Borough's health services “better prepared for winter” this year

The exterior of Rotherham HospitalThe exterior of Rotherham Hospital
The exterior of Rotherham Hospital
THE borough's health services are better prepared for winter this year, with more resources to help free up GP time as well as additional beds and consultants in Rotherham Hospital's Urgent and Emergency Care Centre.

Presenting the Rotherham Place Winter Plan at Rotherham Council's Health and Wellbeing board meeting, joint head of adults commissioning Steph Watt said: “Winter came early last year and brought with it a number of really high pressure points in November and December.

“There were acute respiratory infections and we had the impact of Covid as well.

“There were also various industrial actions.

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“What worked well was our whole system approach – from senior management down to frontline staff – and strong partnership working.

“Challenges included short-term funding schemes, which has changed this year.

“The national funding is for two financial years (2023-5) which has helped with increased capacity planning including a Primary Care Hub which will help to free up GPs to see patients with more complex needs.”

The hub will be delivered by the GP Federation from December to February to support people with acute respiratory infections and seasonal variations, with national forecasts suggesting flu may peak in January and February.

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“There will also be increased (GP) reception capacity,” said Ms Watt, “and (phone) technology to increase access with call-back so people don't lose their place in the queue.

“The trust (Rotherham NHS Foundation) introduced a virtual ward in December last year.

“It saw five patients initially which went up to about 40 so far.

“That will grow to 80 after Christmas.”

Also known as 'hospital at home', virtual wards are for people who would otherwise be in an acute bed and help avoid unnecessary hospital admissions.

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“The UECC has 24 additional beds and 15 surge beds if required,” Ms Watt said, “and there have been a number of senior appointments within the trust including seven new consultants in the emergency department since last year.”

An evening shift for porters has also been introduced, and the dedicated social worker resource in A&E has also been expanded.

As reported by the Advertiser earlier this year, the successful pilot project introduced by the council and health bosses saw the social worker talking to people in A&E and helping direct them to other services and treatment options when appropriate to avoid unnecessary admissions.

Michael Wright, deputy chief executive at the trust, told the meeting the hospital was in a “far better position” with additional recruitment including 50 more doctors than in 2019 and just under 100 more nurses.

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Sickness rates at the trust had also improved, he said – down to around six per cent this year compared with nine last winter.

Health and wellbeing board chair Cllr David Roche said: “This year we are putting in a lot more resources and things are looking better – we are in a better position.”

Chris Edwards, executive place director at South Yorkshire Integrated Care Board, replied: “That's the indication so far,” adding Rotherham was the “best prepared going into winter since before the pandemic.”