May 1, 2020
Newcastle Hospitals has been caring for, and healing, patients with COVID-19 since January.
As one of only five units in the UK with specialist team to manage high consequence infectious diseases, we are very proud to have led the initial UK response to this frightening virus by looking after the very first patients in the UK who tested positive.
I’m pleased to say we were able to discharge those patients fit and well just a few days later.
That was a historic day, but I’m not sure even then that we could imagine how dramatically things would progress over the following few weeks.
Since then, across the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Freeman Hospital and our community services, our teams have redesigned and reoriented almost every one of our services to support our communities in the North East when they need us most. We have marshalled every possible resource to strengthen our response to support the city and the region.
Our first priority is always to keep our patients and staff safe, and we quickly knew we needed to create the maximum amount of critical care capacity so we were fully prepared to deliver lifesaving care to greatly increased numbers of patients.
Our usual 89 intensive care beds have been increased to more than 250 in record time, and numerous wards have been transformed in the process.
The creation of our NHS Nightingale Hospital North East is another amazing achievement. Taking just three weeks to transform an empty building into a fully operational hospital with
450 beds was only made possible by the spirit and united efforts of local businesses working around the clock.
For both staff and patients, access to quick and reliable testing for the virus has been essential.
Thanks to our dedicated virologists and medical scientists, our hospital labs were among the first in the UK to be able to test for COVID-19, and immediately launched into working seven days a week to provide a service to all the North East’s hospitals. This meant we were able to test more people locally than almost any other part of the UK, and we have continued to be at the forefront in this crucial area.
Personal protective equipment has been another critical challenge as national and international stocks have been stretched.
I’m delighted to say that once again the North East has risen to the challenge and responded magnificently.
Our procurement team has worked around the clock to source essential equipment and have been overwhelmed by the lengths local businesses have gone to help. It has been humbling to see the generosity and pride that defines the North East being focused on our NHS.
Due to that, we have been able to keep our stocks of essential equipment replenished – meaning our staff can work in safety.
It has been equally humbling to see and hear the thanks for our team through the ‘Clap for Carers’, a weekly phenomenon that allows us all a moment of reflection to appreciate the keyworkers across the region who are making sure we can travel to essential work, buy essential food and stay well.
All through this uncertainty and anxiety we continue to provide the very best care we can for everyone. Babies are born, mums are supported to breastfeed, and children come to our Great North Childrens Hospital for care and treatment.
We’re caring for people with cancer and their families, supporting people who need dialysis and treating people who have heart conditions – and that’s just a tiny snapshot of the services we are continuing to provide. We’ve moved huge numbers of outpatient appointments online and onto the telephone, so we can keep in touch with as many patients as possible in a safe and socially distanced way. Together, with everyone playing their part, the North East will come through these difficult days, and will no doubt be stronger.
The simple, but vital contribution we can make with handwashing, social distancing and staying home really is saving lives.
Thank you for supporting our NHS, from the bottom of our hearts.