Intensive care beds at East Kent Hospitals Trust sites will be doubled from 33 to 66 next week and will increase to 132 by mid April as the work to deal with coronavirus cases continues.
Additional equipment, including ventilators, is being sourced and more wards are being converted in preparation for an expected increase in patients.
In a letter to staff Trust chief executive Susan Acott says preparations to care for patients who have tested positive or have symptoms associated with the Covid-19 virus, expand capacity to treat further cases and maintain vital services for the most vulnerable patients, are continuing at pace.
Measures are being put in place to increase capacity to provide Urgent and Emergency Care, and continue to provide trauma, cancer, stroke and maternity services and non urgent planned care appointments are being cancelled.
Staff will significantly increase the use of telephone and video conferencing for outpatients appointments.
Ms Acott (pictured) said: “Services that continue will be separated for patients who are unaffected by the virus, and those who have potential or confirmed Covid-19. We will make all necessary changes to increase capacity in our hospitals to provide the essential care that patients need.
“In line with national guidelines, we have limited visiting times to one patient per visitor, for one hour a day from 6pm-7pm on weekdays and 3pm-4pm on weekends, with exceptions for end of life care, paediatrics and labour wards.
“We are working with the NHS nationally to ensure we receive the supplies of personal protective equipment that our staff need, and providing additional training and support for our staff.
“We now have our own microbiology lab testing and providing results locally, this means we can identify if a patient has tested positive for Covid-19 or if they haven’t, much more quickly. We are also able to test and provide results for staff who are in critical roles, so they are able to return to work.
“Looking after our staff is essential during this time, our staff welfare plan includes looking after their health and wellbeing as well as providing practical support, now and in the coming week and months. We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of local businesses and the continued offers of help.
“The response by our staff has been incredible and I am so proud of their compassion, commitment and willingness to work flexibly, putting our patients and communities before themselves and their own families. We have colleagues who have recently retired returning to the Trust, colleagues taking on different roles, volunteering for rotas and everyone is pulling together.”
At QEQM ICU is situated on the ground floor of the Ramsgate Road Wing. It is a nine bedded unit and is staffed by a team of four consultant anaesthetists, assisted by a dedicated team of nurses and support staff, providing 24 hour specialist cover.
Staff are on the frontline of the battle to slow the spread of the virus which has now claimed 422 lives, according to government data.
As of 9am today (March 24), a total of 90,436 people have been tested, of which 82,359 were confirmed negative and 8,077 were confirmed positive. 422 patients in the UK who tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) have died.
In Kent 72 people who have been tested have been diagnosed positive – up from 64 yesterday – and 19 in Medway -up from 15 yesterday.
In Thanet there have been cases including in Westgate, Birchington Vale, a staff member at Saga and a parent of a Chatham & Clarendon pupil. There have been suspected cases in Margate and Ramsgate. There are an unconfirmed number of Covid-19 patients at QEQM Hospital.
Yesterday Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced strict curbs on daily life aimed at containing the spread.
In a speech to the nation the PM said gatherings of more than two people – excluding those who live together – would be dispersed and people can only be able to go out to exercise alone, shop for essentials, travelling to necessary work that cannot be done at home, travelling to help a vulnerable person and picking up essential medical goods.
Police have the powers to enforce these rules. There will be fines for flouting the rules.
All non-essential shops have been told to close. All social gatherings, except funerals, are halted. Parks remain open for exercise but groups will be dispersed.
The restrictions will be reviewed in three weeks.
County councillor for Ramsgate Karen Constantine says she would like more reassurance about the supply of protective equipment for NHS staff and that a thorough review of staff pay and conditions should be carried out after the crisis.
She said: “I am being contacted by staff who are saying they don’t have sufficient PPE. We need urgent reassurances about the supply and availability of this vital equipment.
“I’m also hearing rumours that car parking charges for NHS staff have been lifted. If that hasn’t happened I’m sure it would be welcomed by staff. I’m waiting for QEQM Director Susan Acott to clarify.
“We are all incredibly grateful to all our NHS staff. It’s extremely heartening to see these vital public servants being looked after by local business and the public. It’s no less than they and other public office holders and key workers deserve.
“Many Thanet residents have been incredibly supportive of the health campaigns, in particular to stop the transfer of the local stroke unit to Ashford. As the local health overview and scrutiny committee, HOSC member, supporting our judicial review client Marion Kepple we’ll be going ahead with our appeal to stop this. Marion is the only client moving forward to this critical appeal stage.
“Whilst the Covid crisis cannot be legally used to challenge the decision, I sincerely hope that it helps our health decision makers to fully recognise the clear need to have such services located in Thanet. Ashford is too far.
“When we are through this crisis -and we will get through it – I hope there is a thorough review of our NHS staff pay and terms and conditions. In the past our Government has ignored the recommendations of the NHS independent pay review body and this has led to staff leaving the NHS, and low morale.”
NHS Professionals has launched a Covid-19 Rapid Response to enable qualified nurses and other healthcare professionals, who may or may not be currently working in the NHS and who want to help in the battle against the current pandemic, to move quickly and safely to the frontline.
Anyone who would like to join the NHS Professionals bank should visit our website to start their registration. https://go.nhsp.uk/rapidresponse
The East Kent Hospitals Charity is also encouraging people to donate to support NHS staff as they continue to prepare for the coronavirus outbreak.
The charity has already bought treats for frontline staff in the intensive care units at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital in Margate, and the Kent and Canterbury Hospital.
And now the team is hoping to harness people’s goodwill so they can continue to give a boost to staff of all levels who are ready to care for the sickest patients.
The charity could also fund additional extras such as hotel rooms for staff to allow them to continue working if their families are self-isolating as the pandemic continues.
You can donate at https://www.justgiving.com/ekhc