All measures give us more chance of the continued easing of restrictions and help us to keep this virus under control.”

He also hopes the positivity, kindness and community spirit which has been so prevalent throughout the pandemic will continue, with key workers continuing to be recognised for their efforts.

Since the beginning of the crisis last year, residents have shown their support for those working tirelessly through the pandemic, with stunning rainbow artwork displayed in windows and the ‘clap for carers’ taking place every Thursday night.

The Harrogate Bus Company also dedicated a bus to the district’s key workers last year, filled with their images and a heartwarming ‘thank you’ message.

Mr Russell said: “As our lives start to return to something we recognise, we have to make sure we remember all our key workers who have kept going during the most extraordinary times.

“They have dealt with so much and kept the world turning, so I would ask everyone to continue to be kind to each other and offer their support.

“Words can’t easily convey the strength of feeling I have for my team - for everything they have done - but I have the most profound and heartfelt sense of gratitude and awe for what they have put themselves through.

“I have never been prouder of what everyone in the health profession has achieved. Thank you doesn’t even begin to cover it - I am humbled, in awe and inspired by them all.”