Health chiefs have shut the birthing centre at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary in order to be able to focus staff on care for cancer patients.
They have reacted to an “extremely pressured” situation created by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has seen beds in excess of 90 percent capacity – a huge change from earlier this year when beds stood at 45% occupancy.
Covid-related stresses are “stretching staff availability”.
It was revealed on Wednesday that non-urgent surgery had been suspended and the birth centre at HRI closed.
Speaking at Kirklees Council’s Health and Adult Social Care Scrutiny Panel on Thursday, Helen Barker, chief operating officer at Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust (CHFT), said they had already enacted their “surge plan” as the number of Covid cases continued to rise.
She said the situation was “challenging” and that the sheer weight of numbers was affecting staff availability.
She added that the trust was reviewing the delivery of outpatient care and diagnostics and said some patients would be waiting longer as a consequence of the health emergency.
She said: “We are already in excess of the amount of beds that we had planned in terms of a Covid perspective on top of our normal winter [requirements].
“On top of that we made the decision at the back end of last week that we needed to step out of all our planned care so that we had enough capacity in place to support our emergency and urgent admissions.”
She added: “As part of our plan to ensure that we have some capacity to treat cancer patients within Calderdale and Huddersfield we have closed the birth centre again at Huddersfield.
“All of those patients who were booked in have been contacted and they have been offered alternatives within CHFT and using the same staff. That has allowed us to have a dedicated seven-bed unit that we can continue to bring cancer patients in.
“That is the only planned capacity we have across our two sites.”
Asked by Professor Peter Bradshaw whether surgery had ceased and if it had been moved to the independent sector, Ms Barker confirmed that non-urgent operations had stopped.
But she said that other surgeries – including for cancer and vascular issues – had been taking place at private facilities such as the BMI hospital in Huddersfield and the Spire Hospital in Elland since March.
She said CHFT surgeons were carrying out those operations and that the situation was being reviewed on a weekly basis.
She added: “Our intention is to restart planned operating as soon as we can safely do so at both sites. This decision that we have made is not a one-site decision. It is a trust decision so we have stopped it across all of the organisation.”
Asked what capacity would have to be reached before patients were transferred to Nightingale hospitals, Ms Barker said “active conversations” were taking place across West Yorkshire between senior health staff.
She said: “There is a bed capacity challenge and there is a staffing challenge. I know from a CHFT perspective [that] I could in theory open another cohort of beds.
“What I don’t have is a staffing model to be able to staff them but the physical beds are there. If we do move into the Nightingale it’s still got to be staffed.”
The Harrogate Conference Centre was chosen to be the temporary Nightingale hospital for Yorkshire and the Humber.
It is capable of providing up to 500 additional critical care beds and would treat patients from across Yorkshire and the Humber who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 and are already inpatients at another hospital in the region.