Peterborough hospital chief on ‘truly scary’ coronavirus crisis, ‘amazing’ staff and an unsung hero

The chief executive of Peterborough City Hospital has admitted tackling the coronavirus crisis has been “truly scary at times” as she praised staff for their incredible efforts during the pandemic.
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Caroline Walker acknowledged that the unprecedented challenge has been “intense,” “difficult,” “worrying” and “very sad,” but she said the hospital in Bretton had coped.

In an interview with former BBC Cambridgeshire presenter Paul Stainton she revealed the hospital’s ICU (Intensive Care Unit) had increased five-fold to tackle the crisis, but that an easing of Covid-19 patient numbers meant the extra capacity was now being scaled back.

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She also revealed that staff had never been lacking in personal protective equipment (PPE), despite shortages nationally, while welcoming back non-Covid patients is also being progressed, albeit they will all need to be tested for the virus.

Peterborough City HospitalPeterborough City Hospital
Peterborough City Hospital

The chief executive of the North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust - which runs Peterborough City, Hinchingbrooke and Stamford and Rutland hospitals - told Mr Stainton: “Things are far from normal. We’ve been managing in full pandemic incident mode now - this is week seven - and getting to grips with everything this virus has to throw at us.

“It’s been intense, it’s been difficult, it’s been worrying and very sad at times, but we’ve coped and are getting used to the new world that we live in, in hospitals, and trying to gear up for what might be ahead of us in the next few months as well as thinking about the future.”

Ms Walker spoke movingly about the huge efforts which have been made by staff to respond to the crisis, with many having to change their roles at short notice.

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And part of the challenge, she admitted, has been to focus on their wellbeing due to the large number of fatalities with the latest published figures showing at least 90 people who have tested positive for the virus have died at the hospital.

Caroline WalkerCaroline Walker
Caroline Walker

The chief executive said: “The staff have been amazing. I can’t fault any of the staff for anything that they’ve done. It’s been truly scary at times, for me as chief executive, for our staff.

“The vast majority of our staff have risen to the challenge in front of them. We are here to care for people no matter how much pressure that puts on us.

“We’ve tried our best to make sure our staff take their breaks, have time off, take all their rest days and try to take a bit of annual leave, but as we go into week seven lots of our staff are tired.

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“We’ve got to figure out how we can maintain their health and wellbeing as well as care for the patients in this world of Covid and non-Covid patients for what appears to be something like many more weeks and months to come.

“(The mental health impact due to the number of deaths) is one of the longer term issues to think about. Some of our areas do have end of life patients, but the vast majority of our areas cure patients and send them home. More and more of our areas have had to deal with patients being end of life or having bereavements.

“Even in our intensive care department where we do sadly have deaths on a regular basis, the intensity and the number of deaths is taking its toll on everybody.

“We’ve had so many staff affected by the illness or sent home to shield or isolate so we’ve had a lot of staff absence. So we have asked staff to work in different areas to what they normally work in, and that’s put a strain on people as well.

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“Staff have been incredibly brilliant at moving and taking on new roles and being redeployed where the peaks of activity have needed them. And I’m thankful that they’ve done that.”

The trust has run a ‘leadership control room’ 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for the past seven weeks.

And one area which has troubled senior leaders has been PPE, although thankfully there has always been enough equipment to go around, Ms Walker said.

She added: “There have been issues on supply on various days, but all of our staff have had all of the amount of equipment that they needed to care for all of the patients all of the time.

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“I just think our supplies team and our corporate team have had various levels of worry on a daily basis. We’ve counted the stock levels in the warehouse and had the supplies department wondering if we will get through the next three or four days or whether it will just be two days.

“One of the unsung heroes of this has been our supplies manager who managed to get bits of equipment and the right PPE to the right places when we’ve needed it.”

Part two of the interview can be read at www.peterboroughtoday.co.uk.