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210819 | Cornwall’s NHS SOS, Reaction as ‘ongoing extreme surge in demand’ will see operations postponed again

“The army has been brought in to support our ambulance service. Care payments have replaced care packages to support patients discharged from hospitals. Minor injury Units closed just when demand for Emergency services are greatest. And now essential outpatient, day-case and surgical services at Penzance and Hayle hospitals have been cut to urgently create medical wards, whilst more routine NHS services are purchased from profit-making companies. All this to cope with what health Chiefs describe as “sustained operational pressures”. Years of under-investment in our NHS can no longer be hidden by NHS staff working miracles with insufficient staff and resources.


Cornwall’s NHS SOS


Leaders of health and care services set out the pressure Cornwall is now under.

Reaction as ‘ongoing extreme surge in demand’ will see operations postponed again

by Milo Perrin

The continuing enormous pressure on NHS services and staff resources in Cornwall this summer will see routine operations and day services postponed again as space is freed up to accommodate an overload in medical admissions.

Today, a joint open letter from the leaders of health and care services in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly set out the pressure Cornwall is now under.

The letter says that the “health and care system in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly is experiencing an ongoing extreme surge in demand. There’s no single reason for this – it’s a complex mix of factors affecting the whole health and care system.

“These factors include the impact of COVID-19, providing care for our elderly and vulnerable citizens outside of hospital, and an increase in the numbers of people visiting our county for a holiday.

“The emergency department in Truro had another busy weekend with more than 400 people seeking help. Inside the hospital there were more than 100 patients well enough to go home but waiting for care to be provided from elsewhere within our health and care system or for someone to collect them. That’s the equivalent of 5 wards. We are urging anyone who is called to collect a loved one to come to do so as quickly as possible so the bed can be given to someone else who really needs it.

“Additionally, there are more than 700 people requiring care and support that is currently unavailable in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Support and one-off grants are available to help care for people when they are at home.

We have 27 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 5 on the intensive care unit. More than 24 care homes in Cornwall are closed due to COVID-19.

Our NHS 111 service experienced huge pressure this weekend, with more than 2,000 calls made”.

The letter continues “Our minor injury units had one of their busiest weekends. This was exacerbated by short-notice staff sickness; supporting Boardmasters; and the sheer volume of people seeking urgent treatment, particularly at Camborne and Redruth Community Hospital minor injury unit on Sunday”.

During July, the emergency department at Truro had an average of 51 patients in the department at any one time and a peak of 81. This compares to an average of 24 people and a peak of 58 in July 2020.”

The specialist stroke rehabilitation service will be consolidated onto the Woodfield stroke unit in Bodmin Hospital. The capacity on the Woodfield unit will increase to 21 beds, but means an overall reduction in Cornwall of 8 beds. The specialist stroke team is currently struggling to maintain a full complement of therapy specialists.

The extra visitor numbers and traffic this summer is making it more difficult for community workers to get about and do their duties says the letter. It also mentions challenges faced by the Trust’s recruitment drive as landlords turn long term rentals into holiday lets and AirBnBs and rental prices have ‘risen to a point where they are unaffordable to people on even decent wages’.

The letter signs off “We promise that we are doing all we can to strengthen the position of the health and care system in response to the pressures”.

Meanwhile, the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust has decided that the ‘elective surgical unit at West Cornwall Hospital has been identified as the most suitable option to temporarily increase the medical bed provision across RCHT’

An advisory from RCHT says “Whilst hospital, ambulance, GP and social care services across Cornwall continue to face sustained operational pressures, we are having to make changes to some of our services to ensure we can continue to care safely for everyone who urgently needs admission to our acute hospitals. All escalation areas have been utilised and COVID-19 pathway maintained but the level of demand means we need more inpatient beds in order to care for medical patients.”

The unit in Penzance currently provides around 200 urgent and routine procedures per month that are all day case procedures. Using the surgical unit for medical patients will make room for an additional 16 patients. This was put in place last Friday is expected to last up to 12 weeks.

