Health Matters – February 2023

  • Covid Update
  • Covid Vaccination Programme
  • Virtual Hospital
  • Valentine’s Day
  • Health Webinars

1. Covid & Flu  –  well we’re still in the twindemic – Covid is still here and flu is too! At the moment, flu is over 3 times higher than the Covid numbers in St Albans – so all those personal hygiene matters that we’ve talked about before are still critical!

Currently there are 271 cases of Covid per 100,000 – well down from that peak of 2,967 on DEC 3rd; but it is up by 25% over last week! In fact we’re the highest in Hertfordshire at the moment! The lowest is Hemel Hempstead with under 100 cases per 100,000!

But beware – although Covid has dropped since Christmas, the cases of flu are rising in St Albans! That’s because we’ve had 2 years of low flu levels that have left us with less immunity!

And the numbers in hospital due to Covid are down since January

  • In the Lister they’re down from 59 to 30; and
  • In Watford from 44 to 28

2. Covid Booster Programme – last weekend (FEB 12th) the Government announced that the Covid Vaccination program would end for the time being – so if you’re a non-vulnerable person aged under 50 who is yet to receive a first, second, or third dose, come February 12 you may well have missed your chance.

The Government argued – although admittedly it was based on the advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) – that there were dwindling numbers coming forward. This is partly down to vaccination fatigue (“I haven’t had it so far so I don’t need to bother with a booster” – you’d be surprised how many times I’ve heard this argument!). The current situation seems to be that there will probably be another booster campaign in the Autumn but it will be limited to people who are vulnerable.

In their statement, the JCVI highlight waning vaccine uptake, and note rescinding the offer of third doses comes “as the transition continues away from a pandemic emergency response”. Their message is that targeted vaccination of the vulnerable is sufficient to allow us to “live” with COVID.

Many argue that this is shortsighted at best. It means that in the future, paradoxically, most people will only obtain any immunity to the Covid virus by becoming infected.

Covid is unpredictable; the Omicron variant has shown that it is capable of evolving rapidly and generating multiple waves of peaks and troughs. So let’s hope that this is an issue of maintaining a watching brief rather than stopping vaccinations for all but the most vulnerable.

3. Virtual Hospitals – you may have heard in the press recently of the interest in Virtual Wards; well in our area we have two examples of some of the best virtual wards in the country!

But first, let’s be clear on what they actually are. The concept is that medical equipment, typically blood pressure monitor, thermometer, and oximeter (that’s the one that goes on the end of your finger and measures oxygen in the blood) are sent to your home. Specialised equipment can be provided too – for example a blood glucose monitor for people with Diabetes. You take your own “obs” and send them in to a central monitoring hub. As anyone who has been in hospital will know, the first phase, when you have an operation or are being treated on drips and transfusions, hospital is the best place to be. But once you’re recovering from an operation or from a medical condition, there’s a lot of hanging about! Nurses come regularly and you’re waiting for the “ward round” to find out how it’s going. So the concept of the Virtual Ward is simple – do that waiting at home rather than in hospital! At the very least, the food’s better!!!!!! But seriously, you can recover much faster at home. From an NHS perspective this is great because it releases bed days and therefore increases throughput (which is needed to reduce the current backlog!

But that’s not all! What we have discussed so far is effectively a “step down” process – from hospital to home. But what about a step up process too – people whose Doctors Surgery has decided need further diagnostics to determine what is wrong? So this is also an option with Virtual Hospitals. Whilst the benefit to the NHS from step down is earlier discharge, the benefit from step up is admission avoidance. And, for the patient – the benefit is one of comfort, social interaction, and gastronomy!

Now earlier I said that we’re very lucky with our local virtual hospital services; in our area, Watford Hospital was one of the first to experiment with the virtual hospital because the hospital itself was so full of Covid cases; and once the danger period of Covid is over patients are well enough to recover at home with regular monitoring.  In the case of the Lister, a new virtual hospital service has been developed from scratch; it’s called Hospital at Home and is currently operating at 140% of capacity!

One of the new pathways that has just been piloted is for Pre-Op appointments to be done from home as well as post-op recovery. It meant that time in hospital was reduced by 50% and recovery at home was faster!

It’s a great system and, whilst it’s not for everybody (there are social checks on patients’ suitability for the virtual ward as well as medical!) it’s a huge benefit to both patients and the NHS.

4. Valentine’s Day – yesterday being Valentine’s Day I felt I just had to include the subject of love in this month’s broadcast! Now there’s a lot of confusion over the identity of St Valentine …… February 14th is the saints day for St Valentine of Rome; he was beheaded for performing forbidden marriages for persecuted Christians on February 14th 270 AD. But there’s no connection between that St Valentine and love. Another St Valentine lived in Terni which is a province in Umbria. He was a bishop and a scholar who rose to fame when he healed a boy who was crippled. But he was also beheaded for refusing to accept the Roman gods and there’s no mention of love in his life either!

The first literary link between St Valentine and love was made by Chaucer. In his “Parliament of Fowles” the birds gather in a meeting (or parliament) to choose their mate. And what date should they gather on, but Saint Valentine’s Day! But did you hear much of a “dawn Chorus” of birdsong yesterday? I didn’t.

Now here’s the key – before writing the book Chaucer had travelled to Genoa and interestingly there was a certain Saint Valentine of Genoa whose feast day was held on May 2. Well May is certainly a more likely date for birds to meet and find their mate. Which may well explain the origin of “the birds and the bees” – but how did bees get in the act? Maybe I need to research that before next month’s podcast!

5. Health Webinars – I shall be chairing two webinars next week and you, dear listener, along with anyone you know who might be interested, are very welcome.

5.1 Diabetes – the first webinar is on Tuesday February 21st from 6:00-7:00 pm and is on the subject of Diabetes and Emotional Health. People with Diabetes are exceptional at self-managing their physical health; but mental health is more of a challenge. From a phobia about needles through the constant monitoring of sugar, to the incessant “why me” there is much to challenge our mental health and this webinar will provides lots of ideas on how to cope.

5.2 Varicose Veins – we are really lucky to have a top London Consultant explain all about this condition that affects many people, so this is a rare opportunity to learn from an expert on Thursday February 23rd at 6:30 click the link below to register

Alan Bellinger
15th February 2023

Alan Bellinger Written by:

Alan is a Trustee of Healthwatch Hertfordshire and very well engaged with all things related to Health & Social Care within the Community. After retirement from a successful career in the private sector (working in both training and Information Technology), Alan wanted to get involved in supporting local health issues and has an excellent understanding of what it takes to ensure a great patient experience, Alan has lived in St Albans for well over 65 years; he is a widower with two children and he especially enjoys the company of his five grandchildren – four of whom live in the local area.

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