Devon health and care system: COVID-19 impacts and increased demand for services

Torbay Hospital Emergency Department

Published: 10 September 2021

  • Devon’s health and care system remains under pressure
  • Those in most urgent need are being prioritised
  • But some patients will wait longer for treatment

Hospitals across Devon are working together to address the significant challenges they are facing with rising demand for care across routine, urgent and emergency services.

Along with the rest of the NHS, Devon is seeing an increase in patients admitted to hospital with Covid-19 which means there are fewer beds available for other patients. There are also high numbers of people attending our emergency departments; many are ill and need to be admitted, some are using ED inappropriately for minor conditions.

Services across the health and care system are affected by the number of staff isolating due to Covid-19 and the number of job vacancies. Covid pressures are affecting social care providers ability to resource care packages which makes it harder to discharge patients from hospital.

Dr Paul Johnson, Clinical Chair of NHS Devon Clinical Commissioning Group said: “The situation in Devon is significantly different from earlier waves of the pandemic – demand for services such as GP appointments and treatment in emergency departments has risen substantially, we’re facing more challenges in discharging people home and patients are facing increasingly lengthy waits for treatment.

“Due to this combination of factors, some of our hospitals are finding it a constant challenge to find capacity to treat patients who need emergency surgery or urgent cancer care. Our priorities are always those patients with the most urgent need.”

In order to keep caring for those most in need, the NHS has had to temporarily stop undertaking some routine work, including operations, outpatient appointments and some follow-up appointments for patients with long-term conditions. We know that this means people will be waiting longer for care and we are deeply sorry. These decisions are not taken lightly.

Dr Catherine Lissett, Consultant Diabetes and Endocrinology and System Medical Director for South Devon System, Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We fully recognise the enormous physical and emotional impact of postponing operations, appointments and treatment for our patients. Every person waiting for care is important to us. Our dedicated staff desperately want to care for those who need our services and are doing everything they can to keep seeing patients and keep operations going.”

Colleagues in primary care, social care and community care are also seeing increased demand for care and are extremely busy. We know that the actions we are having to take are also impacting on their staff and services and we will continue to work in partnership with them to care for as many people as we can.

Darryn Allcorn, chief nurse of NHS Devon Clinical Commissioning Group said “At present, we can’t say when all our hospitals will be able to return to routine work and we fully acknowledge that this means the waiting lists will continue to grow. We are asking the people of Devon to wait until we contact them about their care.

“Our teams are reviewing everyone who is waiting for treatment and care. We are prioritising patients whose needs are most urgent or who have been waiting longest. To help us make sure that they are seen as quickly as possible, we are, where possible, using the independent sector and sharing resources through mutual aid.

“We will contact people directly when we are able to bring them in for treatment. However, if you are waiting for treatment and your condition changes, please contact your GP for reassessment.”

What are we doing to ease pressures?

  • Staff are working long hours and extra shifts, but they are extremely tired.
  • Creating extra capacity. We are building new theatres and diagnostic facilities in Plymouth and at the former NHS Nightingale hospital in Exeter.
  • Recruiting more staff. If you are interested in a career in health or social care we would love to hear from you:
  • Promoting how to access health care services through local media and our social media channels.
  • Vaccinating people – the local vaccination programme continues at full steam and saving lives every day.
  • Asking local people to do their bit.

We need your help – here’s what you can do to support your local services:

  • Keep the Emergency Department for emergencies. If your condition isn’t an emergency, choose a different service. You may have to be prepared to wait a bit longer for treatment if it isn’t urgent.
  • Use your local pharmacist for minor conditions such as insect bites, ear ache, skin rashes.
  • Use the HANDi paediatric app for advice on common childhood illnesses.
  • Use NHS 111 – online or by phone if you need advice or medical treatment quickly and can’t wait to see your GP. If you need to be seen by a Minor Injuries or Emergency Department they can book you in.
  • Get vaccinated and have both jabs if you are eligible.
  • Case rates in the south west are among the highest in the country, the virus is still very much here so please continue to maintain social distancing and good hygiene, especially hand hygiene, to reduce the spread of Covid-19. Meet outside where possible.
  • Collect friends or family members from hospital as soon as possible when they are ready to leave. It means their bed can be given to someone who needs it.