Covid will hit health and care services 'for a long time', says officer

Weston General Hospital canopy entrance and revolving doors

Weston General Hospital was hit hard during the early stages of the pandemic - Credit: LDRS

The shockwaves across health and care services across North Somerset caused by Covid-19 will be felt for years to come, according to a bleak assessment by a top officer. 

Hayley Verrico, North Somerset Council’s (NSC) director of adult social services, said pressures are being felt across the board, from hospitals unable to discharge healthy patients to carers facing a cost of living crisis.

Even if all the cash raised by the council’s three per cent council tax increase was handed to adult social care it would not cover its escalating costs, she said.

Ms Verrico revealed that Covid-19 and norovirus outbreaks had forced the closure of almost half the beds at Weston General Hospital but patients were not being moved to care homes because of the devastation coronavirus caused last year. 

The delayed discharges sparked a “damning” government report and the council’s care services are also set to be investigated. 

Elsewhere, Ms Verrico said ambulances had left heart attack and stroke patients waiting for hours, while community care provider Sirona was so stretched that families had to fill in. 

Updating councillors this week, she said: “In January 50 per cent of our care homes closed to new admissions due to outbreaks. The number of deaths, especially of older and vulnerable residents has been very low due to our fantastic vaccination. The impact of omicron has been felt across the sector. It’s been detrimental across the board.” 

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The impact on hospitals

“Weston General Hospital has really struggled. We had numerous outbreaks of omicron on the wards, coupled on some wards with D&V (diarrhoea and vomiting) and norovirus. 

“At one point well over 100 beds were closed – nearly 50 per cent of the hospital. At the same time adult social care were getting pressure to discharge but we couldn’t, especially those with Covid, because we didn’t want to reinfect care homes – we saw the devastation that had in the first wave.”

During the first lockdown care homes started to refuse to accept any patients who had not been tested for Covid-19 after a number of outbreaks that in some cases proved fatal. 

Ms Verrico added: “Some patients were going to Weston General who were sleeping in the emergency department overnight because they couldn’t find them a bed. That’s not good for people.

"In many cases North Somerset residents were transferred to Bristol. That’s difficult, especially for many elderly people whose families couldn’t visit. We worked really hard to get people discharged back to North Somerset as quickly as we could.”

Full hospital wards have a knock-on impact on paramedics who can be left queuing outside hospitals waiting to offload their patients. 

“Ambulances couldn’t meet category one and two calls – people who have had heart attacks and major strokes, people with serious illnesses who in some cases had to wait hours for an ambulance. The outcomes in those cases aren’t good. 

“The elective programmes have struggled. Some people are waiting more than two years. During omicron they cancelled elective work. That elective programme is getting worse, not better.”

Delayed discharges from hospital 

Ms Verrico said really high levels of staff absences can mean patients stay in hospital much longer than they need to, so their bodies decondition more, and there was a growing list of people waiting to be discharged. 

“This comes back to the fact there are so many pressure on staffing, coupled with Covid-19 in residential and nursing homes, it’s inevitable people are going to stay longer in hospital. 

“This has created a spotlight from NHS England, who are getting pressure from ministers. They say they are putting in a lot of money for discharges, what are we doing? 

“There’s a bit of a blame culture. There’s a ping pong with everyone trying to blame everyone else."

Damning inspection

“The government has set up a discharge taskforce looking at those trusts that seem to be underperforming. Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire is one of them.

“They sent in inspectors to look at Bristol and Weston. The report is quite damning, it’s really critical of our acute hospitals. 

“It emphasises that people are sitting in hospital for no good reason much longer than they should be. One person in Weston had been waiting for a domiciliary care package for six weeks and was fully independent. They [the inspectors] saw no urgency or pressure on the wards to discharge people, even when they were in internal critical incident. 

“Adult social care is also having the spotlight put on it. North Somerset Council, along with Bristol and South Gloucestershire, have agreed to a peer review led by the Local Government Association on April 6 and 7. I think it will be an opportunity for us to send messages to ministers and present you with a post-Covid analysis of where we are.

“We can’t keep saying Covid is stopping innovation. We have to move forward. We have to deal with Covid because it’s the new reality and it isn’t going anywhere.”

The picture in GP surgeries 

“Community health provision is really struggling as well. Primary care colleagues can’t emphasise enough how swamped they have been. They are seeing an increase of anxiety and depression, and we can’t ignore long Covid. 

“We have a backlog of people with health conditions who didn’t contact their GP during Covid – a lot of elderly people looked at the news and thought they didn’t want to burden their GP with something minor, when it may have been quite serious.”

Community care 

“Sirona, our community care provider, have had significant staffing gaps, particularly in Weston. That’s often resulted in them only doing red visits – that means families have had to pick up some of their work. That’s not getting much better. 

“Recruitment is dire, if anything a lot of people are leaving. We’ve also got the impact of Brexit.”

Mental health provision

“There is pressure with AWP, our mental health provider. There’s been a lack of inpatient beds nationally. We’re sending people many, many, many miles away from North Somerset. 

“It’s really difficult for people’s recovery if they can’t see their family and friends. That’s coupled with the increase in mental health problems as a result of Covid. 

“That’s not just in adults – adolescent mental health is in crisis across the country. There’s been over a 60 per cent increase in eating disorders. Eating when people haven’t got a lot of control over their lives, as they didn’t during Covid, if someone has an eating disorder it’s one thing they can control. Our children’s hospital in Bristol told me it’s taking up to 16 weeks to get a young person with an eating disorder into a specialist service. In that time they’re waiting in an acute or children’s hospital, which isn’t where they need to be. 

“All of these adolescents and children will become adults with difficulties if these aren’t addressed.”

Impact on care providers 

“Providers are under significant funding pressure. Inflation is increasing. Cost of living is increasing. Energy costs are very significant. Food costs are going through the roof. Domiciliary providers also have to pay more for petrol. 

“All of these cost pressures can’t be absorbed by our care providers. It’s going to hit vulnerable families. Our care providers are no different in that respect. 

“The cost of living, increases rental prices, council tax and National Insurance mean people struggling to pay their rent are going to be at risk of eviction. It’s a national problem. It’s a real and substantial risk for some of our most vulnerable residents and their families. 

“Some people will be evicted with nowhere else to go. 

“The legacy from Covid is going to be with us for a very long time.”