Boss of hospital trust speaks to Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter, ahead of what’s predicted to be a difficult winter for the NHS
A North London hospital trust is working hard to reverse a slowdown in non-Covid care and get back to its pre-pandemic performance levels, according to its boss.
Dr Nnenna Osuji, the newly-appointed chief executive of North Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust, said the organisation had “work to do” but, with a recovery plan in place, was making efforts to return to its 2019/20 “baseline”.
A report published by the trust in August revealed that the proportion of patients waiting under 18 weeks to be treated, receiving a diagnostic test within six weeks, or starting their first treatment for cancer within 62 days of an urgent GP referral, had all dropped below national NHS targets.
This slowdown in care had come as staff were focused on treating Covid-19 patients during the first and second waves of the pandemic, creating a backlog for other treatments.
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service this week, Dr Osuji said: “We have work to do – I don’t deny that. But we know where we have to focus, down to the level of the speciality. We have recovery plans in place.
“That is to do with the systems, the staffing, and our work with the community and primary care, to make sure we use the right assets, at the right place, at the right time.”
To continue providing care for non-Covid patients during the pandemic, North Mid partnered with other organisations, including the North London Surgical Hub at Chase Farm Hospital in Enfield. It also rolled out mobile X-Ray, MRI and CT scans, and opened the 20-bed Captain Sir Tom Moore Centenary Ward to boost capacity.
At the peak of the first wave, North Mid had more than 250 coronavirus patients and, in the second wave, was at one time treating more than 300 people. Dr Osuji said the Edmonton hospital was currently treating 32 inpatients with Covid-19, adding that although the numbers were “on paper, much more manageable” than during the first two waves of the pandemic, staff were continuing to test and monitor patients to stop the spread of the virus.
As winter approaches, coronavirus vaccination rates in Enfield and Haringey are below the England average, amid a slowdown in uptake across London. Figures published by the Local Government Association show that at the end of September, 62.3% of Enfield residents and 55.7% of Haringey residents had received two doses of the vaccine, compared to nearly 80% of the English population.
Dr Osuji said the trust had been “hugely involved” in the local campaign to encourage people to get vaccinated but still had “some focused work to do with Enfield and Haringey”. She stressed the importance of having conversations with local people, which allows the trust to identify where people still have questions, “myths that need to be busted” and “misconceptions.”
Dr Osuji explained: “Sometimes those conversations are better held by people who are not from a health background. We work with community leaders, including faith leaders, to make sure the right people are sharing the right messages.
“It is about us going into communities and neighbourhoods with the right people having the right information to have the appropriate conversation.”
The trust also has a flu vaccine campaign and more than 1,000 hospital staff received their jab within two weeks of it starting. The chief executive said North Mid was “bracing for impact, and preparing” for winter, drawing up contingency planning around its staff and estates, and working with partner organisations to ensure plans are joined up and tested.
North Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust, which is currently rated “requires improvement” by the health watchdog Care Quality Commission, has drawn up a “patient first” plan to improve care.
Dr Osuji said the trust’s mission was to provide “outstanding care” for local people. She added: “[Patient first] is about how we focus our efforts on a select number of priorities that are key to improvement, and we bring our collective energies to deliver that, so it becomes less reactive, more strategic and more co-ordinated.”
The chief executive stressed the importance of celebrating the achievements of staff as well as recognising where the trust needs to improve. It will focus on preventative measures and screening, picking up diseases early to ensure it is better able to address “the life expectancy discrepancy that hounds us from east to west”.
Dr Osuji added: “The ambition has to be to raise the bar on health and narrow the gap in inequality, and I think that comes from working locally, with our council, our primary care, voluntary sector [and] mental health partners.”