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Spotlight on the life-saving work of the Critical Care Unit at NGH on its first anniversary

MR1405 CCU Sister Nicola Cann working in a CCU bed space new
The new Critical Care Unit at Northampton General Hospital has provided vital support for almost 900 patients and their families in its first year of operation.

The £15.9m state-of-the-art unit opened its doors on June 29, 2022, following an extensive period of design, discussion and building work.

It is run by a dedicated team of more than 150 multi-disciplinary staff who provide one-to-one, or sometimes two-to-one, care for patients and their families, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

It has 16 specialist beds of which five are isolation rooms fitted with clean air technology designed to prevent the spread of illnesses like Covid-19, and support patients with immune issues.

Patients are nursed on the unit for short-stay episodes, but some remaining on the unit for a lot longer, up to 100 days. Many of these journeys involve lengthy specialist rehabilitation before patients are able to leave.

Clinical Lead for the Intensive Care Unit - Dr Jonny Wilkinson, said: “From the moment I took up the position of Clinical Lead, it became my mission to highlight the fact that our current unit was beginning to fall behind many others in the UK as far as the delivery of state-of-the-art standards was concerned.

“Our existing build certainly provided excellent facilities for its time, but in this modern age where pandemic proofing is essential, it desperately needed modernisation, particularly as we were woefully short of space.

“In April 2020, the project to create the new unit was agreed. I remember the elation when driving in to work to see construction crews starting to lay the foundations and watching modules being dropped in; real proof of the pudding our new unit was coming.”

Critical Care Units – also known as Intensive Care (Treatment) Units (ITU / ICU) – support the sickest patients in the hospital, many of whom have been through life-

saving surgery or have suffered life threatening conditions. Many of these episodes can have a lasting impact on their lives.

The NGH unit is modern, tranquil, utilises the highest-level technology, and integrates ideas from some of the top units in the UK and Europe. Patients receive the highest levels of care when they need it.

Dr Wilkinson said: “Our unit has become the talk of the country - we are regularly approached by other UK teams to share our ideas, intricate designs and lessons. It has taken time and a vast amount of painstaking hard work to achieve what we have.

“I feel privileged to have been clinical lead through this project. It is a joy to come to work in such a beautiful clinical environment. What we have achieved is something to be eternally proud of.”

How our team supports patients

The dedicated team supporting patients in the Critical Care Unit come from a variety of disciplines.

We have more than 100 nurses, 12 healthcare assistants, 11 consultants, 16 junior doctors, five pharmacists, nine operating department practitioners, six physio and occupational therapists and a dedicated housekeeper, speech and language therapist, dietician, and health and wellbeing lead.

They all work together with other hospital teams to provide the diverse and essential care patients require.

Acting Matron Clare Hinchley said: “We are one big family. We have a very supportive environment for our patients and their families and for our own staff.

“Going through the Covid pandemic was a difficult time for us all. There was all the uncertainty, then working in restrictive PPE, and also trying to support families who were not able to have the close contact they normally would have had with their loved ones.

“Opening the new unit though has made a big difference for us. It is a new start and morale has improved dramatically.”

The CCU team are very tight-knit and have their own wellbeing lead, Lindsey Carman, who supports them with confidential chats, by keeping a log to celebrate all staff birthdays, by organising picnics, walks and social events, and having awards to ensure staff get recognition for everything they do.

The unit is purpose built so that should a further pandemic surges occur, it can accommodate more patients than its basic footprint offers using dual life support pendants within each bed space.

Patient who owes his life to the unit pays tribute to staff who cared for him

Martin Lovatt from West Hunsbury was rushed to hospital in July 2022 when he felt his ‘heart moving from side to side’ in his chest.

Arriving in A&E he found he could not hold his breath for a CT scan test and his next blurred recollection was of being wheeled on a trolley and then a red light and alarm flashing on his bed.

He awoke briefly to see his worried family around him and was asked to say his final farewells.

Mr Lovatt, 66, a retired drinks company worker, said: “I wasn’t scared. I could see my family looking shocked and frightened. I just didn’t want them to be worried. I was told I had a very serious cardiac arrest and may not be alive after I went to sleep.”

Mr Lovatt then slipped away and woke 16-days later after being in an induced coma. He had been diagnosed with takotsubo cardiomyopathy – a disfunction to the left side of his heart. While he slept a pacemaker was fitted and he is now on a two-year road to recovery.

He said: “I absolutely wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for the team at the CCU. It would have been curtains for me. I want to give them a massive thank you. I can’t praise them highly enough. They looked after me fantastically – in the same way they work tirelessly for everyone in their care.”

Staff perspectives from the front-line

The new Critical Care Unit provides a much-improved experience for patients, their families, and for the staff who work shifts of up to 12 hours there.

Dr Sada Chinniah, a consultant anaesthetist who has worked at NGH for nine years, said: “The new unit provides a much-improved environment for our patients. There is less noise and less disturbance because there is so much more space and separation between rooms.

“There is also more natural light and this helps patients with day and night orientation and is especially helpful for patients with delirium. There is also more space for isolation with our five isolation rooms having a special area for donning and doffing protective equipment when dealing with Covid-19, flu or any other infectious illness.”

Dr Livia Malanjum, an intensive care consultant who has worked at NGH for the last 10 years, said: “The old unit was more than 40 years old and had just evolved from being a normal hospital ward. Space was a real issue for us and the old unit was very cramped. Everything in the new unit is delivered to a very high clinical standard. We have 360-degree access to bed spaces and have brand new ventilators, ultrasound, monitor stacks and dialysis machines.

“We deliver 24/7 one-to-one, or two-to-one, care and we often support patients with infections like sepsis, post-operative complications or patients with many different healthcare conditions which put them at greater risk.”

Deepty Sreedevi Nair, a staff nurses, has worked in CCU for the last two years and seen the difference between the old and new units.

She said: “It is much easier to support patients and their families now. There are lots of rooms and facilities for relatives to come and support their loved ones.

“We have a nice sitting room for them and private rooms where we can have the more difficult conversations. We have ipads in the rooms and can play music and dim the lights to meet the patients’ needs.

“Being a critical care nurse means you have a lot more one-to-one time with your patient and their families. You really feel you have done some good things for your patients. There is also amazing teamwork between all of our staff.”

Ken Mlauzi is a Senior Therapy Technical Instructor supporting both physiotherapy and occupational therapy who has worked at NGH for ten years.

He said: “Our patients often need both physio and occupational therapy. They have often been in bed for a long time and can be very debilitated. I help them to get back on their feet and check that they are able to do the things we need to do like washing, making tea, putting on your socks. When you help a patient and then see them walking again it gives you a real sense of satisfaction.”

Naomi Townsend if the Critical Care Unit’s Follow-up Nurse who supports patients for up to a year if they have been at the highest level of critical care support for more than 72 hours.

She said: “I help to give them a realistic expectation of how long things will take for them to recover and help them to optimise both their physical and mental recovery after being in critical care - which can be tremendously hard for people.

“Where patients want support I can monitor their progress and help them address things like post-traumatic stress disorder, low mood, anxiety and depression.

“I try to help to steer people onto the right road for recovery for them, identifying support that they need, and making onward referrals and signposting as appropriate.”

The unit supports the ICU Steps support group in Northampton, which is run by Naomi, and former patient Keith and his wife Jane. The support group runs every six weeks and enables former patients to help each other through peer support.

Posted on Monday 10th July 2023
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