A&E doctor says patient numbers have halved during pandemic

Dr Shaun Price, a doctor who works in accident and emergency at the Norfolk and Norwich University H

Dr Shaun Price, a doctor who works in accident and emergency at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, on the impact coronavirus has had on people coming in. Picture: NNUH - Credit: Archant

A Norwich doctor is urging patients to seek medical help if they need it after seeing A&E numbers half during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Shaun Price is based in the accident and emergency department at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and has given insight into the changes the department has seen since the pandemic began.

During the winter months staff were seeing more than 400 people in A&E each day, and since the pandemic it has fallen to 200 or less.

While the reduction ensures patients are seen faster, Dr Price said it was important people received treatment when they needed it.

Dr Price said: “If you are ever in doubt, if you are worried, we would rather be the ones to make the decision whether you should be here or not than you. If there is any inkling that you need to be with us we are happy to make that call.

“That phrase prevention is better than cure, we like to get to people earlier in their disease process, it’s easier to reverse badness there then wait until it has gotten a little bit worse to a point where you can’t reverse it.”

The consultant urged people to continue using the 111 service and calling GP practices for advice or non-emergency enquiries.

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Dr Price said: “What we don’t want is people trying not to inconvenience anybody at the cost of themselves. We are always going to be open, we will always look after you.”

Read more: Do not let pandemic stop you seeking medical help - NHS services urge people to get treatment if they need it

But, on the other hand he said things could not go back to how they were before.

The A&E consultant said: “The amount of crowding we had before was unsafe.

“We have talked about wanting patients to come back to us when they need to come back to us. But at the same time we have found when the number of patients reduced because patients who could have used other services did, the ones that we did have had tremendously good care.”

Read more: Revealed: Coronavirus death rates, with Norwich the lowest in England and Wales

The doctor also echoed comments made by the hospital’s chief executive earlier in the week, that though there were signs of positive coronavirus cases plateauing it was important not to get complacent.

Dr Price said: “The one thing we do worry is as soon as there is going to be some relaxing of the social distancing, which there will be, we are going to see an increase in numbers, it is just a fact and it is going to impact on our services.”

Alongside reduced patient numbers the pandemic also caused the A&E department to undergo five years worth of operational changes in just five weeks.

Read more: Norfolk hospital to feature in Channel 4 NHS Heroes documentaryAmong them was the opening of a second A&E department, splitting the hospital into yellow and green zones to reduce the risk of contamination between patients who have or suspected coronavirus from those less likely to have the virus.

With more than 10 years experience in A&E, Dr Price said: “It was lots of changes, very quickly.

“Our biggest challenges have definitely been in the way we have forced to change we work. My first shift working in A&E was in 2009 and we have been doing pretty much the same thing up until now and now all our practices have changed.

“Having to do all the procedures we do while in full PPE is a lot harder and not something we train regularly for, until now with the drills we are doing.”

Staff have carried out a number of drills including the best way to carry out resuscitation in PPE.

Read more: Consultant praises teams at the frontline of battle against coronavirus pandemicDr Price said: “We have had to try things out and see what works best. It’s not something you ever train for in medical school or even in your training period as a junior doctor.”

Dr Price said amongst medical staff there had been few sicknesses due to suspected or confirmed coronavirus and described a strong team morale.

The A&E team have been supported by medical students who were among 400 people, from medical and nursing students to returning staff to join the hospital.

Read more: Do you support easing of lockdown rules?

Dr Price, a former UEA student himself, said: “I have got to give it to them they are very brave to do what they have done. Coming in straight in, not just to an A&E department, but and A&E department in the midst of a pandemic.

They are extremely brave individuals, very generous with their time, and they are putting the work in.”

Looking to the future he said it was to soon to say what it means for the department.

He added he welcomed the completion of two major building projects at the hospital, including a 100-bed ward which will open in June.

Dr Price said: “We need the space, we need spaces to look after people. The one thing you don’t want is an emergency department full and nowhere to put people, outcomes are worse, more space is always going to be more welcome.”