How does a hospital continue life-saving treatment in the middle of a global pandemic? Christina Lamb, from the Sunday Times, investigates

Last week, Christina Lamb from The Sunday Times visited Harefield Hospital to find out how the hospital’s clinical teams are continuing with life-saving surgery in the middle of the latest Covid-19 surge.

Lamb met with clinicians from the hospital’s cardiac, transplant and intensive care teams to see how it is possible to continue with these vital services while looking after some of the sickest Covid-19 patients who need the highest level of critical care. Nick Hunt, the hospital’s director of service development, attributed this to clinical innovations and sheer staff dedication: “Emergency situations often bring out the best in people and that’s certainly been the case at Harefield. Initiatives that we’d talked about for months, or even years, have materialised in weeks.

“Even with the incredible demands on staff and capacity we have somehow managed to introduce digital outpatient clinics, home testing, webcam support in ICU, and new ways of collaborating remotely with other hospitals that effectively give patients access to expert opinion from multiple sources. We’re well-known for our innovation, but the speed at which these solutions were found was remarkable; we have literally transformed the clinical landscape.”

The formation of the ‘Cardiac Hub’, established during the first wave of the pandemic last spring, has ensured that priority cardiac procedures can still go-ahead. Spearheaded by consultant cardiologist, Dr Shelley Rahman Haley and cardiac surgeon Mr Mario Petrou, the cardiac hub ensures that patients who need cardiac surgery are promptly reviewed and treated. It is made up of an expert team of consultant cardiologists and surgeons from across London who review and discuss patient cases from Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospitals and other trusts across the South East – to decide if urgent surgical intervention is needed. Experts at Harefield Hospital have performed 100 cardiac procedures since Christmas. Commenting on the cardiac hub, Mr Petrou said: “Patients are not just getting a second opinion, but maybe 20-plus, which is incredible.”

Surgeons at the hospital’s world-famous transplant unit have carried out three lung transplants in the last week alone.

Like many other teams across the Trust, the lung transplant team has had to adapt how it delivers its services to patients, many of whom are shielding and have been able to benefit from having their appointments virtually. Speaking about the virtual clinics, patient Vanessa Tedbury said: “I prefer it. I used to have to write off the day.”

Dr Reed and her colleagues also organise regular webinars for their transplant patients so they are kept informed on the latest Covid developments and how these might impact them.

And all of this activity is taking place against a backdrop of critically-ill Covid-19 patients, who are under the hospital’s specialist care, and require advanced life support.

“Increasing our intensive care capacity to support the sickest Covid patients has inevitably affected how we prioritise non-Covid cases”, said Dr Robert Smith, consultant cardiologist at Harefield Hospital’s heart attack centre. “But for patients who come in with urgent, life-threatening cases, we have not compromised on getting them the care they need, when they need it – which, to a large extent, means it is still business as usual at our heart attack centre.”