ROCHDALE Infirmary has played a pivotal role in Greater Manchester over the last year. The Infirmary – part of the Northern Care Alliance NHS Group - stepped up to take on as many essential operations, including cancer surgery, as possible to assist other hospitals who needed to postpone surgery whilst they battled the COVID-19 pandemic.
In order to do this, the hospital remodelled its services and was declared a ‘green site,’ which means there are no COVID-19 patients operated on in theatres there, so the risk of infection is minimal. Rochdale Infirmary was made a ‘green site’ early in the pandemic and has been safely carrying out essential surgery since then including lifesaving cancer procedures.
One year into the pandemic staff at Rochdale Infirmary are celebrating having treated their 5,000th essential surgery patient.
Joanna Sutcliffe, 44, from Rochdale was one of the 5,000 patients. She works as a trainee nursing associate at The Royal Oldham Hospital, and recently had essential surgery to remove her gall bladder at Rochdale Infirmary. Joanna was in great pain and suffering from gall stones, so was very relieved that the operation could go ahead.
She said: “I was pleased to be able to have surgery to remove my gall bladder on Tuesday. I feel a bit tender now, but the operation was good and I am starting to recover.
“The whole treatment process was very good and everything flowed very well after my arriving at hospital at 8am, despite being in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic. The surgeon was really nice and explained everything really well, he was very good.
“The anaesthetist team helped me to relax as I was very nervous; they even had me laughing at one point, despite the fact that I was petrified. Right through to the recovery room, and the ward staff, everyone was very good and highly attentive.”
Keeping Rochdale Infirmary’s operating theatres open has meant that patients like Joanna and others that require essential surgery, including thousands of cancer patients, can still be treated. This means that patients from across Greater Manchester can come to Rochdale to have their planned care in theatre, the day surgery unit, surgical ward, outpatients, vaccinations, ophthalmology and rheumatology.
Infection control measures are very strict at the hospital and all surgical patients are isolated and tested for COVID-19 prior to any treatment there. The hospital staff are also regularly tested before work and on site everyone must wear a mask, socially distance at all times, and use hand sanitiser.
Sue Anderton, Divisional Director of Nursing at Rochdale Care Organisation, said: “By carrying on with a lot of the urgent cancer treatment here in Rochdale we’ve been able to help patients who have been very frightened about not receiving treatment during the pandemic, and we’ve been able to help and make a real difference to their lives.
"As a hospital, we’ve not stopped from the first week of the pandemic, welcoming surgeons and anaesthetists from across our other sites at Bury, Oldham and Salford, our theatre teams have been so adaptable. We’ve been able to carry out thousands of procedures here, keeping patients safe and ensuring they’ve received the care they need.
"COVID-19 has taught me to value what I have. It’s made me so proud to be a nurse, working alongside my team, and giving me the ability to give something back. The team have been incredible. They’ve done everything they can to help the situation, and a little bit more. I’m honoured to work alongside them.”
Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Mr Malcolm John Dickson, has operated throughout the pandemic at Rochdale Infirmary’s ‘green site,’ ensuring some patients with cancer can still have their surgery there. He started working at Rochdale as a consultant 21 years ago and is currently based in the outpatient clinics, antenatal clinics and the day case operating theatres.
He said: “When I started here 21 years ago, I went to see the man whose post I was the replacement for. Instead of telling me where things were, which nursing sisters were fierce and where the best place for a cup of tea was he just said ‘they are all very good people, patients and staff.’ I have never had any reason to believe otherwise, and when we had to adapt our working practices due to COVID-19, I had absolutely no doubt the staff would nail that challenge, which they absolutely have done.
“The staff have been fantastic keeping clinics running and using wonderful innovative ways. For example, some vulnerable patients would be fearful sitting in a waiting room to see a clinician, so we speak to them by phone or have them waiting in a car outside, and give them a call to come in when they are ready to be seen. This has kept people feeling safe, and rather than staying at home and not getting treatment, they are coming in and having surgery that will enhance their quality of life.”
Mr Dickson says that the staff at Rochdale always give 150 percent, working extra shifts, some not even having a day off, to keep the operating theatres fully staffed and running for as long as possible.
He added: “By doing so, this is helping to keep a really good throughput of patients needing day surgery. In particular, patients are getting biopsies to see if they have cancer with minimal delay, and if unfortunately some people do have cancer, they can be started with appropriate treatment as fast as possible.”
The ‘green site’ at Rochdale is an example of how the NHS has had to find new ways of working during the pandemic, to ensure those in the most need can still be treated.