“As we all try to adapt to a sense of the new normal, I have been reflecting on the past four and a half months. It has been a time of great sadness for families who have lost loved ones to the virus, a time of great sacrifice for those who have stepped forward to serve, in a whole variety of front line roles and a time to be humbled by the outpouring of generosity by individuals and communities in support of each other. 

I have always known that Chesterfield Royal is at the heart of this community. I’m reminded every year at our Annual Members Meeting how positively we are regarded by you, our membership and the wider community in terms of our kind and compassionate patient care. Each year we hear comments of appreciation and of course suggestions on how we might improve. All of that said though, it would have been impossible to anticipate the scale and most particularly the sustained nature of the support we have experienced during the pandemic. A constant stream of donations during the first few weeks of the lockdown would have been much appreciated but perhaps not surprising, but we are nearly five months later, still being overawed by your generosity and support. I can honestly say that we could not have looked after our covid patients nor maintained services for the critically ill in the style and manner we did without your partnership and without you all coming together to put an arm around us when we needed it most.

“There wasn’t a school in the region that didn’t empty its cupboards of PPE, businesses such as Casa Hotel, Tickled Trout and Dominos provided hundreds of meals, almost daily to keep our colleagues sustained and shops that couldn’t open donated toiletries, food, items of clothing and more every day for weeks. It was the practical support, combined with the lovely messages of support that gave all of us that emotional boost to keep going and take care of you when you needed treatment. 

“Anything that could be sewn, knitted, crocheted, drawn, painted .... has been done. I remember sending one of our membership an email of thanks and got a bounce back reply to say she couldn’t respond because she was too busy sewing but, that I should persevere in trying to contact her - if I could sew! That for me really sums up the spirit of this time. 

“Overwhelming level of goodwill…”

“It also highlighted the humility of our colleagues at the hospital. To experience such a public response, that level of goodwill was overwhelming at times and in typical, selfless fashion, some of our colleagues were perhaps slightly embarrassed by it. We saw incredible reciprocity from them that manifested in a record delivery from the hospital to the Chesterfield food bank that exceeded our first, Christmas collection. Colleagues found a way to show the gratitude they have for the community that supported them through this experience. They showed their care and compassion in aiding and assisting some of the large number of people who have been struggling through this pandemic – it’s what they do! 

“I hope that the relationship with local communities is something we can build on, not least as history will judge us not only on our response to Covid but on how quickly we restore services for patients across the full ranges of conditions we treat. Many of the changes we’ve implemented, such as online and telephone clinics, have allowed us to keep services going. Now we need to gather feedback from those who have experienced these new ways of working as they may represent more efficient ways of providing care in the future and we may be able to incorporate some of these changes into full service restoration.

“I’d like to add my thanks, and that of the Council of Governors, to all our staff who have served so selflessly. Some examples include, our Intensive Therapy and High Dependency Units (ITU and HDU) which usually have a roster of around 60 nurses. At the height of the pandemic this increased to 160, each of those additional 100 nurses volunteered to be there. Consider that, to put themselves right on the front line of an emergency response with the associated worries about their own health to make sure we could continue to provide the best ITU care possible and keep our most poorly patients safe. I should also add that, to a person, they followed health and safety guidelines to the letter and we’re proud to say that not a single one of these individuals contracted COVID-19. The donning and doffing of PPE was key to this and the input of our Infection Prevention and Control team has been phenomenal. I think the fact that the poster with these guidelines included an instruction to ‘have a wee and make a cup of tea’ highlights the dedication of our teams in that we need to remind them to take care of themselves in the most basic way.

COVID response wasn’t just clinical

“But it’s not just clinical teams who have responded with vigour. I will never again refer to any of our colleagues using the term ‘back office roles’. You will have seen reports of a national PPE shortage; that isn’t something we experienced at the Royal. Our procurement team worked incredibly hard to make sure that we only ran out of one single item for a total of two hours throughout the entire pandemic. In most instances we had a day or two in reserve and we used this efficiency to share resources with our system partners and neighbouring hospitals as part of reciprocal agreements to support the county-wide efforts. This shows a high degree of organisation, selflessness and forward planning that is embedded in our working practices and stood us in very good stead throughout.

“The cleaning effort as well was key to limiting transmission and our domestic team have appeared relentlessly cheerful. I passed countless people, literally on their hands and knees, scrubbing with a sunny demeanour during what were, especially in the early days, frightening circumstances. The admiration and esteem in which I hold all our colleagues cannot be overstated.

“I can’t leave it without a word about those who have worked from home and the IT team that has made that possible, as well as enabling meetings, including our Council of Governor and Board meetings, to take place virtually. It takes a considerable adjustment to do this against the pull that comes from a personal desire to help colleagues by being at the hospital. It can be a frustrating and isolating experience but working from home has enabled social distancing to be possible in offices, reduced footfall in the hospital and, again, helped to reduce transmission. Once more, it’s a testament to the ability and attitudes of our colleagues, as well as a glimpse into what it is possible to achieve in such a short space of time, that we’ve been able to adapt so readily to such unprecedented times.

Keeping you informed

“And of course there is the communication that has come from this hospital which has been nothing short of magnificent. There has been a singular clarity of message from our sometimes twice daily tactical meetings to colleagues across the Trust. Externally we’ve seen so many messages that outline our latest guidance with regards to visiting, face coverings, service changes and more. Messages have been distributed in different ways, through different means to reach different people, both inside and outside the hospital. This brings me nicely full circle to the community response that was shared so effectively through social media posts to communicate that groundswell of support to our colleagues, lifting and giving them the fortitude to carry on. It’s been comparable to the blitz spirit that we hear so much about and will be remembered for a long time to come.

“My final ‘thank you’ goes to the Executive Board and our Chief Executive, Angie Smithson, who can’t possibly have imagined a more literal baptism of fire in her first year at the helm. When she joined she made it her personal mission to visit, face to face, as many colleagues from across the Trust as possible and I believe that this personable approach stood her in good stead for what was to come. She has demonstrated true leadership, inspired others to follow and I know the entire Board join me in that vote of thanks.

“I’d like to end with some encouragement to all my colleagues to take a break. In the current circumstances, it is easy to forget that we’re barely halfway through Summer! In the interest of your own health and wellbeing, spend some time with family, relax and recharge. You have all worked so incredibly hard and, it has at times been mentally and physically draining. We’ve been at our best by supporting and looking out for each other so don’t leave it until you are “on your last legs”, take your leave, have a rest and together we will be ready for whatever comes next.