"Safe environment": Preston and Chorley hospital patients reassured after high rate of Covid infections revealed

The trust that runs the Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble Hospital is reassuring patients that they will be cared for in a safe environment after figures revealed that it has had one of the highest rates of Covid infections likely to have been acquired during a patient’s hospital stay.

Saturday, 27th March 2021, 1:55 am

NHS England data shows that 486 inpatients are thought to have contracted coronavirus on the wards in Central Lancashire between 1st August last year and 21st March – 28 percent of all those hospitalised with Covid in the area over that period.

That is the joint second-highest rate in England and above both the North West and national averages, which stand at 19 percent and 15 percent respectively.

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New figures show the rate of hospital-acquired Covid infections as a proportion of all those hospitalised with the virus in Central Lancashire since last August

A spike in so-called “nosocomial infections” – those acquired within a hospital environment – occurred at the Preston and Chorley facilities in mid-November, just a fortnight after Lancashire had reached the peak of the second wave of the pandemic. That had seen overall infection rates in Preston top the 500 per 100,000 people mark.

Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (LTH) had implemented strict infection control measures when Covid first struck, in line with national guidance – including the creation of a duplicate emergency department at the Royal Preston to segregate Covid and non-Covid patients in need of urgent care. That process was replicated at Chorley and South Ribble Hospital when its A&E reopened in November after being closed for over six months.

However, the winter increase in cases being contracted in its hospitals prompted LTH to develop a ten-point action plan to address the problem. That document, drawn up in November, detailed how the organisation would ensure that standards of hand hygiene, social distancing and surface decontamination were met.

It also focused on compliance with the correct use of personal protective equipment (PPE) by staff – including masks in non-clinical areas. In December, it emerged that chief executive Karen Partington had sent a memo to the trust’s workforce in which she said that she had received reports of some clinical staff going “from patient to patient without changing their apron or changing their gloves”.

Ms. Partington said that “urgent action” was being taken to drive down nosocomial infection rates and that the trust did not have “the luxury of a softly, softly approach”.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service understands that the number of hospital-acquired Covid infections at LTH at any one time has plummeted since the start of the year from a peak of 40, to consistently being below ten since late February and, occasionally, as low as two.

A spokesperson for LTH said that a “vast decrease” in the overall number of patients with Covid in its hospitals was in line with falling infection rates in the community.

“It is important to note that because of this, the percentage impact [of hospital acquired infections] will appear higher now the overall number of cases are lower.

“Patients should be confident that when they visit Lancashire Teaching Hospitals they will receive high-quality care in a safe environment,” the spokesperson added.

Other aspects of LTH’s infection reduction plan included the risk assessment of bed-spacing in areas where high numbers were in use. Physical segregation of beds must be considered where two-metre distancing is not possible, while “effective” ventilation must also be ensured.

It is understood that spacing and ventilation has posed a particular problem at LTH because of the age of some of its facilities.

A spokesperson for the NHS in the North West said: “Since asymptomatic Covid tests kits were made available for the first time by the government’s test and trace programme in November, tens of thousands of NHS staff in the North West have been tested helping to keep infections as low as possible and all hospitals have been asked to rigorously follow Public Health England's infection control guidance with definite hospital infection rates as a share of total infections currently standing at only 1 in 20.

“The Office for National Statistics and other data conclusively demonstrate that the root cause of rising infection rates in hospitals is rising rates in the community.”

The NHS regard "definite" hospital-acquired infections as those that occur 15 or more days after admission, meaning that the patient could not already have contracted the virus in the community before entering the hospital setting.

Latest Public Health England stats show that out of the 344 acute respiratory infection outbreaks that occurred in the week to 7th March, only 12 were connected to hospitals.

COVID TESTING AT PRESTON AND CHORLEY HOSPITALS

These are the testing procedures currently in place at LTH:

***Twenty-four hour testing available for patients admitted in an emergency, irrespective of whether they have symptoms.

***A second test three days after admission and a third between five and seven days after admission for those patients who test negative on arrival.

***Retesting of patients who develop Covid-19 symptoms at the point they arise after admission.

***Twice-weekly lateral flow testing for NHS patient-facing staff.

***Patients awaiting pre-planned procedures must take a test three days before admission and self-isolate from that point onwards.

*** All patients must be tested 48 hours prior to discharge directly to a care home and must only be discharged when their test result is available. Care home patients testing positive can only be discharged to Care Quality Commission-designated facilities.