Addenbrooke’s chief: ‘We are moving past the peak of Covid-19 - but expect further surges’
We are finally “moving past the peak” of the coronavirus outbreak in the region, according to the chief executive of Cambridge University Hospitals.
Roland Sinker said this week that there was now a “stable and noticeable downward trend” in Covid-19 positive patients at Addenbrooke’s – a sign that lockdown measures and social distancing were paying off.
But he warned that the next 18 months could yet bring fresh “surges” of infections – and blueprints for a temporary facility outside the Rosie Hospital are still being developed.
Mr Sinker also indicated that despite the reduction in patients, supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) were “tighter” than the hospitals would like and there was a particular “stress on the supplies of surgical gowns and masks”.
The NHS trust will need to be confident there is sufficient PPE before reopening six surgical theatres for elective surgery, he said.
An army of volunteers is now answering the call to make more scrubs for Cambridgeshire’s hospitals, at a time when the pandemic is taking its toll on both resources and NHS workers.
Mr Sinker said: “Speaking with staff this week, I’m noticing that many people are feeling tired after six weeks of working in ‘major incident’ mode.
“Some people are exposed to particularly challenging situations and many of us are coming to terms with the scale of what we are facing and the long-term impact that we can now see that this pandemic will have.
“We are starting to see a clear trend that shows us we are moving past the peak of the number of Covid-19 positive patients we are treating in our hospitals.
“The numbers are not reducing rapidly but there is now a stable and noticeable downward trend.
“We planned for a reasonable worst case scenario of 465 beds for Covid-19 positive patients with 130 of them requiring critical care. What we’ve seen at the peak has been 140 patients with just over 40 requiring critical care.”
Mr Sinker said the number of patients with Covid-19 being admitted to Addenbrooke’s has halved from about 10 per day to five.
“This is significantly better than we planned for, however what we can’t know yet is what the next 18 months might bring in terms of further surges in demand,” he said.
“The downward trend in Covid-19 patients is good news. It is a sign that the difficult social distancing and lockdown measures we are all living with have worked and we can expect that at least some aspects of our previous lives will be resumed in the coming weeks.”
But he added: “Unfortunately, while we see patient numbers reducing, we are also in a situation where the availability of PPE that we receive through our supply chain is tighter than we would like it to be.
“This is not in all areas, but there is stress on the supplies of surgical gowns and masks which we are working incredibly hard to escalate regionally and nationally with the aim of finding a sustainable resolution to this difficult situation.”
The hospital was also examining national advice on the reuse of PPE and alternatives to standard items.
But he stressed: “We do not expect members of staff to enter clinical areas or treat patients unless they feel confident that they have the correct safety equipment. What is vitally important at this time is that the correct PPE is used for every patient.”
Cambridge University Hospitals, which operates Addenbrooke’s and the Rosie, has recorded 84 deaths from Covid-19 to date.
Mr Sinker paid tribute to NHS staff.
“Our staff have shown us exactly why the NHS is the envy of the world delivering a service that not only provides outstanding quality of care, but can change and adapt quickly to respond to an incident of this kind,” he said.
“Despite the pressures, the risks, the uncertainty and the stresses placed on people’s home lives, staff absence has been at very low levels over the past weeks.
“The CUH family has come forward to help with a willingness, energy and commitment that is incredibly humbling. This has undoubtedly saved lives and has meant that we have offered every patient who needed it the very best critical care service as well as excellent inpatient care and rehabilitation.”
Addenbrooke’s would now move out of its early response phase and into its sustainability and recovery phases, he explained.
“We need to resume our role in the east of England in diagnosing and treating the sickest patients in the region and recover the services that our local catchment population relies on in Cambridgeshire,” said Mr Sinker.
It has already drawn up plans to reopen six theatres at Addenbrooke’s Treatment Centre, as the Cambridge Independent reported.
Mr Sinker said: “To do this safely we need the staff, PPE, equipment and beds to support the surgical activity we would like to undertake. Provided that we have confidence that the right resources are available we will start to open an urgent elective activity programme in two weeks’ time.”
Meanwhile, the NHS trust is working with Royal Papworth Hospital and others in the region on plans for “additional temporary hospital accommodation” on land outside the Rosie Hospital that will eventually be home to a new children’s hospital and rebuilt Addenbrooke’s.
“We are working towards a carefully designed facility that will meet the needs of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus and the region for the next 18 months,” said Mr Sinker.
“I am confident that when we agree our blueprint, it will be designed effectively with clinical leadership and input to meet the demand we predict we will face here.”
Mr Sinker also paid tribute to other organisations - including the University of Cambridge and industry partners on the campus - for helping to meet day-to-day challenges and working on longer-term solutions to the pandemic.
One of the country’s biggest Covid-19 testing facilities, which will conduct up to 30,000 tests a day, is being created by the university, AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline at the Anne McLaren Laboratory for Regenerative Medicine on the campus.
“We have reached an important milestone in this outbreak, where we are starting to see the slow retreat of the virus in our hospital. But coronavirus is far from over and is likely to be with us for the next 18 months and beyond,” said Mr Sinker.
“Our next challenge is to learn from our experience of the last six weeks and take the lessons with us into the next phase. We will need to adapt again to provide services for people suffering with Covid-19 as well as for those who rely on us for other critical conditions.
“This will require new thinking, new relationships across the system, new ways of working and a safe, happy, resilient workforce to deliver what is needed to manage the next phase of this outbreak.”
Mr Sinker also expressed his condolences following the death of Jenny Esson, a member of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT), to Covid-19.
“Our thoughts this week are with the family and friends of Jenny,” he said.