My Hospital Journey

In March 2020, every hospital was instructed by NHS England to postpone all outpatient appointments and routine surgery to help the NHS tackle the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.  There have been further delays to our recovery due to the prioritisation of the booster programme in December 2021 and January 2022 relating to the concerns over the potential impact of the Omicron variant and it is possible that we may see further delay to our recovery in the future.

At Milton Keynes University Hospital, our hospital staff worked hard to free up beds, change wards and move clinicians and other support staff around, where it was safe to do so, to where they were most needed to tackle coronavirus head-on.

This has meant there is a national backlog of diagnostic appointments/procedures and those non-emergency treatments/operations. We are working hard within our hospital to reduce this backlog, which has been made more complicated due to rigorous infection control safety measures put in place to protect both our patients and our staff from COVID-19 and other transmissible infections. As a result of these measures some planned treatments are taking longer to perform than they did before which is also adding to delays.

Unfortunately, given the above, this could mean that you wait longer for diagnostic procedures and, if required, treatment/surgery following diagnosis and this wait could be up to two years for some patients.  You may also have some of your appointments virtually either by telephone or video where that would be possible.

 

What we are doing to reduce our waiting lists

Our hospital has resumed diagnostic work, routine surgeries, and treatments, with the number of surgeries taking place at nearly the same level as they were before the pandemic.  We are also working on a number of different projects to increase capacity across hospital departments, such as, putting on extra clinics and operations in evenings and at weekends, these may not be available in every department or every evening/weekend as we do also need to be mindful of the health and wellbeing of our workforce who are increasing their existing hours to support the backlog reduction.

We are also looking at different ways of working that enables us to see more patients. These include:

However, reducing our waiting lists will not happen overnight and we do apologise for this, especially if you have been waiting since before the pandemic. We understand that awaiting a diagnosis, treatment, or an operation to understand what is wrong with you and/or correct/improve your health problem can cause a great deal of anxiety for you and your family while you wait.

 

Our waiting lists – how we prioritise

Our clinicians have been going through our waiting lists very carefully to prioritise those most in need to ensure patients are being seen depending on the state of their health.  The lists are reviewed regularly as we know some people’s conditions will deteriorate so whilst they might not have been a priority at the start, that could change as the weeks and months go by. Indeed, there may also be patients whose symptoms remain the same or improve and that could also lead to them waiting longer to be seen.

Each department will have their own prioritisation criteria, however, in all cases patients that could be at increased risk of loss of life or developing a life debilitating condition would be given greatest priority and seen first.

Unfortunately, given the above, this could mean that you wait longer for diagnostic procedures and up to two years for your procedure/surgery following diagnosis.

 

Don’t put your treatment off – how we keep you safe in our hospital

Many patients are telling us they want to put off their procedure due to concerns over COVID.  Whilst this is a completely understandable reaction, we would urge patients to come forward for their treatment when it is offered.  COVID is likely to be with us for some time to come and may in fact never go away, much like flu and other transmissible diseases.

Our hospitals have put measures in place to greatly reduce the risk of you catching COVID in hospital and there are far more infection prevention and controls measures in place in a healthcare setting than there are in other walks of life.

 

What is Infection Prevention & Control and how do we implement it in our hospital

Infection Prevention and Control is a type of procedure that is carried out with the intent of preventing the transmission of communicable diseases by assessing, planning, implementing, and evaluating infection-control policies and measure.  Infection prevention focuses on ensuring that infections do not get the chance to take hold by trying to avoid others catching the disease in the first place.  Controlling infection focuses on the management of an infection in an individual patient or ensuring appropriate control measures are in place to minimise the spread of an outbreak of infection.

We follow all the same infection prevention and control measures that you do, such as washing our hands regularly, wearing a mask, maintaining social distance, self-isolating when we test positive for COVID, but we also undertake the following:

  • All staff throughout the hospital are regularly tested for COVID, any staff that test positive or who display COVID symptoms do not attend work
  • All staff use appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the task they will perform, this can include face masks, aprons, gloves, eye shields, hats/hairnets, hazmat suits, etc – these are discarded in safe waste bins after each patient with fresh PPE put on immediately before seeing the next patient
  • Washing and sanitising hands with approved high-quality soaps and sanitisers regularly
  • Ensuring all equipment and furniture is sanitised or replaced with fresh equipment after each patient
  • Ensuring there is adequate time given with specified air quality measures to ensure rooms are properly ventilated between patients
  • All waiting and recovery areas have appropriate spacing to ensure social distance is maintained throughout the hospital
  • Ensuring that patients with suspected and confirmed COVID are looked after in separate parts of the hospital from our other patients.

What you can do while you wait for surgery

When you are waiting for treatment it can sometimes feel like a long wait. The information and advice here is aimed at helping you manage that wait so you arrive for your appointment in the best possible physical and mental health.

Your treatment may have conditions applied, such as quitting smoking, losing weight, being more active, reduce alcohol intake or some other kind of preparation.  To avoid further delay you are advised to work on these while you wait, if you require help contact your GP practice, who will be able to direct you to a local service or make you an appointment with a relevant member of their staff (please note, this may not be a GP).

Whether the above are conditions of your appointment or procedure, undertaking actions to improve your overall health will put you in good stead for a speedier recovery.  Remember, looking after your mental health is just as important as your physical health, we know that poor mental health can have a physical health impact.

