WHILE winter can often be a period for putting our feet up and taking a bit of time out, one place where there will be no rest is Hexham General Hospital.

The dedicated staff there work tirelessly all year round to treat the steady stream of patients who come through the doors.

To get an idea of the day-to-day activities at the hospital, the Courant was given the chance to go into the Urgent Care Centre and the Elderly Assessment Unit to chat to the staff about what they are facing this winter.

The hospital’s Urgent Care Centre has been closed since earlier this year between 10pm and 8am, after the trust said it was used by an average of fewer than two people per night. But the daytime service is still in high demand, with an average of more than 40 people per day during the week and 47 per day at weekends accessing the service.

Helen McManus, nurse practitioner manager at the centre, explained that 90 per cent of those would be treated at Hexham, while only 10 per cent would be transferred elsewhere in more serious cases.

One of the struggles the hospital, run by Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, faced when trying to cover the overnight urgent care service was a lack of nurse practitioners – nurses who are trained in more advanced areas and are trained in treating minor injuries and prescribing medication.

The struggle to recruit nurses is a nationwide problem, but Helen is playing her part in training up the next generation of nurse practitioners for Hexham.

We spoke to newly qualified nurse practitioner Lynsey Webster, who has completed her training since joining the team at Hexham in March 2017.

“It has been really good working on the job and actually seeing those patients rather than just being at university,” she explained.

Helen added: “We have lost quite a few experienced nurse practitioners, but we are investing a lot of money into nurse practitioners. I want them to come here young, get all of their training, but make it so that it’s somewhere they want to stay, so we are building our experience here again.”

In terms of what the staff can expect to see this winter, a lot of it could be weather dependant.

“Last year when we had the really bad weather and the roads turned into a sheet of ice, we had a lot of people coming in with minor injuries from slipping. I was even out at the bus station collecting a lady who had fallen and couldn’t get herself back up,” explained Helen.

Over in the Elderly Assessment Unit, which is accessible from the Urgent Care Centre, Emily Pitkethly, a nurse practitioner on the unit, said: “In winter older people tend to be more prone to things like the flu and coughs and cold, which to other people might be minor, but for people with chronic conditions it can have a much bigger effect. We definitely get more people with exacerbations of things they already have.”

The unit is the only one of its kind in the Northumbria trust, a benefit for Hexham’s ageing population, meaning they don’t need to go to one of the region’s larger hospitals.

Emily who leads the unit’s nursing team said: “It’s closer to home for a lot of people. It’s a quieter environment and for returning patients they know us already and they build up trust with the staff.

“A lot of older people might worry ‘they are going to keep me in’ but if they feel safer here it just takes away some of that worry for them.”