The theatre was used in a similar fashion at the height of the Covid crisis. There is no mention of the changes on the RCHT website.

The note also reveals that from last Thursday, 24 additional beds opened at St Michael’s Hospital in Hayle “to enable the transfer of appropriate patients from the trauma unit at Royal Cornwall Hospital, as well as taking direct admissions from the community. This in turn will allow us to use part of the RCH trauma unit for medical care.”

Some routine appointments at Outpatient Departments will be also be postponed so that staff can be released to support the additional inpatient beds.

Any patients affected will be contacted directly.

Cornish Stuff Homepage

Yesterday, Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust Medical Director, Dr Allister Grant appealed for people not to put unneeded pressure on emergency departments. “We need to be able to concentrate on people with serious and life-threatening illness and injury. It’s like New Year every day. We’re the busiest we have ever been and people with emergencies like heart attacks, stroke and serious trauma are the ones who need the specialist care of an emergency department.”

Last month, Launceston Minor Injuries Unit closed without notice until October to consolidate staff and services in Liskeard.

Mebyon Kernow Councillor Loveday Jenkin

Mebyon Kernow Councillor and member of the Health and Adult Social Care Overview and Scrutiny Committee at Cornwall Council, Loveday Jenkin said today

“The system is in crisis and no amount of papering over the cracks or blaming Covid 19 or talking about Health and Social Care working closer together will be able to cover up the gross unfairness of the current Health and Care funding model.

“This takes no account of the fact that Cornwall has only one Acute hospital for a population of over 600,000 and that this population more than doubles in the summer. There is only one neighbouring authority to take up any slack and Devon is also suffering. NHS and care staff work over and above their jobs but there is not enough capacity in the system and the current infrastructure is insufficient to deal with visitor numbers as well as the regular residents. Without the Government stepping up, recognising these needs and adjusting the funding model, the resident population of Cornwall and Scilly are suffering a much worse service than other parts of Britain. Health Ministers need to held to account.”

Derek Thomas MP

MP for West Cornwall, Derek Thomas, said today

“It’s been clear for some time that Cornwall’s hospitals are under enormous pressure – for a whole set of reasons. We know that patients are still making their way to A&E rather than being dealt with by their GP or going to a pharmacy, and there are beds in Treliske occupied by patients who should be transferred into Adult Social Care.

In the long term, we can solve these problems – much of the population is vaccinated, the new Health and Social Care Bill integrates health and care services, which should speed transfers out of urgent care hospitals, and health ministers have accepted the case for £400 million of funding for hospitals in Cornwall – but in the short term I welcome the temporary measures introduced by Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust. I am delighted that the NHS is flexible enough to come up with an innovative solution to temporary pressures.”

Andrew George campaigning outside West Cornwall Hospital in 2017

Councillor for Ludgvan, Madron, Gulval & Heamoor, long time campaigner for the NHS and also now a member of the Health Scrutiny committee at Cornwall Council, Andrew George, reacted “The army has been brought in to support our ambulance service. Care payments have replaced care packages to support patients discharged from hospitals. Minor injury Units closed just when demand for Emergency services are greatest. And now essential outpatient, day-case and surgical services at Penzance and Hayle hospitals have been cut to urgently create medical wards, whilst more routine NHS services are purchased from profit-making companies. All this to cope with what health Chiefs describe as “sustained operational pressures”. Years of under-investment in our NHS can no longer be hidden by NHS staff working miracles with insufficient staff and resources.

The former Liberal Democrat MP continued “I am a member of Cornwall’s small committee of councillors charged with keeping Health and Care matters under review. But I’ve been unimpressed by the straitjacket we’re required to work within. I get the distinct impression we’re there as window-dressing. To give the impression those appointed by Government to run our services are held to account.”

RCHT wants to build an extension to the Outpatients Department at West Cornwall and is currently at the stage of seeking public consultation on it’s plans.

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