Ellern Mede Hospitals’ actions as COVID rules change

What are our actions resulting from the government’s decision to proceed to stage 4 of the “Road Map” out of COVID restrictions? We continue to require self-testing with demonstrable negative results prior to entry to our hospitals for staff and visitors and we will continue with PPE in certain medical situations as well as mask wearing by staff and visitors.

As the country moves through stage 4 of unlocking, we know there will likely be minimal, if any, restrictions left in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

It is now clear that the government has taken the view that the negative impact of removing any type of restrictions (barring some related to travel) would be less than the negative impact on society of continuing those restrictions.  They are giving clear indications in the media that now is the time to in effect “let the virus go”.  The heath secretary himself on BBC Radio 4 this morning predicted daily infection rates reaching 100,000 a day by August.  Government’s view is the link between infection rates and serious illness and deaths may not be broken but it is severely weakened.  Current data suggests they may be right and whether we agree with this or not, it is very likely that there will be no restrictions to the spread of the virus at all after 19 July 2021.

What will this mean to Ellern Mede hospitals?  The truth is we don’t know but we can make educated guesses and we ask for your forbearance and support as we make considered decisions whilst retaining the flexibility to change our actions if, or more likely when, events dictate.

Our current view is the following;

  1. COVID-19 will reappear in Ellern Mede hospitals as it will in schools, in offices and in all places of work and leisure over the coming weeks. Infection rates will rise sharply, mainly in (but not exclusively) the unvaccinated, which includes children and those people who have chosen not to have the vaccine (including a small number of people who have been advised not to have the vaccine for specific clinical reasons).
  2. It is possible that as the virus spreads rapidly through this cohort of people, we will quickly get to what was originally labelled “herd immunity” as up to a million new cases a week will be reported at the new peak. Unless new variants escape the vaccine, it also seems likely that there will then be a steep drop off of new infections as more than 80% of the entire population will have either been vaccinated or will have developed antibodies through having had the virus.
  3. All evidence suggests that the risks to children and young people remains very low so we must remember our biggest lesson learnt from the first wave which is, our patients are at far greater risk from their underlying health condition than COVID-19 so please don’t worry when there is a new COVID-19 outbreak in the hospital and your loved one tests positive for the virus. We can and will look after them.  We will keep them safe both from the mild effects of the virus and their underlying condition.
  4. More than half of our team are double vaccinated so we believe the risks from wave 1 of a significant shortfall in staffing on any one day is much less likely. We will, however, be making contingency plans to maintain safe staffing numbers.
  5. Clearly, anyone who tests positive will not be allowed to attend site even if they are symptom free. Sajid Javid 6 July in parliament: “Those who test positive themselves though, will have to self-isolate whether they have had the jab or not”.
  6. Whilst we know the virus will spread incredibly quickly we will not invite it into the hospital and we will still be taking sensible precautions to keep it out as much and for as long as possible. To this end we will continue to test staff twice a week and we will also introduce random testing.
  7. We now know that the requirement for individuals to have to self isolate if they come into contact with someone who is COVID-19 positive, will be removed and this will help with maintaining safe staffing levels. Sajid Javid 6 July in parliament : “From 16 August, fully vaccinated adults in England will not have to self-isolate if they are a close contact of a positive case”.
  8. We have enough testing capacity to ask those who have come into contact with a positive case to test every day and a negative result will be enough to allow those individuals to come to work as normal.
  9. With regards to visiting, again we wish to take a sensible and pragmatic approach. We will continue with the current rules on visiting especially with regards to testing prior to visiting.  When there is an outbreak we may decide to temporarily halt visiting but this is likely to be time limited especially for those who can provide evidence of a double vaccination and are happy with the need to take their own responsibility for mitigating risks of infection.
  10. We are still to hear from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) about vaccinations for children but we are liaising with local GPs to see if our young adults can get vaccinated where they choose to do so.

Clearly events will proceed at pace over the coming weeks and we will therefore try to match our communications with parents and indeed all those with an interest in the care of our patients (including commissioners and our regulator) to keep everyone informed of what we are doing and why we are doing it.  We thank parents and carers of patients for their support and patience, it really is appreciated in these most unusual of times.  We do not wish to tempt fate but maybe this really is the beginning of the end and not just the end of the beginning!

Peter Curtis, Managing Director.