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Frontline staff and senior leaders at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust working their hardest amid 'incredibly high' demand, board meeting hears

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Frontline staff and senior leaders at an NHS trust are working their hardest amid ‘incredibly high’ demand, its board’s annual meeting was told this week.

Helen Beck, chief operating officer of West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, spoke at the online board meeting on Tuesday night.

The annual meeting sees senior trust leaders look back at the previous year, and assess what improvements need to be made for the following one.

Helen Beck, chief operating officer of West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust.
Helen Beck, chief operating officer of West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust.

The main focus of Tuesday’s meeting was the impact coronavirus has had on services.

“We find ourselves with significantly longer waiting times for procedures and the need to work with Covid-safe procedures which has affected our efficiency, and therefore things do take longer,” Mrs Beck said.

“Within the West Suffolk site, the remedial works as well have reduced bed capacity.”

Mrs Beck pointed to a new patient portal, which looks to reduce patient congestion in the trusts’ hospitals by dealing with requests online, and a collaborative approach between other trusts in East Anglia to deal with the backlog of procedures, as ways of dealing with the issues.

Mrs Beck’s comments were echoed by Craig Black, the new interim chief executive of the trust, who admitted more staff were needed across different departments. Mr Black also said he would support a pay rise for NHS workers.

Mr Black has taken over the role of chief executive from Steve Dunn, who stepped down during the summer after seven years with the trust.

Mr Dunn’s departure came following a CQC report earlier this year which said West Suffolk Hospital needed to improve in several areas.

The trust is also awaiting the results of an independent report into West Suffolk Hospital over concerns about an alleged ‘witch hunt’ for a whistle-blower following the death of a patient.

On Tuesday, Mr Black made a fresh reassurance to members of the public and trust staff on both concerns.

“We are absolutely committed to working on that advice and improving,” he said.

“I would like to state publicly that we as an organisation got things wrong and we are sorry.

“We want staff to feel confident in raising concerns and we are taking action to improve the environment.”

As well as addressing current concerns at the meeting, senior staff spoke of the impact of the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mrs Beck said: “We were learning as we went along. There was definitely no road map we could follow.

“We followed daily guidance but that changed daily. It was a very uncertain and distressing time for all of us.”

Paul Molyneux, interim medical director, explained how doctors and other colleagues struggled to fight the multiple waves of coronavirus cases, often with infections spreading amongst team members.

He admitted staff were learning more every day about how to tackle the virus though.

“We have learnt so much about how to treat Covid,” he said. “Treatments that have only become available this week.

“We continue to work as a system. We need to continue to empower staff. We also need to learn how we can effectively treat long Covid and, lastly, deal with the backlog of clinical work.”

Kate Foxwell, a community matron, Sheila Childerhouse, the Trust chair and Liz Steele were some of the other speakers at the meeting.

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