It’s safe to go into hospital – my stay in Lewisham proves it, says Greenwich Council leader

Lewisham Hospital
Thorpe praised the food in Lewisham Hospital

Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe has urged south-east Londoners to start using their local hospitals again after a three-day stay in Lewisham Hospital.

Thorpe took time off last week for an operation after an accident earlier in the year. Chairing a meeting of local healthcare leaders to discuss the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, he said that he had “exceptional service” in the neighbouring borough’s hospital.

Executives from Greenwich borough’s two main NHS trusts both joined in the call, emphasising that their services were ready to accept patients and that people who need treatment shouldn’t put off their care.

Health bosses are keen to avoid what happened during the first wave of Covid-19, where the consequences of people avoiding hospital were worse than the effects of coronavirus itself on the wider community.

Wearing a sling, Thorpe said: “The three days I spent in Lewisham Hospital were the safest I’ve had in six months. It was an absolutely exceptional service. We have to bring that positive experience to life for people, whether it’s a video or something that we can share more widely that demonstrates the experience that people go through.

“Not only is it safe – extremely safe – but the level of care that is provided at a personal level is exceptional.”

Val Davison, the chair of Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust – which runs Lewisham Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, said: “The more respected public figures and people in the community are willing to say that publicly, I think that’s what gives people confidence. There’s inevitably a tendency for people to say, ‘well, you’re the trust chair, you would tell me it’s safe, but you haven’t experienced it yourself’, whereas you have experienced it, and if others are able to say it … I think it’s such a positive message.”

Davison said the two hospitals’ emergency departments were seeing “close to normal” levels of use and that normal procedures were working well, but added: “Maybe we need to see what more we can do to persuade people it is safe to come in. Personally I feel safer going into the hospital than I do going to the newsagent, because there’s a lot more compliance and people are respectful of the distance.”

Matthew Trainer, the chief executive of Oxleas NHS Trust, which provides community and mental health services, said that at the end of March, 350 of his staff were off work because of Covid-19 related reasons. “Today we’ve 14 staff off – our sickness rate is well below average for this time of year, so we are able to offer services to people.”

Trainer, who was seconded to run the Nightingale Hospital in the Royal Docks during the first wave, added: “I feel safer at Queen Elizabeth Hospital or Oxleas House than at Sainsbury’s or Tesco because we’ve got good infection control measures.”

Queen Elizabeth Hospital
The same trust also runs Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich

Emphasising that the health service was better prepared for the second wave, he said: “What we’ve got to do this time is not stop everything because of Covid. We’ve got to look after people who need help to stay well in addition to managing Covid.

“It’s going to be a problem this winter, I’ve told our staff it’s probably going to be a problem next winter as well – with the best will in the world and a vaccine this is going to be with us for a while, so we can’t stop everything.”

But he warned that the workload meant winter “could be tougher than earlier this year … for some very tired health and social care staff”.

Neil Kennett-Brown, the Greenwich director for the South East London Clinical Commissioning Group, said local NHS organisations were working on a campaign to tell people that they should attend hospital if they need to, but that the big risk was that the most vulnerable would be the ones most reluctant to seek help. “The more we can do with community champions – we’re doing that for flu with mosques and churches – it’s that kind of engagement we need to do as well as a digital campaign.”

Thorpe added: “I’m very happy to help – I have to say, the food at Lewisham Hospital – don’t all go down at once, but it’s a remarkable feat of real change in the NHS.”

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