A Local NHS leader has acknowledged the personal sacrifices people have made to keep our communities safe and appeals to the public for support during the coming days and weeks.
While the link between coronavirus infections and serious illness is weakened, the number of COVID-19 cases locally is increasing and continues to have an impact on public services across the Hywel Dda area.
Maria Battle, Chair of Hywel Dda University Health Board, describes how your local NHS is managing and responding to the pandemic right now, calling on everyone to do what we can to help reduce further spread of the virus and ease some of the pressure on local services.
“We have seen the busiest tourist season ever in west Wales. In many ways we have welcomed this and in other ways it has brought its own challenges and increasing demand on our communities and public services.
“Compared to the last 18 months, we may be lulled into thinking we are back to normal. But whilst hopefully the worst impact of COVID-19 is over, we are not out of the woods just yet.
“To keep people safe, public sector bodies across Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire continue to work closely together in partnership to keep us all safe.
“Here in the health board we have made many changes. In all your hospitals we continue to have dedicated green, amber and red areas to try and reduce the spread of COVID-19. We have socially distanced, or screened off beds, to keep patients safer. Clinical staff are still ‘donning and doffing’, putting on personal protective clothing for treatments and procedures, and we have additional cleaning of environments between patients. This all takes much more time and regrettably means we can’t treat as many patients as we did before COVID-19.
“In the face of the unknown, and before the relative safety of the vaccine, your cleaners, doctors, porters, nurses, managers, apprentices and many others, including colleagues across the public sector, have served in challenging circumstances. This hasn’t come without fear and personal sacrifices. It is only natural that many staff are now exhausted. During this time, we have also seen a higher level of sickness absence than usual, which is compounded by a high number of vacant nursing posts in Hywel Dda. We are doing everything we can to support all our staff and recruit to vacant posts.
“This too has reduced how many people we can care for compared to pre-COVID-19.
“Before the pandemic, we expected everyone in west Wales to have their planned surgery within 36 weeks of being referred. It is our greatest regret that now, as a result of the pandemic, 30,000 patients are waiting. We are doing all we can to accelerate surgery in the face of all the safety measures needed and our staffing levels. We are looking at building additional, temporary theatres at Prince Philip Hospital, in Llanelli, to increase our ability to undertake planned surgery. We are also working with Swansea Bay Health Board and our staff at Amman Valley Hospital to increase cataract operations.
“We know that waiting without knowledge of when you will have your operation is really difficult. We cannot quickly create more theatres and recruit more staff. What we can do is listen to you; tell you where you are on the list; support you, and advise you how you can care for yourself, and where to go if your condition deteriorates. We are doing this through a Waiting List service, which we are rolling out to more people and you will be contacted directly about this in due course if you are awaiting a procedure. You can also get advice on our website https://hduhb.nhs.wales by searching ‘preparing for treatment’.
“To see how our communities came together to care for each other during the first and second waves of the pandemic was inspiring and heart-warming. There was also a stark realisation that hospitals are not always the best or safest place for certain patients. Sometimes our loved ones could be cared for elsewhere in a better way. This holds today.
“Our colleagues in local authority social care services here in west Wales are also very short of staff. Unfortunately, this can lead to delays in discharging patients and the associated risks of staying in hospital for too long. We are seeing ambulances waiting outside of A&Es as there are not enough beds available for patients who need to be admitted and we do not want people in our communities in emergency situations to be waiting too long for an ambulance.
“We are working closely with our local authority partners to do all we can together to increase the availability of social care. This includes supporting training to our partner social and domiciliary care teams.
“Your urgent and emergency care services have remained open throughout the pandemic and they are still here for you when you need them. However, we are not out of this pandemic. One of the consequences of this is that we are having to bring back temporary measures, including postponing some surgery in the short term, to ensure we can safely care for patients.
“At the moment, in health and social care, we have almost the perfect storm. But we have got through many storms together during the life of this pandemic and with your support we will get through this one again.”
How can you help?
For urgent and emergency care only, call 999 – your hospitals are continuing to see patients who have medical emergencies. There are measures in your hospitals designed to keep patients as safe as possible and people are urged to seek urgent medical attention if you need it. Remember – you still need to wear a mask and observe social distancing in all healthcare settings.
If you have a non-urgent need, please seek alternatives to A&E such as visiting the 111 symptom checker https://111.wales.nhs.uk/ visiting your local community pharmacy or calling your doctor’s surgery
Be community spirited – If you have a relative waiting to be discharged from hospital, please support them in their journey home and help settle them once they arrive. Check up on friends, family and neighbours.
Protect the NHS – and Keep Wales Safe. By following government guidance you can help; visit https://gov.wales/coronavirus View our video on ‘keep safe’ behaviours, which features local staff from public services https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8W4bBjpPYtw
Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms, including cold and flu-like symptoms, must self-isolate and book a test via: https://www.gov.uk/get-coronavirus-test or by calling 119 as soon as possible. By doing this, you can help to reduce the risk of further spread of the virus across our communities.
Get your vaccine – this is the best way to protect you and others form COVID-19 https://hduhb.nhs.wales/healthcare/covid-19-information/covid-19-vaccination-programme/
Keep safe by minimising your social contacts; practicing physical distancing; regular handwashing; wearing face masks where required; and choosing outdoor activities over indoor when possible
Maria continued: “The future brings a degree of uncertainty, such as the roll out of the flu vaccine alongside COVID-19 booster jabs. What is certain however is the commitment of the health board and our partners to be as prepared as possible. The health board’s comprehensive recovery plan outlines, first and foremost, how we recover from the pandemic: how we support our staff to recover after what has been an exhausting year and a half, and how we lay the foundations to recover our services and support our communities.”
Together we can keep Hywel Dda safe.