THE chief executive of the Western Trust has admitted that “major challenges” lie ahead in rebuilding local health services in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Speaking at the latest virtual board meeting on Thursday, Dr Anne Kilgallen was pleased to report that the number of patients admitted with coronavirus had now reduced sufficiently to allow the Trust to begin to release staff from Covid duties.
In a comprehensive report, Dr Killgallen said that this would enable the Trust to “ramp up” services that were impacted by the surge, including operating theatres, day case theatres and outpatient clinics.
But she cautioned that this change would be managed “incrementally”.
“The restrictions because of risk of infection will mean that activity will not match pre-pandemic levels,” the chief executive added.
Dr Kilgallen told the board the Trust had been asked to submit a draft rebuild plans for their services for the period covering April to June, for Health Minister Robin Swann’s consideration.
She admitted that the Western Trust faced “major challenges” in rebuilding services, specifically in addressing waiting times.
However, the chief executive also highlighted initiatives going on across the organisation that were bringing “hope and encouragement” to staff.
Dr Kilgallen candidly discussed how some services, such as endoscopy and Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT), were going to experience “significant reductions” in activity compared to normal because they required additional infection prevention and control measures.
She added, “Our estates team has been working successfully to improve ventilation where that is possible.”
The Trust chief revealed that a “substantial space” for Covid patients continued to be needed in Altnagelvin
Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU), and that was impacting on their ability to carry out complex planned surgery for non-Covid patients likely to require intensive care.
“The regional prioritisation group, in which we participate, enables us to access surgical capacity elsewhere for patients that need time-critical procedures,” she added.
Dr Killgallen also outlined how the Trust is continuing to test the feasibility of hosting new services in the surgical theatres at South West Acute Hospital (SWAH).
“On March 20, our orthopaedic team successfully operated on four patients with foot and ankle conditions, and since mid-February we have recommenced the allocation of surgical lists for cancer patients from Belfast Trust,” she said.
In a direct appeal to people living in the area covered by the Western Trust, the chief executive said their ability to rebuild services depended on the rate of community transmission and the number of people being admitted to the local hospitals.
“We cannot be complacent. We know from local experience that outbreaks can and do occur with tragic consequences for those affected.
“I appeal to people across the west to continue to abide by the restrictions, maintaining social distance, wearing masks when in contact with others and, for those who are eligible, taking the vaccine when it is offered,” Dr Kilgallen urged.