Interview with the head of our hospitals: Winter illness guidance and £3m for 150 new nurses

Health chiefs are issuing guidance as winter approaches to help prevent another day when they have to divert patients in ambulances to other hospitals.

Problems were previously caused when a backlog of 45 patients waiting to be discharged from Watford General Hospital prevented new patients from getting a place in its A&E department.

Chief executive of West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust Samantha Jones.

Chief executive of West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust Samantha Jones.

The 45 needed extra support, such as a care home, but not the beds they were in.

Chief executive of West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust Samantha Jones said: “We will do everything we can to stop this happening again.”

The decision to divert ambulances is taken by a hospital’s most senior doctor and nurse and does not apply to patients whose lives are at risk.

Ms Jones said she couldn’t promise it would never happen again – but that patients will never have to go further than ‘local NHS’ hospitals in Bedford or Milton Keynes.

Only three patients were diverted during a two-hour period during the backlog earlier this month, she added.

Now the West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust has launched a ‘keep warm, keep well’ drive.

People will be educated on how to cope with traditional winter illnesses such as norovirus and the flu, and told how to minimise their fuel bills to stay warm. Nutritional tips will help them cope with the colder weather and they will be told how to get the appropriate care before rushing to hospital if they do get ill.

Ms Jones said: “I am a mother of four-year-old twins and want to take them to the place where they are going to be most looked after.”

But she said this can be done by GPs, care in the community or via the NHS 111 help-line. She said: “999 needs to be the last option for people, not the first, because we really need our hospitals looking after the sickest patients.”

There will also be 12 extra ‘ambulatory spaces’ at Watford General, where patients can be treated for minor ailments before being discharged after a few hours.

***

The West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust – which manages Watford General Hospital and the Hemel Hempstead Urgent Care Centre – will also be investing more than £3m in 150 extra nurses.

The new permanent, qualified staff will come from both nearby areas, across the UK and foreign countries such as Spain and Portugal.

But they will all be fluent English-speakers, said West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust chief executive Samantha Jones.

She said: “We are not just turning to foreign countries. We are making sure our net is cast as wide as it possibly can be, because 150 nurses is a lot.”

Repeated adverts and recruitment fairs in this country are also a key way of finding the talented staff the trust requires, said Ms Jones. She said the staff will be brought in ‘as soon as possible’.

She said: “We are spending over £3m, investing in 150 new nurses to provide the best quality, highest quality, care we can provide for our patients.”