When most of the country was battening down the hatches, schools were closed and many people settled for a day at home, working or simply enjoying the delights of this magical winter wonderland, our hospitals – and the rest of the NHS – were open for business as usual!

Despite the highest snowfall in Surrey for many years and temperatures which rivalled much colder parts of the world, local NHS staff battled the elements to keep services up and running. At Ashford and St. Peter’s Hospitals most services were running as usual throughout last week, with staff demonstrating a dedication and determination to get to work that would rival the spirit of the Blitz.

Not only is St. Peter’s Hospital coping with all the trauma operations needed as a result of the weather, and still managing to carry out all the planned (elective) surgery without having to cancel theatre lists, but it is also helping out other hospitals with very complex orthopaedic cases.

Managing chaos and making it orderly! That’s how an operating theatre sister, who has been at St. Peter’s Hospital for 24 years, described the experience of the last week.

She said: “It has truly been a multi-disciplinary team event with everyone contributing! People have made so much special effort to make sure we could run these extra operating theatre lists. People have made so much special effort and I am very proud of them. Without their effort the work would not get done. It has involved very many people, including areas like the purchasing department, for extra stock, and the sterilization unit for operating theatre instruments.

“We have many examples of our staff’s determination to get to work including an operating department technician who walked for more than an hour to get to Guildford railway station and then had another walk from Woking station to St. Peter’s. We also have a deputy sister who arranged a special lift that got her here for 3am so that she would not miss her shift.”

Extra operating theatre lists ran throughout last week, over the weekend and into the early part of this week. The bulk of it has been orthopaedic and trauma work.

Said Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon Mr Paul Trikha: “We have had a huge volume of work, and it has been a tremendous team effort to run these extra operating theatre lists without cancelling the already planned (elective) patients.

“It isn’t just the elderly who have been falling. We have been seeing young, fit people who have fallen, some with dislocated their elbows. And a number of falls have resulted in serious cuts to legs that have needed attending to in an operating theatre.

“At the same time we are helping other hospitals who have referred seven patients to us with very complex fractures who need surgery involving the use of Ilizarov frames.”

The Rowley Bristow Orthopaedic Unit has an international reputation for surgery involving the use of Ilizarov frames, and throughout the year the unit takes patients referred from the South East and other parts of the UK.

The orthopaedic unit manager said staff had been brilliant, some walking a long way to get to work. Her walk from near Row Town woods, Ottershaw, took her one-and-a-half-hours on the first day of the snow but by the weekend she had halved the time!

In the pharmacy department the experience of the February 2009 snows was useful for Medical Directorate Lead Pharmacist Carolyn Adamson who walked to work then and has done it again in 2010. Carolyn described the almost six mile journey from her Byfleet home as “good exercise”. One of her colleagues, the Critical Care Directorate Lead Pharmacist Ingrid Sparla managed to get from London to Weybridge by train daily, and finish the journey by taxi.

Chief Pharmacist for the Ashford and St. Peter's Hospitals NHS Trust Victoria Griffiths was not only proud of the way her staff responded to the bad weather, but also had praise for the Trust’s transport department.

She said: “The transport department did really brilliantly. They make regular transport runs between Ashford Hospital, the community hospitals and the hospices and everything was “as usual” for our pharmacy needs.”

Trust transport manager Joe Garcia was justifiably proud of his team. He said: “I have had full support from both the St. Peter’s and the Ashford drivers, who have provided a very good service. Everyone turned in for work on time and we have run our normal services for pathology, pharmacy, medical records, and postal services to Surrey PCT and Hounslow PCT, and delivering theatre instruments between the two hospitals.”

Snow-related “extras” to the job saw Joe driving a Hospital Hopper bus, with colleague Andrezj Szoka on board with a shovel, when they went to bring in two anaesthetists on Thursday morning, who had been stuck in the Lightwater and Camberley areas.

Other key members of medical and surgical staff received transport support. His team also took nurses home late at night, dug people out of the car parks after night shifts, arranged taxis for nursing staff and delivered items to patients’ homes.

The new intake of third year medical students from Imperial College Hospital and St. Georges’ Hospital received a warm welcome from undergraduate medical education manager Darren Pirson who each day walked 1.5 miles to Bracknell station, took the train to Virginia Water, and then walked 3.5 miles to St. Peter’s Hospital. On Thursday his train journey had an added “warm” element – the carriage he was in had to be evacuated after Darren and others smelt burning coming from electrical sparking!

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