It seems like something we might want to whisper gently after the horrors we have endured over the past 12 months, but I do think there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic this week.
I say cautious because we must be mindful that the situation remains very serious and we must never underestimate this shifting virus, which everyone in the NHS and across our health and social care settings continues to fight each and every day.
We must remember also that well over 100,000 people have died from this cruel virus and, in particular, 700 people at Blackpool Hospitals since our first Covid positive patient arrived at The Vic almost 12 months ago.
We have lived through the most heart-breaking and emotionally difficult period in recent history and it is right that we are making plans for a permanent memorial to ensure all those who lost their lives are remembered alongside the incredible efforts of all staff.
But as community infections and hospital admissions continue to reduce and the number of people we are vaccinating continues to rise, I believe we can allow ourselves to look forward and hope too.
There are currently around 70 people in hospital with Covid across Blackpool Teaching Hospitals. This is the lowest figure recorded by the Trust since October 2020, dropping over the last couple of weeks and continuing to do so day by day. It must be noted through, that this remains above the highest number of inpatients on our wards in spring last year and community transmission rates also remain above where they were in that first wave.
So the numbers of people who need hospital care remains a challenge but they are reducing and this hasn’t happened by accident. It is down to everyone following restrictions, staying at home where possible, wearing a face mask when they go out and washing or sanitising hands relentlessly. I know this particular lockdown has been incredibly hard for so many people and I want to thank everyone for sticking to it. You have made a huge difference which I have no doubt is the reason for these reduced pressures across the NHS.
For me, this signals the start of our recovery.
The first thing to do is support our staff. I cannot tell you how proud I am of the magnificent job they have done and continue to do to fight this pandemic on the front line – when they too are struggling with restrictions and lockdown and Covid amongst their own family and friends.
Let me be clear, each and every member of the organisation has delivered the most monumental effort. Colleagues in work have put their own lives on the line. It has taken significant personal resilience, sheer hard work and, quite simply, inspiring bravery. We can never thank the NHS enough but we can recognise people are exhausted and need a break.
Even before Covid, NHS staff were 50 per cent more likely to experience high levels of work-related stress, feel unwell due to it but come to work anyway. That’s who we are and we’re proud of it too, but we are going to have to make sure the support is out there for them and the help to come to terms with what they have seen and experienced. It has been huge, in a relatively short space of time, and it will impact people and manifest in conditions such as PTSD, depression and, at its very worst, self-harm or even suicide.
We must do everything we can now to enable staff to rest, recover and be supported and I’m clear that it is my number one priority.
Alongside this, though, there are people living across our communities who desperately need medical attention, treatment and support. We have delayed surgery and services and this needs to be restored.
Balancing these two things is going to be very difficult indeed, but we are committed to doing this and making progress on our waiting lists just as quickly as we can. This week we have been able to carry out cardiac and cardiothoracic work in particular but we are pushing to restore more day to day services as soon as we can. We are asking ourselves each day what more we can do, what wards can be returned to their original pre-Covid purpose and where can staff be enabled to go back to their ‘normal’ roles.
This can only be done where infections and hospital admissions continue to drop, people take up the vaccine when they are called and our need for critical, intensive and enhanced beds continues to reduce.
Please do keep following the rules as closely as you can and help us help as many people as we can – including, most importantly, our wonderful staff.
Chief Executive, Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust