A bigger surge than normal of seriously ill patients is causing the winter crisis at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary, a hospital chief has revealed.
The first week in January always sees a peak in demand at A&E and across most wards.
But one of the infirmary’s most senior managers has admitted 2018 feels “different” to anything they have experienced before.
Doctors and nurses have been struggling to treat the sheer volume of patients across the country.
Helen Barker, Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust’s chief operating officer, herself a former nurse, said they were no different.
And she praised frontline staff for going beyond the call of duty to treat the growing number of very unwell patients arriving at their two sites.
Commenting on what has been widely reported as the worst conditions in decades, she said: “We’re certainly seeing higher admissions and sicker patients than in previous years.
“On this occasion it does feel different. There’s an element of it that’s flu, and we’ve had norovirus this year and we didn’t last year.
“I don’t know if it’s peaked, I’m not sure if it will keep rising but I can’t see it reducing from the level we’re at for a while.
“We are full and we’ve got some extra beds open to cope with that.”
The pressure on the system peaked in the early hours of January 2 and hospital chiefs have conceded there was a queue for beds at A&E.
But they have now denied that any were left waiting on ambulance trolleys and vowed they were kept comfortable and monitored by staff in a holding area.
“Tuesday (January 2) was a particularly challenging evening for us,” Mrs Barker explained.
“We had a surge after a difficult New Year’s Day.
“A&E were struggling, I won’t say that they weren’t, but every patient was cared for and every patient got a bed.
“We had no patients waiting on trolleys. We found quiet areas for them to go to.
“Our director of nursing came in at 1am as did another director, who was on call.
“We supported staff and we did the best we could for those patients.”
Mrs Barker confirmed the trust had been forced into some unprecedented measures to ensure the standard of care did not drop.
Frontline staff have been offered a 20% supplement to work additional shifts in January – which is cheaper than calling in agency doctors and nurses.
She also confirmed the infirmary’s birthing centre and day surgery units had been temporarily closed to free up beds and staff.
Huddersfield birth centre has been re-utilised to treat cancer patients.
Parents-to-be affected have been offered home births or a move to Calderdale birth centre.
Mrs Barker also revealed some anaesthetists had been reassigned as A&E doctors and said even porters had been asking where they could offer extra assistance.
“Staff are going the extra mile for patients, but also for each other,” she added.
“We’ve got some real heroes and heroines in here.
“Everybody has really got that spirit that we’re doing the right thing, but people are also being great at speaking up when something is not quite right.”
Mrs Barker said the surge was helping them learn lessons about how they would cope if the controversial shake-up of services across the two hospitals was approved.
More than 100 beds will be lost if the trust gets its Full Business Case approved by the Department of Health and the NHS.
But she confirmed that there would always be capacity to open extra beds in times of crisis.
Asked what she would say to anyone worried about hospital care this winter, she commented: “Our staff are working extremely hard at making sure our patients are treated with compassion and we keep them safe.
“But we would be advising that unless you really need to come to hospital there are lots of other parts of the health and social care system that you can access.
“If you truly feel you need to be seen by a hospital practitioner then I would say we’re a safe place to be and we’ve got a great group of staff.”