City & Hackney has one of the highest infection rates in London at time of publication

Homerton Hospital has warned of the potential impact that a “double whammy” of a second Covid spike combined with flu season could have on its wards.

Escalation policies are now in place to allow the hospital’s existing 10 intensive care beds to be swiftly ramped up to 32, with overflow arrangements worked out with the Royal London and Nightingale hospitals if necessary.

Three Covid patients are now being treated at the Homerton – none in intensive care – with the hospital pointing to the young demographic of the borough as a potential reason for why the continuing rise in infections has not so far resulted in a corresponding increase in severe cases in need of treatment on the wards.

A spokesperson said: “We’re in the middle of a limbo period now, but is this the calm before the storm or is this the way it’s going to be going through the winter?

“The key message is that the hospital’s A&E is open, the hospital is open.

“We’ve been doing pretty well in the last couple of months. The hospital has been brought back to some kind of normality in relation to elective and outpatient work.

“The other fear is about the double whammy of a flu spike. People should get out there and have their flu shots as quickly as possible. GP practices are working hard to cover the most vulnerable, and we are 100 per cent behind that.

“We have had to close wards or parts of wards in the last two or three years due to flu and cross-infection. You also get cross-infection from patients to staff with flu quite easily, and that can have an impact. We’ve been very lucky so far due to the fantastic work our infection control team have been doing.

“Obviously we’re being careful about these things, but our advice is that if people have flu-like symptoms, they shouldn’t come anywhere near a hospital, because all they’ll do is bring it with them to the hospital. If you think you have Covid symptoms, you should call 111 and get advice from them.”

Management at the hospital praised the efforts of staff over the past year in recent days, with Homerton chief executive Tracey Fletcher personally signing thank you letters to 4,000 staff for their “magnificent efforts over the past few months, and throughout the heat of the summer, and for your continuing support and dedication to our patients”.

Chief nurse Catherine Pelley said: “Came home to a card from the chief executive of the Homerton saying thank you to each one of us. The last few months have seen the Homerton at its very best and I am proud to have played my part.

“We continue to do what we do best in restoring services. Focused on patients but not forgetting our staff.”

The local hospital, which has an Outstanding rating from the Care Quality Commission, has been feeding into a good practice guide to better understand what lessons can be learned from the pandemic and what good practice can be harnessed to support long term improvements, with Homerton chief emergency clinician Emma Rowland one of the main contributors.

The guide, Patient FIRST, aims to help emergency department staff, hospital trusts and the wider system to build on the positive changes brought in during the peak of the pandemic.

The Homerton is also the location for one of multiple surgical hubs springing up across London, as doctors work flat-out to recoup lost time from the months of lockdown, with Londoners urged to come forward to get the help they need.

Work at the Homerton hub will be focusing on general surgery and gynaecology, with hernia, gall bladder and womb operations taking place at its day stay unit, though its main theatres remain restrained due to infection control procedures.

The spokesperson added: “For two or three weeks, it really was catastrophic. It was awful what was going on, and we were having to care for patients without any real effective treatments.

“But doctors learn fast, they’ve got the drugs and the treatments now. Going forward, the planning for the hospitals within the north-east London patch is starting to take shape.”

City & Hackney now has one of the highest level of infections in London, according to the Homerton, with 84 infections per 100,000.

A BBC shared data unit investigation recently showed that the area has seen one of the largest five-year drops in vaccinations among at-risk under-65s in England.

Concern has been widespread as the capital begins to see a second wave of coronavirus infections over the health system’s ability to handle flu season at the same time.

Public Health England data shows that City & Hackney has seen an 11.5 percentage point drop in uptake of the flu jab among at-risk under-65s over the past five years, the fourth highest drop in England. Newham had the highest at 16.7 per cent.

You can help prevent the spread of flu (and coronavirus) by covering your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, washing your hands frequently or using hand gels, and throwing any used tissues in the bin as soon as possible.

Speak to your GP, practice nurse or pharmacist today to book a vaccination appointment, to get the best possible protection.

If you are concerned about visiting your GP or pharmacy because of coronavirus, please feel reassured that our healthcare services have all the necessary protocols in place to protect you and can answer any questions you may have.

They may also be able to make alternative arrangements if you think you may struggle to get to a GP surgery or pharmacy.

If you have coronavirus symptoms, even mild ones, you should isolate yourself from other people for 10 days and get a test. If you are asked to self isolate, regardless of symptoms, you must do so to keep from possibly passing it onto others. You can book a test online by downloading the NHS COVID-19 app, or calling 119. 

Coronavirus symptoms are:

  • A high temperature
  • A new, continuous cough
  • A loss or change to your sense of smell or taste

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