'That is the future’: How an east London trust has adapted to Covid

Magda Smith, the chief medical officer at BHRUT

Magda Smith, the chief medical officer at BHRUT, believes that adaptive healthcare which has developed out of the pandemic "is the future" - Credit: BHRUT

The NHS has been forced to innovate in order to cope over the past two years since the first Covid lockdown came into force.

That was what Magda Smith - who is currently chief medical officer at the Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHRUT) but is soon to become the group deputy chief medical officer at Barts Health, told this paper.

Dr Smith said early on, there was very little understanding of the virus. 

She can “remember watching the news and seeing Italy”, before Covid starting taking hold here in the UK. 

As the whole country upended their lives in order to try and keep the virus at bay, Dr Smith said: “The difference for us is our staff had to get up and come into work.  

“We still got up in the morning, and the streets were empty.” 

The teams across King George Hospital in Ilford and Queen’s Hospital in Romford were initially “shocked” by the number of people dying from the disease, and concerned by the impact this would have on families, she said. 

Queen's Hospital

Queen's Hospital - Credit: Ken Mears

As the pandemic raged, Dr Smith said BHRUT and other trusts around the country had to adapt their practices to manage the conditions forced upon them.

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Some of these changes have become part of the way staff operate on an ongoing basis. 

“We can use more adaptive health care, and I think that is the future”, she said. 

One physical example of how things have changed include the new £7.5 million intensive care unit built at Queen’s to help tackle waiting lists.  

A perhaps more subtle adaptation is the way BHRUT communicates with patients and their families.  

Previously, this would take place in hospitals. However, with many family members either unwilling or unable to come in, Dr Smith said much of this now happens virtually. 

The introduction of other virtual features, such as online consultations with GPs, are also among the innovations which developed out of the pandemic. 

Internally, the attitude towards staff wellbeing has, as Dr Smith puts it, “completely changed”. 

She cites BHRUT’s Let it Out sessions, in which staff are encouraged to open up about and reflect on issues as a team. 

This shift is not without consideration for patients, and is intended to benefit those entering as well as working at the hospital. 

“If you look after your staff well," Dr Smith said, “you look after your patients.”