Health Matters – June 2023

  • New Facilities at SACH
  • The Children in the Jungle
  • Virtual Hospitals
  • Hay Fever

1. SACH – New Facility  – People living close to the City Hospital will be aware that there’s an interesting development at the Hospital planned to open next April (2024). It’s called an Elective Hub; let me explain. As we all know the NHS is facing a real problem in managing the backlog of operations. The backlog in our area is now over 15,000.

The new hub is for day surgery and will focus on eyes (exp Cataracts), Throat (esp Tonsils) and Bones (esp Hips and Knees). The facility will take patients from the whole of our area – which means Hertfordshire and West Essex but including areas like Luton and Barnet too.

Planning permission is being sought now and the aim is to have the centre up and running by April 2024. I am working with the team developing this new approach, and next month I hope to tell you a little more about the project and ask you to complete a survey on it that will guide its development. This is a fascinating new development that will provide a critical new role for our local hospital.

2. The Children in the Jungle – do you remember the story of the four children in the Columbia Rain Forest; their plane crashed on May 1st and the pilot, the children’s mother, and the only other adult died in the crash. In fact, the mother was the last to die and encouraged her eldest daughter – Lucy (13) – to look after the other children. The others were all boys; Soleni (9), Tien (4) and Cristian (11 months at the time of the crash).

How on earth were they able to survive for the 40 days it took to find them? They were indigenous people, and we shouldn’t underestimate their survival instinct and beliefs. In fact, the profound knowledge that Lucy would have had of the intricate forest and the adaptive skills passed down through generations of her forebears would have provided her with the perfect ability to look after her three siblings.

From an early age girls recognise that they have a responsibility to look after children younger than themselves, so when Lucy’s mother told her to leave the plane and look after the children it would have felt entirely natural – even to look after an 11 month old child!

She would have known how to

  • open paths through dense vegetation,
  • tell edible from non-edible fruits.
  • find drinkable water, build rain shelters and set animal traps
  • identify animal footprints and scents – and avoid predators such as jaguars and snakes lurking in the woods.

But the point I found most interesting was that Lucy would have had an idea about where she was. Children are taught how to navigate a forest’s dense vegetation by following the location of the sun in the sky, and large rivers flow in a direction opposite to that of the sun, people can orient themselves towards those main rivers.

The trail of footprints and objects left by the four children revealed their general progression towards the Apaporis River, where they believed they would have hoped to be spotted.

3. Virtual Hospitals Update – A couple of weeks ago I presented on a national webinar taking the patients’ view of virtual hospitals. We have two of the most advanced implementations in the country in Hertfordshire; West Herts Hospital Trust and the Hospital at Home system in the north of the county are different models, but extremely advanced; they provide real improvement in patient experience.

So what is a virtual hospital? Think of it this way; it’s a way for patients in hospital to come home early and recover at home as any equipment needed to monitor your condition is delivered to your home before you get back and the results are sent to a hub team who will monitor them and adjust your treatment as necessary.

Take for example someone who has just been diagnosed with pneumonia. They need hospital treatment as soon as possible to get them stabilised; but once they are, for example by day 2 or 3, the rest of the hospital stay (some 2-4 days) is simply monitoring their temperature, blood pressure, and oxygenation. “The Obs” as they are known in hospital! So why not do that monitoring at home? And, by regular monitoring, their treatment can be escalated or de-escalated as appropriate.

People I have spoken to with experience of the virtual hospital say they love coming home early – food, own bed, favourite chair, friends and family, pets. And they recover faster.

But there’s another aspect of VH; so far we’ve talked about “step-down” from an acute hospital. What about step-up? Last week I met an 82 year-old lady who had swallowing difficulties; a paramedic referred her to the VH. Remote monitoring highlighted issues so the VH GP visited her, found she had a serious obstruction in her throat, and got her into hospital immediately.

So whilst this example did not necessarily avoid hospital admission, it is a good example of how early intervention from the Hospital at Home MDT can prevent further deterioration of a patient.

4. Why is Hay Fever so Bad this YearHave you noticed how bad the Hat Fever season is this year with that relentless onslaught of sneezing, itchy eyes, and congestion in the nose?

Why is it so bad right now? A number of environmental factors are contributing to the current hay fever havoc – especially thunderstorms! Now you may be thinking that we haven’t had that many in St Albans but the point is that we have an easterly airstream right now and, if you were to draw a line from, say Hoddesdon to Stevenage, then that area has been hit quite hard, and we’re experiencing the consequences!

Increasing temperatures; more intense rainfall, and extended flowering seasons have a significant influence on pollen production. And here’s the thing ……. During a thunderstorm, there’s a process called pollen fragmentation which rainwater breaks the pollen granules into smaller particles. So we have a process whereby the pollen doubles or even quadruples; and at the same time, the smaller particles can penetrate deeper into our airways. A double whammy!

So what can you do about it?

  • Stay Aware of the Pollen Count and stay indoors with windows and doors closed as much as possible on bad days
  • Practice good hygiene – frequent showers and wash clothes regularly to remove any pollen on you
  • Filters are very effective – such as a filter in your car’s ventilation system or a filter in your home.
  • Take your Medication! And the “bleedin’ obvious”
  • Avoid Triggers – this is not a good time to mow the lawn or have flowers in the house!

And with that, fellow hay fever sufferers, all I can say is go well and stay safe!!

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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