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Winter Pressures – Our reassurance to you

With so much in the news about the NHS – and the pressure it is under on a daily basis- we want to reassure you that Cambridge University Hospitals has comprehensive plans in place to keep you and your family safe this winter.

These plans include doing everything in our power to reduce waiting times for elective surgery, and in our Emergency Department, by increasing flow through the hospital, to having contingencies in place for things we cannot fully predict – such as the ongoing impact of Covid-19, flu, winter vomiting and other seasonal challenges.

We will be there for our patients – but please help us to help you by fully utilising the services of NHS 111  and NHS 111 online and choosing the most appropriate service. Together we can get through this winter and the following information, including the questions and answers below, are designed to help.

Your frequently asked questions answered

Public health officials in Cambridgeshire have talked about hospitals being under “immense pressure” - what are the pressures currently faced by the hospital and the A&E department?

Addenbrooke’s and the Rosie are facing significant ongoing challenges. The number of Covid patients gradually climbed over the summer. Today we are caring for 29 people with the condition and eight of them are in critical care beds. It is worth pointing out that the majority of Covid patients in critical care beds are unvaccinated and many are relatively young and previously healthy. We would urge anyone who is eligible but not yet vaccinated to organise this as soon as possible ahead of winter.

Alongside the impact of Covid, we are seeing extremely high demand across all of our services, with people waiting much longer than we would like to access our emergency department and to be admitted to one of our inpatient beds, should that be needed to progress their treatment and recovery. At the same time, the wait for planned surgery is significantly longer than would have been the case before Covid for most of our patients. This is due to significant disruption in our ability to operate safely during this pandemic. 

We still can’t predict exactly what will happen with Covid transmission in our communities with the return to educational settings and temperatures dropping, but we’re monitoring things carefully.  

Despite all of this, we would like to reassure our community that we are making progress in recovering our services, sustaining excellent outcomes and good access within our cancer services and achieving some of the best outcomes in the country for our patients who require intensive care. The clinical effectiveness of our care and the safety of our patients remains our absolute focus as we move forward. 

According to the latest figures from NHS England there has been an increase in the number of people attending A&E - what can this be attributed to? And what can be done to tackle it?

Our Emergency Department is dealing with an average of around 360 patients per day, which is above pre-Covid levels. This increase is down to a number of factors and includes patients with minor illnesses or injuries who could be cared for by other healthcare services in the community. In addition, as restrictions on movement lift, people are more prone to accidents. The arrival of cold weather will make this worse, as it does each year.   

One of the ways we can help reduce pressure on our Emergency Department is by working closely with other health services in the community such as the Ely and Doddington minor injury units, both of which can provide urgent care, help and advice.  Local pharmacies are another alternative for seeking expert advice.  

People can support the NHS by using the right service at the right time, so that our Emergency Department can keep providing care for people who have a genuinely urgent or emergency healthcare need. If you are unsure where to go for help, visit 111 online or call NHS 111.

Details of local minor injury units

Is August traditionally a quieter time for A&E attendances? If so, what impact does the current pressures have on the preparation for winter? Do these pressures need to be reduced to avoid further problems during the busier winter months?

Demand on our Emergency Department is expected to increase as we go through the winter and there remains high demand for non-emergency services too.  Expanding the overall capacity of the hospital is vital to meeting this challenge and over the coming months we are investing in an additional 116 beds on site.  A new ward, T2 has already opened this summer with an extra 20 beds and we will have an additional 56 beds coming early next year as a further unit, built as a result of the pandemic opens. Another 40-bed facility is available on the south of the Addenbrooke’s site and plans are under way to use all of this new capacity to tackle long waiting lists.

New staff are vital too and we will be welcoming around 600 additional nurses alongside twice the number of apprentices. These colleagues will build on what is one of the most highly skilled workforces in the region. All this, while we continue to make great progress with our plans to build two new hospitals, the Cambridge Children’s and Cambridge Cancer Research Hospitals. These two inspirational projects are part of 13 schemes across the country that are progressing at speed and will be a fantastic addition to what is already an extraordinary and nationally significant campus. Our development of genomic medicine in both research and patient services is a hugely exciting prospect too.

How does a busier summer period following the huge pressures over the past 18 months affect staff? And what is the hospital able to do to support them?

Our staff are undoubtedly tired and in some cases traumatised by the pandemic response and all of its impacts. We are working hard to ensure that they have access to appropriate levels of wellbeing support ranging from creative sessions provided by our arts team to psychological interventions for those most in need. We are also encouraging staff to take leave. It’s really important that we take time to look back at the last 18 months since the Covid pandemic first began and build on what we’ve learned and the experiences we’ve been through, both good and bad, for staff and patients. 

We delivered some extraordinary care at the same time as making national and international contributions in the field of Covid-19 research, collaborating with our partners on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus including the University of Cambridge, Astra Zeneca, and the Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust; and our NHS friends at Royal Papworth Hospital and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust. 

Despite everything we’re facing, with the support of our community, we’re confident we will meet the challenges of this pandemic and winter pressures, and keep improving our care for all.

What can the public do to help support the hospital? And its staff?

Please get vaccinated if you haven’t done so already – and be cautious in how you embrace the new freedoms available.

Please support your NHS by using the right service at the right time, so that our Emergency Department can keep providing care for people who have a genuinely urgent or emergency healthcare need. If you are unsure where to go for help, visit 111 online or call NHS 111. Details of local minor injury units can be found here. Also take note of our rules on visiting and wearing face coverings.  It is still a requirement to wear a mask or face covering inside our hospitals.

Can you describe how this Covid wave compares to previous waves in terms of numbers, severity, use of ventilation or drugs and the age of people affected? Are the majority of patients you are seeing unvaccinated?

We are not seeing the numbers we did at the height of the pandemic, but they are still high. Those we are seeing tend to be younger with fewer underlying health conditions, and the numbers in critical care and on ventilation are still a reminder of the importance of getting vaccinated. Too many people we see have not had the jab.

Has it been possible to catch up yet on the waiting lists, or are these still growing? And have you had to cancel any operations - and are you continuing to use theatres at private hospitals?

Many patients are waiting longer than they, or we, would like, and we fully understand how upsetting and frustrating this is.  Our surgical activity is running at over 90% of pre-Covid levels (which means that we are operating on more than 400 patients a week).  However, referrals into the hospital are now higher than previously so some waiting lists have continued to grow. The local NHS is working together to provide care and treatment at the earliest opportunity.  We are keeping in touch with patients who are waiting and providing them with information on what to do if their condition changes.