This morning I caught up with Tony Chambers, Chief Executive of our local NHS Trust, BHRUT, to raise constituents' concerns about blood testing, maternity services and management of the pandemic during the winter.
Our discussion provided an excellent opportunity to review the impact of the outset of coronavirus and the changes to services that the Trust implemented to address the challenges the virus posed. In the face of significant operational challenges, the trust maintained Intensive Treatment Unit (ITU) beds capacity throughout the Spring and early summer period as well as 24-36 hours supply of PPE materials.
One of the key concerns that has been raised with my office is visitor access to loved ones in hospitals, particularly those in maternity wards or undertaking pre-natal scans. I had previously raised with Health Ministers as well as the Chief Executive particular concerns in this area and I was pleased when the NHS issued specific guidance to NHS Trusts on the returning of visitors in maternity units.
We were joined on the call by BHRUT's Chief Nurse, Kathryn, who advised that the Trust will be implementing the guidance and outlined the visitor policy for maternity services that had been in operation, enabling a birthing partner to attend during established labour, and the recent reintroduction of visits to patients on the postnatal ward.
While I acknowledge that reduced access for visitors to maternity wards has caused anguish for many fathers and partners, it was interesting to learn that there have been recognised benefits to both patients and babies on a local and national level. This has included improved recovery for mothers and increased uptake in breastfeeding rates.
Where restrictions do still exist, such as for scans where social distancing requirements mean visitors cannot be accommodated, the Trust are actively considering other methods of ensuring partner participation to support mothers.
In terms of visitors for non-maternity patients, where previously only one parent could visit a child admitted to hospital now both parents can visit for an unlimited period of time and any patient that has been admitted for a period greater than one week can receive a visitor. Family members of patients will receive two daily calls advising of their condition and staff will also facilitate video calls to maintain contact with loved ones.
Another key concern that constituents have raised with my office is the provision of blood tests within the community and I am aware that many constituents have been advised of long waiting times. Prior to my call with the hospital executives, I had also discussed this matter with a local GP.
The Trust advise that the Phlebotomy service within hospital sites is currently limited to patients within their care only in order to manage infection risks for patients and staff within the hospital. They have launched an online booking platform as well as a phone line to assist patients to access blood tests. Haematology and oncology patients have a dedicated (Covid protected) service, five days a week, where those in greatest need are prioritised and seen at the start of each day. Children under 12 are also seen. Those who have been referred by their GP need to have their blood test at a community clinic.
While a number of Phlebotomists employed by the Trust have been seconded to community providers, I am aware of concerns within the primary care sector at the commissioning of the service within the community and of the impact that this has had upon timescales. In addition to my discussions with BHRUT, I have also made enquiries with the Chief Executive of the North East London Foundation Trust (NELFT), as the trust responsible for the community providers undertaking blood tests within the community and await their formal response. I am also awaiting comments from the Clinical Commissioning Group and will update constituents of any developments as soon as possible.
For more information on blood testing, visit: https://www.bhrhospitals.nhs.uk/blood-tests
Given the recent increase in the infection rate of the coronavirus nationally and locally I enquired with the Trust on the impact that they have seen of this thus far. While they reported a small increase in hospital admissions, the Trust remains vigilant to the threat that the virus poses. We can all assist in this regard by continuing to adhere to social distancing guidelines, not meeting in groups of more than six people (unless where permitted) and regularly washing our hands.
Finally, the Trust advised of their concerns that patients with symptoms of other long-term conditions, such as cancer, may not be presenting to GPs or other health services at this time. This is a particular concern for men not presenting for prostate cancer checks or seeking medical assistance once developing symptoms. I would implore all constituents who think they may be developing symptoms of any other condition to contact their GP urgently. The NHS is open for business and it is important that any potential illnesses are picked up.
I hope that this information is helpful, if any constituents have a particular concern with regard to health services within the constituency please do not hesitate to contact my office.