Second wave ‘significantly complicated’ by need to continue surgery

A medical director has said the need to continue operations at the same time as treating coronavirus patients has “significantly complicated” the second wave.

Rowan Pritchard Jones, from St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, told the PA news agency he was “desperate” to keep operating theatres up and running despite rising numbers of coronavirus patients.

He said: “The entire situation is significantly complicated by the fact that first time round, as the Government directed us all to, we stopped everything else.

“We emptied the hospital out, we cancelled all the operations that weren’t pure emergencies, we stopped outpatients.

“This second wave is rolling up the beach just at the time we are desperate to restore those urgent services and see those patients whose treatment was deferred and delayed first time round.”

During the spring, staff who normally work in operating theatres were transferred to intensive care to deal with coronavirus cases.

Mr Pritchard Jones, a skin cancer reconstruction surgeon, said: “I am desperate to keep these theatres up and running.

“I want these staff to be handing me instruments, not adjusting the settings on ventilators.

“It feels a far more challenging situation than we had.”

Rowan Pritchard Jones
Rowan Pritchard Jones is ‘desperate’ to keep operating theatres open (Peter Byrne/PA)

During the first wave of the virus, when elective surgeries were cancelled, the trust was one of the few able to continue urgent cancer surgery for patients from Cheshire and Merseyside after transforming St Helens Hospital, usually used for day cases, into a Covid-free site.

Urgent operations were transferred from Whiston Hospital to St Helens within four weeks and work is now under way to do the same again.

Consultant urologist and assistant medical director John McCabe said: “It was apparent in April as all elective services had ground to a halt that we needed as quickly as possible to make contingency plans for those most urgent patients, in particular the cancer patients.

“We realised the best thing to do was to move as much as possible to our cold hospital, away from the acute site where the Covid risk was much lower.

“The infrastructure is there, the plan is there.

“We can mobilise everything that we achieved that first time and get that back on board and we’re in the midst of doing that at the moment.”

Health workers wearing full personal protective equipment
Health workers wearing full personal protective equipment (Peter Byrne/PA)

He said the site provided greater reassurance for patients who had a “natural anxiety” about contracting the virus in hospital.

“The feedback from them is they did feel much safer about it, they feel far more comfortable not coming to an acute site and having their surgery away from that perceived risk,” he said.

Mr Pritchard Jones said a delay for some patients due to lockdown meant over the summer he performed some of the most complex operations of his career.

He said: “Our patients did everything that was asked of them.

“The Government were clear – stay home, protect the NHS – and they did.

“But when they have come forward we’re then finding that disease has progressed.

“The admission numbers across every part of our health economy dropped and yet as far as we know, Covid does not prevent cancer.

“It doesn’t, but these patients present later.”

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