Following a year unlike any other in 2020, a North East hospital director reflects upon staff and community efforts, as well as a new way of working.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Nuffield Health Tees Hospital, along with 31 other Nuffield sites, began talks with local NHS Trusts, to explore how independent hospitals could support the NHS through the coronavirus outbreak.

Nuffield Health Tees Hospital worked closely with the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust, as well as the South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust, primarily The James Cook University Hospital, to better understand areas of care needing additional support. It was decided that non-Covid NHS patients would use the Stockton-on-Tees based hospital to proceed with and continue scheduled treatment.

Nuffield Health, the UK’s largest healthcare charity, also made the decision to offer the NHS further support through use of its clinicians, support services and clinical equipment. For the first time, the independent sector reallocated almost its entire national hospital capacity to the NHS.

The move enabled local NHS Trusts to shift their focus to the treatment and care of Covid-19 patients. Due to the site’s use, Nuffield Health Tees Hospital was unable to treat or see many existing patients, self-paying patients or those wishing to access services through health insurance.

Steve Sharp, Nuffield Health Tees Hospital director, explained: “Although we were unable to offer our services to those wishing to pay and to those using health insurance for a number of months in the first half of the year, the reaction we received from the local community was very understanding and supportive.

“We received news in July that we’d be able to offer elective care to all patients, but this didn’t mean an end to our work with the NHS, we continued to support them through the use of our site and services. As we move forward into 2021, we will work with the NHS to tackle waitlists.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve worked in conjunction with the NHS as the NHS has always used private companies, as well as voluntary organisations and social enterprises, to deliver its services.  However, this is the first time we’ve given the NHS such a high proportion of our theatre capacity which was a completely new way of working for our staff.

“We really have been blown away by everyone’s determination to combat Covid-19, our staff stepped up and completed additional training where needed, in order to deliver much needed NHS procedures. The hospital site has remained very positive and connected and even on the most challenging of days, staff were actively supporting one another and keeping spirits high.

“We normally get involved with many local causes and complete fundraising events such as the Great North Run, which was understandably cancelled this year. This didn’t deter us, we looked to support our surrounding communities in different ways including food donations.

“Businesses and causes across the North East stepped up to support us through kind gestures such as the production and delivery of scrubs bags, which helped keep scrubs contained, easier to transport and clean. We’re really grateful for the support and look ahead to 2021.  With the promise of a Covid-19 vaccine, we’re hoping for a smoother year in which we can interact freely with our families and friends.”