Hundreds of people have signed an online petition calling for Cannock Chase Hospital’s Minor Injuries Unit to reopen.
It closed as a temporary measure on March 18, 2020, to enable staff to assist seriously ill patients needing urgent care at Wolverhampton’s New Cross Hospital.
On Tuesday, March 30, David Loughton, chief executive of Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, was asked by members of Cannock Chase Council’s wellbeing scrutiny committee about plans to reopen the unit.
He responded: “I can’t give an exact date – it’s probably three months away if I was to guess.
“In terms of nurse staffing I have got no vacancies for nurses now. The problem is I’m redeploying them onto other things at this stage.
“A lot of staff were redeployed over January and February and we have given them leave. They need to recover from what they have been through.
“I think the biggest staffing problem I will have is in terms of some of the mental health issues. Nobody comes into the NHS to watch people die on the scale they have died.
“Intensive care consultants wake up at 4am and can remember the faces of patients they have told ‘I will put you to sleep now and you may not wake up’. Support is key going forward – I have got three psychologists working with me.”
Mr Loughton told the committee the Cannock hospital was a “vital part of plans to recover from Covid-19”, but warned it would take some time to get treatment waiting lists back to the pre-pandemic level. The trust has continued cancer treatments and emergency surgery during the past year however, the meeting heard.
He said: “I have done this job for 33 years and this has been the most difficult year we have had. I got called in on March 7 (2020) when we had our first Covid-positive patient and on the 8th was the first death – only the fourth in the country.
“I run an organisation that has seen over 850 people die of Covid. That has taken a tremendous toll on the organisation.
“From a Cannock Hospital point of view I had to close the hospital because I transferred all the staff to Wolverhampton. I had to ramp up intensive care capacity by 300%.
“I’m in a place now starting to restore services. My key priority for Cannock now is to try and keep it a hospital clean of Covid and ramp up the cover to do elective (planned in advance) surgery.
“People don’t like me saying this but I think it will take us two to three years to get waiting lists back to where they were in February last year. It’s not going to be a quick fix, our productivity will not be where it was before.
“My biggest concern is the amount of time it is now taking to treat some of the cancer patients is longer than it would be. People are coming forward when they are at stage three of cancer (when cancer may have spread), when we would have picked them up sooner and treatment would have been quicker – and sadly outcomes would have been better.
“We are also seeing some very complex mental health patients coming to A&E who have been sectioned under the Mental Health Act, who are not known to mental health services prior to that.”
Committee members paid tribute to the work of NHS staff during the coronavirus pandemic.
Councillor Maureen Freeman, who chaired the meeting, said the highlighting of Cannock Chase Hospital’s role was “very encouraging”.
Councillor Phil Hewitt said: “You have done an absolutely fantastic job under circumstances that happen once every 100 years. We all know what a great job you have been doing and that needs to be put on record.
“During lockdown I was unfortunate to have a small injury but went to Lichfield and they were great. It concerned me I had to travel to Lichfield – it was the nearest one I could go to.”
Councillor Andrea Muckley said: “I’m so glad the Minor Injuries Unit is reopening. I think a lot of people are frightened to go to A&E because they may come into contact with someone with Covid.
“The sooner we can get the Minor Injuries Unit open the better.”