DEALING with a surge in winter demand is “an absolutely priority” for Swansea Bay University Health Board, says its chief executive.
Tracy Myhill is meeting Welsh Ambulance Service chiefs next week as additional measures are put in place to maintain quality patient care during what is a particularly busy time of year.
The health board has been given an extra £3.5m by the Welsh Government to plan for the winter surge.
The measures planned or already in operation are designed to divert patients from emergency departments and treat them elsewhere, where appropriate, or – if they require hospital care – ensure their stay is not delayed.
An extra 20 beds are being made available at Swansea’s Singleton Hospital, extra non-emergency ambulance transport will get more patients home, and more diagnostic capacity for things like MRI scans is being created.
There will also be extra pharmacist support at Morriston Hospital’s emergency department, and an increase in temporary mortuary capacity, among other actions.
Addressing a health board meeting on November 28, Mrs Myhill said: “Delivering over the coming months is the most important thing we do. It is an absolute priority. We certainly cannot rest. “Over the next few weeks we really want to see these things make a difference.”
All health boards prepare for this time of year, but the winter planning report before the health board said there had been no let-up in unscheduled care pressures during the summer, unlike previous years. “This has been evident through the increased demand at our emergency department and minor injuries units, workforce capacity gaps in key clinical areas, and an increasingly fragile domiciliary care sector, all of which have contributed to patient flow and capacity constraints and subsequent performance deterioration,” it said.
Figures for October show a decline in a number of performance metrics for the health board, such as only 71% of emergency department admissions being seen, treated, admitted or discharged within four hours. The target in Wales is 95%.
There has been a slight improvement in November to date.
An underlying factor for all health boards is the increasing complexity and seriousness of patients’ conditions, meaning more medical and nursing input is required.
Mrs Myhill said the number of red – or life-threatening – ambulance calls in the Swansea Bay area was 71% higher last month compared to October 2018.
Knock-on effects from unrelenting emergency admissions include using beds which are normally for planned orthopaedic cases, although many of these hip, knee and shoulder operations are done in other hospitals or by the private sector.
Board members paid tribute to the efforts of staff.
Chief operating officer Chris White said: “The work of staff on a day to day and hour to hour basis should never be taken for granted.”