King's Lynn hospital looks to 'exciting future plans' as it marks 40th birthday
It's not the way staff who first opened Lynn's Queen Elizabeth Hospital in 1980 would have imagined the hospital would be celebrating its 40th anniversary today – or indeed for those who were putting plans together for the milestone earlier in the year.
But this is the "new normal" staff are getting used to during the coronavirus pandemic, its chief executive Caroline Shaw said yesterday, as hospital bosses looked to what the next few years might hold.
Mrs Shaw said, as of now, they are "conscious of the importance of social distancing, hand hygiene and of wearing masks".
As of yesterday afternoon, there was just one Covid ward at the hospital and no current active cases of the virus there. Over the course of the pandemic, the hospital has seen 457 coronavirus cases and 153 of those patients died after testing positive for the virus.
With restrictions having been eased and the number of cases having dropped, the hospital's elective programme has been resumed, and is currently at about 50 per cent of its pre-Covid capacity, in line with national guidance.
Mrs Shaw said the reason they are not at 100 per cent capacity is due to the need to social distance and the use of clinical space.
Trust chairman Steve Barnett said during the pandemic, staff have dealt with pressures unlike anything they had seen before.
"Staff were not only concerned for the welfare of patients, but their own welfare and that of their own family units," he said.
"It caused a tremendous amount of anxiety across all our staff groups. They were facing all those complexities and they were so caring and compassionate.
"They were dealing with all of those pressures – every single one of them has been heroic."
Mrs Shaw added: "Now a lot of support is needed for our staff – they have seen things they haven't seen before in their careers so we are conscious of their wellbeing."
There will be a package of care for their staff to help support them, she said.
And now plans are being developed ahead of the winter period, as well as for the possibility of a second wave of Covid-19.
Mrs Shaw said winter will be "challenging for everyone", and she urged the public to follow advice.
She also made a plea for those who are advised to have a flu vaccination to make sure they do have one.
Having launched their five-year strategy in June, which focuses on three priorities – Quality, Engagement and Healthy Lives (or QEH for short) – they are now looking to their "exciting plans" for the future.
Mr Barnett said as the hospital was opened in 1980 with a predicted lifespan of 30 years, it is now "beginning to show its age", and so they are "pushing" for a new hospital building.
Mr Barnett said: "We would like a brand new hospital, and what we would really like is to underpin that with cutting edge digital infrastructure so we are well-equipped for the next 20 or 30 years."
And Mrs Shaw said a new hospital was something the people of West Norfolk and the Team QEH staff "deserve".
It has also been revealed this week that the QEH is in "active discussions" with BMI Healthcare about the prospect of purchasing the Sandringham Hospital, which is based on the same site as the QEH.
Mrs Shaw said: "We consider that this presents a fantastic opportunity for the Trust to further improve the quality of care for our patients in a high quality and modern estate, consistent with the priorities described in our recently-published corporate strategy.
"This includes the exciting option of developing a new elective treatment centre and the further development of a private facility for our patients.
"We will keep our patients, local community and staff updated as the process moves forward."
The hospital bosses said the sociability of the hospital is among the things that have changed over the 40 years of the QEH which they would like to restore.
Mrs Shaw said there was a social club at the hospital in the 1980s which held regular discos and sold alcohol for pennies.
"A lot of people found comradeship there, we want to bring back that sociability to the hospital," she said.
"We are not saying we can bring back shots of vodka for 28p again, but the social sense of feeling within the hospital."
There is often a sense of family within the QEH though, and that is quite literally the case in some instances, as Mr Barnett said they have "lots of families and a number of generations of the same family working" there.
Mrs Shaw said the hospital's 40th anniversary celebrations have provided an opportunity to thank people for their support during the coronavirus pandemic.
She said: "The support from the community has been absolutely second to none.
"I have spoken to colleagues in other hospitals in the country and I think our support has gone above and beyond.
"So, a huge thank you to people living in West Norfolk – I haven't seen anything like it and I've been in the NHS for 36 years."