Big freeze blueprint
Lessons learned and plans drawn up in wake of Beast from the East
Hospitals across Scotland struggled last winter with University Hospital Hairmyres in East Kilbride particularly affected due to the cold snap and increased demand. But how are health chiefs preparing for the next icy blast? Nicola Findlay was given an insight into their... Hospital boss Joanne Edwards today unveils the big freeze blueprint designed to avoid the chaos which engulfed Hairmyres last winter.
The director of hospital services at University Hospital Hairmyres told the News they are braced for increased demand and if there is another Beast from the East episode.
But the public has been urged not to attend A&E departments unless it is absolutely necessary. Plans for Hairmyres include: Extra medics recruited for winter wards at Hairmyres along with Christmas and New Year rotas in place.
A number of GP surgeries will open in January across Lanarkshire.
Plans in place for transport hub at Hairmyres in event of severe weather.
Medical assessment unit up and running to help ease backlog in wards and pressure in A&E.
NHS Lanarkshire medical director Dr Iain Wallace apologised to patients when the big freeze and heavy snow saw waiting times rocket with A&E wards bursting at the seams and nonemergency operations cancelled.
Hairmyres was particularly badly affected.
But Ms Edwards believes the East Kilbride hospital is as prepared as it can be for this winter, with extra staffing and rotas in place for the hospital’s winter wards and arrangements for a transport hub should the weather cause havoc.
“Working though the Beast from the East was something I don’t think any of us had ever experienced before,” she said. “It was one of the most challenging periods I have ever had in all my time here.
“But the dedication and commitment of all our staff was second to none and I have to say the team I have here at Hairmyres is excellent.
“However, we held a winter debrief with the team and we knew in April and May what the lessons were from that period and agreed what we needed to do going forward.
“One of the main differences is that we have recruited earlier, we have our nurse staffing and medical staffing all ready for the winter wards, which will increase bed capacity at the hospital by 17. That can open at any point in time.
“We try and not open it until the first week in January where we see historically a peak in demand.
“However, having all these staff in place who have gone through their induction means they are ready to mobilise as quickly as possible.
“We have opened up our medical assessment unit which used to be on the wards and all Christmas and New Year rotas are sorted and we are acutely aware of who is working when, at what point in time, what the teams that are on for every day over that period and
Working through Beast from the East was one of the most challenging periods I have ever had...
what additionality we are getting from our specialist nurses and from our consultants.
“We do have consultants that will be working later into the evening to support the peaks in demand.”
With last winter’s whiteout bringing Lanarkshire to a grinding halt, staff were left stranded, often relying on members of public and volunteers with four-wheel drives to get them to work.
But there are plans to keep staff moving during a big freeze.
“I have already set up our own transportation hub here,” Ms Edwards said. “We did that on the back of trying to support staff to try and get in and out of work last year,” she continued.
“We now have got a cohort of volunteers that we know have fourby-four vehicles or four-wheel drives.
“Last year it was done on the basis that we had to react to it but this year we have a list of volunteers and how they can support us and will use external volunteers along with lifesavers and Red Cross supporters who really were our lifesavers last year.
“This year we have done a bit more work internally because no one expected that level of snow disruption – although here in East Kilbride we are probably more used to snow than elsewhere.”
In response to last year’s winter chaos, NHS Lanarkshire opened its GP surgeries on Saturdays and this scheme will be repeated.
Ms Edwards added: “We know when they are opening up and how many are opening up so as a consequence we will then be able to support patients in a different way if they are able to go through their GP at the weekend.”
There are talks ongoing to increase the opening hours of the minor injuries unit and although there are currently no vacancies within nursing staff, Ms Edwards admits recruiting physicians at Hairmyres remains an issue with currently not enough doctors to allow this. Capacity issues remain challenging.
“We run at about 93 per cent occupancy,” she added.
“If you were building a new hospital, you would build one with 85 per cent occupancy.
“We are over-occupancy and that is usually medical care of the elderly but we have an arrangement where we utilise surgical beds where we possibly can do to support the activity in this area.”
But the overriding message from the health board is clear – don’t attend A&E unless it is an emergency.
Ms Edwards said: “Hospital isn’t always the most appropriate place for patients and we are continually working to get the message out there that they can access services in the community as a first port of call, such as pharmacists, dentists, opticians and GPs as well as NHS 24.”
Under pressure University Hospital Hairmyres saw major disruption during last winter’s big freeze 191118hairmyres_07
Beast from the East Hairmyres struggled with increased demand and staff unable to get to work after icy blast in February Thinking ahead Hairmyres boss Joanne Edwards and senior nurse Kirsty McMillan have been busy getting ready for winter with a team of lead clinicians