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Safe to return to hospital

Jean Brown

When Jean Brown, from Darlington, received a letter to attend an appointment in the ophthalmology clinic, her family discussed the risks and benefits of her going to a hospital where Covid-19 patients were also receiving care.  Her son, Martyn, explains, "Mam has been under the care of the ophthalmology, macular degeneration service at County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, for several years, and there's no doubt she has benefited from injections which have helped preserve her sight, particularly in her right eye.  However, she's 101 and when she received the appointment we did discuss as a family whether she should attend."   

Jean Brown

Macular degeneration is a condition that affects the retina and Dawn Nosair, Ophthalmology Nurse Specialist, explains why it's so important to have regular checks.  "Until about 20 years ago a diagnosis sadly meant inevitable blindness, as there was no treatment.  Now injections can help preserve sight for many patients. Deterioration can't be reversed and it's also difficult to predict how quickly a patient might lose their sight altogether, so it's important to attend appointments and ensuring our patients receive the care they need, safely, is our priority." 

Martyn Brown, said, "Our main concern was the risk of mam contracting Covid-19 but, at her age, with limited mobility, losing her sight would make her overall quality of life very poor.  Fortunately, I was able to discuss our concerns with one of the doctors involved in her care, after which our family agreed she should attend - and I'm glad we did. It's a one-stop clinic which can take a couple of hours but it means all the sight tests, photographs etc are done on the same day meaning there's no need to return until the next check-up. There was a hand sanitisation station, all the staff wore PPE, there were few people around so it was easy to socially distance and, in the end, mam didn't need an injection. So we have the reassurance that she should be ok until her next appointment.   It was clear that a lot of work was going in to keeping us all safe - I'm fairly high risk myself due to my age but infection control precautions were self-evident and I think any risks were far outweighed by the clinical benefits.  We made the right decision in bringing mam for her appointment."

As the number of Covid-19 cases reduced, the Trust's focus has switched to restarting services such as outpatients and elective surgery whilst also being prepared for a potential increase in further Covid-19 patients. 

Executive medical director, Jeremy Cundall, said, "We're aware some people had appointments cancelled in recent months and are grateful to them for their understanding.  We're doing all we can to ensure they receive appropriate care as soon as possible.  During the pandemic we introduced some new ways of working that we believe will help with this.  Virtual clinics, for instance, mean that, where appropriate, following a clinical review of a patient's history, they may be offered the option to have a consultation remotely, using secure technology.  Just as with a face to face consultation the patient and clinician are able to see each other and talk in confidence.  This is more convenient for the patient and with the potential for more patients being seen, as clinicians won't need to spend as much time travelling between sites.

"Within our hospitals, we've introduced strict infection control and social distancing policies.  Masks are compulsory for staff and face coverings for visitors on all our sites.  Hand sanitiser is available at our entrances and within departments.  We've redesigned waiting areas and restricted lift capacity.  All of this is supported with signage and our staff are wearing PPE (personal protective equipment) for all patient contact.

We also want people to seek medical advice rather than risking their condition deteriorating and becoming more difficult to treat.  At University Hospital of North Durham and Darlington Memorial Hospital we have created completely segregated Emergency Departments for Covid-19 patients (and those showing symptoms), and non-Covid-19 patients. We keep these two departments and these two groups of patients separate throughout their journey with us.    

"We want to reassure patients and their families that a great deal of work has gone into making sure they will be safe, whether they need to be seen in their own home by one of our community team or need to come into our hospitals for an investigation, procedure or appointment."


Published 17th August 2020

'Every aspect of my emergency care was dealt with quickly, efficiently and professionally with full explanations and compassion from all staff involved'.

Patient, Emergency Department, Darlington Memorial Hospital