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Addenbrooke’s plans wards in car park for Cambridge coronavirus surge

Addenbrooke’s Hospital is making plans for temporary beds in a car park space to cope with a surge in coronavirus patients, as data shows cases are spiking in Cambridgeshire.

An internal staff email at the hospital, seen by the Cambridge Independent, revealed there were plans for up to 120 extra beds for the hospital, the first being a 20-bed “temporary facility” to provide “a regional surge centre” from January.

There will also be two more 20-bed units opposite the Rosie Hospital “in the event of a significant surge in Covid-19 cases”.

Addenbrooke's Hospital is to become a regional surge centre for coronavirus cases
Addenbrooke's Hospital is to become a regional surge centre for coronavirus cases

And, in a blow to anyone who believes the pandemic could be over within months, there will also be a 60-bedded decant facility decant facility to be located on the current site of Car Park 3A for use from September 2021. This will be linked by an underground tunnel to the S-Block and provide longer-term additional bed capacity, including to enable faster progress on addressing fire compliance and other backlog maintenance requirements in the existing estate.”

One staff member, who did not want to be identified, said: “The email came out this morning (Tuesday) from the chief executive. It looks like they are planning some kind of Nightingale Hospital facility for Cambridge. In the first wave of Covid, I think the hospital coped pretty well but we had to shut a lot of wards because caring for Covid patients is more intensive and takes a lot more staff.

“If these extra beds are supplemental to normal hospital function, I have no idea how they would be staffed. We are at full stretch, especially with children being back at school we have a lot of staff self isolating with sick children and sick family members, so that obviously has an impact on staffing levels.

“I think I’m beyond worrying now. I’m just tired, but I don’t know where the staff will come from for this. There are not enough staff to go around anyway – you can only shuffle the deckchairs so many times. So if we are opening more facilities, I struggle to see where that’s going to come from.

“At the start people got through this on adrenalin. Now people are very tired. They are resigned and pessimistic. I think people are expecting the worst over the winter.”

Addenbrooke's is making preparations for coronavirus patients until September 2021
Addenbrooke's is making preparations for coronavirus patients until September 2021

However, the increase in beds at the hospital was welcomed by Cambridge’s Labour MP Daniel Zeichner.

He said: “I welcome this extra capacity locally, so Cambridge residents can feel reassured there will be hospital beds available for them if we face a surge in demand. It is right to prepare now. I hope the government will ensure that there is adequate funding available for staffing. Of course the last thing we want to see is a surge in hospital admissions which is why it is vital that the government gets a grip on test and trace. We were promised a world-beating system, not an Excel spreadsheet, and sadly their failure means they have lost control of the virus.”

A spokesperson for Cambridge University Hospitals Trust said they were not in a position to comment on the new beds.

A breakdown of Covid-19 positive tests shows many areas of the city and surrounding villages are now seeing clusters of cases .

Public Health England records where there are more than two cases in ‘middle super output areas’ – geographic territories of about 7,000 people each.

The worst affected near Cambridge is Linton and Balsham with 13 cases in the seven days to October 5.

In Cambridge itself, Central and West Cambridge and Trumpington both had seven cases in the period.

With cases doubling in the city centre, the county and city councils say they have been working closely with the universities to prepare for the new term.

Addenbrooke's Hospital is responding after news that regional cases of coronavirus are on the rise.
Addenbrooke's Hospital is responding after news that regional cases of coronavirus are on the rise.

The University of Cambridge’s pro-vice-chancellor for enterprise and business relations, Professor Andy Neely, said he was excited to see students back and wants to reassure residents steps are being taken to mitigate the risks.

Around 20,000 students will be attending the University of Cambridge this year. Around three-quarters of those will be in university accommodation in one of the 31 colleges, and for those students the university is offering weekly testing, even if they are not displaying symptoms.

Prof Neely said the system was made possible through an “innovation” of a household testing regime. The students are organised into household groups based on their living arrangements, each person will then use their own swabs, but they will then pool those swabs and send them off to be processed as one test. If the household tests positive, then individuals can be tested further if needs be. This reduces the number of weekly tests needed to around 2,000.

There will be no such asymptomatic testing for the roughly 5,000 students in private accommodation, but the university is also providing testing for those with symptoms.

Residents in Cambridge and the wider area have struggled to get tests locally in recent weeks, and people have claimed to have been told to travel all over the country to receive one, including a case last month where someone claimed they were told to travel as far as Aberdeen.

But Prof Neely said the university’s testing regime will not take resources away from the system used by residents as part of the national test and trace programme.

The university is providing swabs to conduct the tests, but they will still need to be processed in laboratories which are also being used for the national test and trace system.

“Any testing that we are doing is subject to there being sufficient national capacity. So we are not taking away from the national capacity and using it for the students, as long as there is sufficient national capacity then we can do our pooled testing,” Prof Neely said, adding “there is no sort of preferential treatment for the university students to get testing over other people in the city”.

In addition to the additional testing, the university said it also has an awareness campaign and measures around hand hygiene, masks and reduced capacity for buildings.

The university will take a “blended approach to teaching, some face-to-face and some online,” Prof Neely said. Lectures will be conducted online, but the university hopes to continue with face-to-face teaching for the smaller group learning that it has always practised.

There are also measures in place to enforce the rules should students not comply. On the possibility of evicting students for breaking rules, Prof Neely said “never say never, but that would be an absolutely last resort”.

“We have got a bunch of very sensible, bright young adults,” he said.

Additional reporting by the Local Democracy Reporter Ben Hatton.

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