For more information and advice, you can watch the helpful video below from the Royal College of Anaesthetists – Preparing for surgery: Fitter Better Sooner

https://youtu.be/0NMHMX-nFgY

 

Waiting in pain

We know the longer we are in pain the more our bodies become used to generating pain. This is a difficult concept to understand for both patients and clinicians alike. We refer to this as chronic or persistent pain. Many of us suffer with this type of pain and frequently no medical underlying condition or cause can be found. In this circumstance our focus turns to understanding and managing the pain.

If you find yourself waiting for a medical assessment or procedure then hopefully there may be a more definitive outcome thereafter, but inevitably, through no fault of your own, some of the chronic pain processes may be developing in the background. It may be helpful therefore to consider this whilst waiting and adopting some of the pain management strategies that is about reducing the sensitivity and turning down the pain ‘volume’.

The following can help you manage this pain while you wait for your appointment:

  1. Learning about your pain
  2. Living a healthier lifestyle
  3. Doing the things that matter to you
  4. Taking care of your emotional wellbeing

Learning about your pain

Learning about your condition that causes your pain, triggers that make it worse, what helps to relieve the pain or activities you can do that take your mind off it can help you to create self-management strategies that you may be able to adopt whilst living with your pain. Everyone’s pain experience is different, and everyone has different goals they would like to work towards.  Therefore, having knowledge around your condition can help increase your confidence when making decisions around what to change and how to take back control of your life.  If you use the internet to research your condition we would urge you to visit trusted British websites, eg, Government website (gov.uk), NHS websites (nhs.uk), University websites (ac.uk) and trusted charity websites (org.uk).  Your local GP practice website is also a good source of information.

Living a healthier lifestyle

Having a healthier lifestyle can increase your energy and function, that will give you a better chance of managing chronic pain. For example, pain can often disrupt sleep patterns, leaving you feeling more fatigued and irritable than you might already be. Lack of sleep impacts emotional state, psychological wellbeing and physical performance, all of which contribute to an increase in pain. By learning about sleep and trying different tools to improve sleep, such as relaxation, activity, position and medications, you may be able to improve your sleep patterns and in turn give you a better chance of managing your pain.

Doing the things that matter to you

If you live with chronic pain, it’s only natural that you find it hard to continue to do the things that matter to you in your life. It is often the pain that stops people doing the things they value, not forgetting the added stressors that pain can cause such as fatigue, stress, anxiety, depression, fear and low self-confidence.

It is really important that you try to continue to do the things (or some of the things) that you enjoy, despite the pain, to help improve your quality of life. This may seem impossible at first, which is where goal setting can be useful. Small and achievable short-term goals can allow you to work towards realistic long-term goals. Achievable goals can also help to improve your confidence and sense of self-worth.

Taking care of your emotional wellbeing

As you may be aware, pain can affect the way you think, feel and behave.  This can also have an impact on your pain – which is why you should look at ways to manage your thoughts, feelings and behaviours.  The added stressors of life that pain can cause include fatigue, muscle tension, sleep problems, stress, anxiety, depression, fear, guilt, low mood, feeling unworthy and low self-confidence – all of which are not helpful to anyone as they can ‘wind up’ our pain system. If we can use resources to catch negative thoughts or learn how to communicate your needs, for example, you may be able to start to reserve energy to use in a positive way.

 

Where to get further help

The NHS App

Owned and run by the NHS, the NHS App is a simple and secure way to access a range of NHS services on your smartphone or tablet, including appointments and referral information.

You can also access NHS App services from the browser on your desktop or laptop computer. To find out more go to: https://www.nhs.uk/nhs-app/

Your GP Practice

All GP practices have their own website, which is filled with lots of useful information on a range of topics, including signposting to services available in your area.

Most GP practices are aligned to a Primary Care Network (PCN) and within either your practice or PCN you have access to a range of different Health Care Professionals that can support you with preparing for your treatment as outlined in the sections above, such as quitting smoking, losing weight, improving your health & wellbeing, increasing your activity, improving your mental health, etc.

Your Local Pharmacy

Your local pharmacist is a good place to get local advice, particularly if you have any questions around your medication.

 

What to do when you get your appointment confirmation

When it’s time for you to come for your appointment or procedure, the provider of your treatment will get in touch with you directly. Initially, that may be to check that your treatment is still needed or wanted, if you would be willing to travel to a different NHS or independent hospital for your procedure, or if you have certain underlying health conditions that may mean your treatment would only be suitable in an NHS hospital.  You should aim to respond to these queries as soon as possible.

Some appointments will be offered via video or telephone, where that is appropriate and possible for the patient.  If you are required to attend in person it is likely that you will be asked to self-isolate and take a PCR test before attending the hospital for your appointment or procedure.

Unfortunately, in the current environment your appointment is at risk of being cancelled, sometimes at short notice.  There are a number of possible reasons for this, which could include: staff shortages due to COVID, other sickness or general staff shortages, faulty equipment, someone with a more immediate need, failure to achieve your pre-operation requirements (such as losing weight, quitting smoking, etc), your health or other health factors that may impact on your ability to have, or recover well, from the treatment or procedure, etc.

If, for any reason, you are unable to attend your appointment or wish to cancel, please let us know at your earliest convenience using the number provided on your appointment letter. This will ensure we can give your appointment to someone else on the list in good time and the appointment is not wasted.