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'We can plan for the bite of winter - and support one another'

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The bite of winter rarely comes as a surprise to any of us in the NHS, with more patients seeking help each time the temperature falls. This year has been no different, at times it has been tough and relentless, but at Barts Health has seen fantastic staff cope admirably with the extra pressures, explains chief nurse Caroline Alexander. 

In December we treated more patients within the four-hour A&E standard compared with last year, despite an increase of more than 1,000 patients.

Our winter plans have kicked in and being prepared has paid off, with good systems to problem solve when hit by extra challenges. We’re working more closely with our partners to help get people home safely across east London boroughs.

Being part of a group of hospitals - one of the largest trusts in the country - is starting to pay off too, as we pool resources and provide mutual aid to better manage patient flow and cover staff shortages.

“Across our hospitals people have gone above and beyond to ensure the safety of our patients; I am extremely grateful to each and every one of them”

But it hasn’t been easy - across our hospitals people have gone above and beyond to ensure the safety of our patients; I am extremely grateful to each and every one of them.

I have been overwhelmed by the commitment and team spirit of our nurses and multidisciplinary colleagues in looking after each other despite the extra pressures.

As leaders we’re trying to be as visible as possible and to remove barriers to help our front line teams but it’s also vital to support each other to maintain resilience.

We must keep an eye on how others are coping, and remember to say thank you. It is important to never underestimate the challenges, especially with a very high number of seriously unwell people in our hospitals and flu beginning to hit.

“Never underestimate the incredible difference you are making”

We can all support the challenge of helping people to use health services responsibly and ease the pressure on our emergency departments.

Check in on older neighbours in the colder weather, and while there encourage them to get to know their local health services such as the nearest pharmacy, and to call NHS111 before coming to A&E if their symptoms aren’t life-threatening.

And we must all keep up those flu vaccinations - it really does help protect patients, staff and families.

There is fantastic work happening throughout the ups and downs, year-round across the NHS. As nurses rise to meet the extra challenges of winter, never underestimate the incredible difference you are making.

Look after yourself, your patients and each other.

Caroline Alexander is the chief nurse of Barts Health Trust



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