Royal Berkshire Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit was under “significant pressure” during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic but it was not overwhelmed.

Steve McManus, chief executive of Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, said staff coped “really well” when they were hit with an influx of Covid-19 patients in January.

According to government figures, the hospital was treating 59 patients for the virus on December 19 and a month later –on January 19 – that number peaked at 264.

There was a contingency plan to transfer seriously ill patients to hospitals in Oxford if the Royal Berks became overwhelmed, but Mr McManus said: “We never needed to do that”.

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“The volume of patients we were treating with Covid-19 during the second wave was greater than within the first wave,” he said.

“We also had a significant pressure on our Intensive Care Unit, where we had to scale up our bed capacity significantly.

“The teams have done brilliantly. I’m hugely proud of just how hard they have worked for Reading and the Berkshire community.

Steve McManus, chief executive of Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust

Steve McManus, chief executive of Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust

“They coped really well with the second wave, through a huge amount of teamwork and a lot of learning from the first wave.”

To prevent Covid patients from needing critical care, staff used medications and treatments, such as Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), that had proved to be effective during the first wave.

The trust also decided to suspend non-urgent procedures, such as hip and knee replacements, to focus on treating Covid-19 patients.

Some staff were concerned the usual winter pressures would compound the Covid-19 crisis, but during the strict national lockdown fewer people needed treatment for flu, respiratory conditions exacerbated by cold weather and injuries sustained during accidents.

Mr McManus has praised his staff for adapting to meet a surge in demand for Covid treatment – but accepts that some of them will be feeling the strain.

“The demands that have been placed on staff over the past 12 months have been huge and staff at the Royal Berkshire hospitals are definitely feeling those effects,” he said.

Mr McManus said the trust is now working to ensure that tired staff “can recuperate” and Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust’s psychology team is providing mental health and wellbeing support.

Royal Berkshire Hospital

Royal Berkshire Hospital

He also said thousands of employees are now less concerned about catching Covid and becoming seriously ill, as over 5,600 have received one dose of a vaccine and 1,200 have received two.

However, some now face the task of clearing a backlog which has built up after some planned treatments were postponed.

Mr McManus said there are long waiting lists for ophthalmology services, diagnostic procedures such as endoscopies, and certain orthopaedic procedures.

“While we do have an extended backlog, that backlog is coming down because of the hard work of the teams,” he said.

“We are really keen to encourage patients to take up appointments and offers of procedures that we are providing.”

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The NHS trust is also drawing up contingency plans to deal with a third wave of Covid-19 as the government eases the national lockdown restrictions in phases.

“We do expect an increase in transmissions in different parts of the country and Berkshire will not be immune to that,” said Mr McManus.

“However, the excellent uptake within the community around the vaccination programme means we are anticipating a lower level of impact on the NHS.

“The key message for us is people should still think about hands, face, space over the next period.”

He added: “Within the hospital, the learning we have gained over the last 12 months means we’ve got contingencies in place if we do need to start responding to an increase in transmission that has an impact on the hospital.

“A key thing for us, is to keep the balance between being able to respond to that – if that situations arises – and continue to commit to the services we provide to non-Covid patients as well.”