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Coronavirus: King's Lynn hospital sets out its plans to tackle Covid-19

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Separate wards, more intensive care beds and virtual clinics are just some of the measures set up by Lynn's Queen Elizabeth Hospital to tackle coronavirus.

Medial director Dr Frankie Swords spoke to the Lynn News on Monday afternoon, ahead of the trust's board meeting on Tuesday morning, to discuss what the hospital is doing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It comes after the hospital reported yesterday that three more patients who had tested positive for coronavirus had died there, taking the total of Covid-19 related deaths there to 18.

QEH General Views of the outside of the hospital (32960580)
QEH General Views of the outside of the hospital (32960580)

And according to board papers, as at April 2, there were 58 confirmed cases of Covid-19 at the QEH.

Dr Swords said that as Covid is "starting to hot up", they have been planning to prepare themselves, the staff and the hospital to deal with it – with this based on the pandemic flu plan the hospital already had in place but it has been adapted to the current situation.

"Now we're very clear about what needs to be done now, what's ready and waiting if we need it for the future," she said.

Dr Frankie Swords, medical director at Lynn's Queen Elizabeth Hospital. (33120663)
Dr Frankie Swords, medical director at Lynn's Queen Elizabeth Hospital. (33120663)

The hospital has now been "zoned" so that there is a separate 'yellow' A&E department for patients with Covid-19, suspected Covid-19 or respiratory problems, and a 'green' A&E for everyone else.

This is also reflected within the hospital itself, with 'yellow' wards where patients with coronavirus or suspected coronavirus are being cared for, and 'green' wards for "business as usual".

"In terms of very sick patients, we know that most people with Covid don't actually need to come to hospital and most people who do need to come to hospital will be discharged," Dr Swords added.

She said they have already discharged 22 patients who were sick enough to be in hospital.

"We know that a small proportion get really sick and need to be considered for intensive care, and so we've got quite a detailed plan as to how our intensive care had already expanded and how it can expand further in phases, stepping up all the way to making it four times the size it usually is," she added.

"We are quite well prepared, we know what we will do when we need it, but hopefully we're planning for the worst, hoping for the best."

The hospital would usually have 13 intensive care beds in one unit, but at the moment they have 23 intensive care beds "available and ready".

The next phase of the plan is to have 35 beds, and after that 52, if needed.

"That's what we've been asked to do by NHS England and the region – every hospital has been asked 'what would you need to get up to four times your usual size in terms of intensive care'," Dr Swords said.

As of Monday afternoon, there were six patients with Covid-19 on the intensive care ward, and three beds on the non-Covid intensive care ward were occupied – with spaces on both wards.

Dr Swords said there are four Covid 'yellow' wards at the moment, but there are plans to increase that number if it is needed.

In terms of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), Dr Swords said, while there had been some issues with supplies "right at the start", they have been "much better" recently.

She added that the hospital is "100 per cent" in line with the national guidance about PPE.

"It's absolutely vital that all of our staff are able to access the PPE that they need, but you don't need everything for everything," she said.

"So if one of our staff is in close contact with a patient, they need to be wearing what we all refer to as a surgical mask, and if they are in really close contact, they would need an apron, gloves and possibly a visor as well, but you don't need to wear the whole spacesuit for every contact."

Dr Swords said the 'whole suit' is used for those in the intensive care department and any areas where high risk procedures are taking place – whether the member of staff be "a cleaner or a consultant".

"But for most of the hospital, you don't need to be wearing that for general contact with the patient, and that's very specific because of the way Covid is spread," she added.

The hospital has also "drafted in" 70 former QEH staff, including 15 registered nurses and 17 healthcare assistants, as well as recruiting an extra domestic cleaning team of 35 staff.

"Keeping the place spick and span is really, really important to keep the infection controlled as good as we possibly can," Dr Swords added.

Other measures that are currently ongoing at the hospital during the pandemic include an incident control room, daily strategy meetings, work to maintain staff wellbeing and work to keep patients and relatives informed and reassured.

There is a dedicated patient helpline on 01553 214545 – which has received almost 500 calls so far – and anyone wanting to send a message to a patient in the hospital can do so via a specific system on 01553 613351/01553 613343 or email PALSmailbox@qehkl.nhs.uk.

The hospital is also looking to set up virtual visiting so that patients can see and speak to loved ones via a smartphone or tablet.

Meanwhile, most patients who would usually come to the hospital for appointments are now able to take part in virtual clinics, either over the phone or via video, and for those who do need to attend hospital to visit end-of-life patients, all car parking fees have been waived.

And the community has been "amazing" in terms of helping to keep the QEH team's spirits up.

"I don't think I have ever felt such as positive spirit around the hospital – from the staff, patients and the community – and it's definitely made a difference for the staff," Dr Swords said.

"We've got lots of staff talking about when they come home and hear the clapping for carers or driving past rainbows in people's windows," she added.

"Not least being able to have a hot and free meal in the middle of a nightshift because of our local takeaways, farmers, pubs and guesthouses – it's been astonishing how much we have received."

Around 70 different organisations and institutions have provided meals, groceries and accommodation for staff.

"It's things like that that are really touching for the staff – they are really, really grateful for that."

But there is one 'present' that the staff are grateful for above anything else.

"The one thing that our staff really want to see and would like to continue receiving is news that people are staying home," Dr Swords added.

"That's the best present you can give to the NHS – observing the social distancing and staying at home because if we can stop people getting it, then that's so much better, we can stop the spread."

"That's the kindest thing you can do for the hospital," she said.

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