ADVANCED preparations are being developed to combat an anticipated second wave of Covid-19 infections over the upcoming months, according to health chiefs.

Health authorities, councils, key employers and community leaders in south Cumbria have spoken this week of their combined efforts to legislate for any renewed infections or hospitalisations spike during the autumn and winter months.

The hospital trust serving the south of the county, University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMBT), explained the work that has been under way in south Cumbria and North Lancashire as trusts across the country move into 'phase three' of its Covid-19 response.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has warned in recent days that a second Covid-19 wave remains a 'serious threat' and that England could face nationwide restrictions as well as very extensive local lockdowns if infection levels rise again in a dramatic way.

UHMBT said it was looking at expanding ICU surge capacity and identifying additional beds at Furness General Hospital (FGH) as well as at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary.

The trust also confirmed it would maintain Westmorland General Hospital as a 'Covid-secure site' - besides considering the possibility of taking on care home recovery beds and investing in a 'number of capital estates improvements such as development of new critical care areas at FGH'.

Colin Cox, Cumbria’s public health director, has said that the now-dismantled springtime recovery centres (such as the one that was in place at Kendal Leisure Centre) could be swiftly redeployed in the event of a second wave.

He also confirmed that modelling work is currently under way to establish and map out what resource capacity would be required - such as bed number and critical care capacity - in order to tackle any renewed flare-ups in the South Lakes.

A multi-agency response - involving police, UHMBT, district councils, the county council and other local bodies- is also being prepared by Cumbria's Local Resilience Forums.

South Lakes MP, Tim Farron, praised the preparations work that has been carried out by public services in Cumbria.

He also raised concerns over Number 10 funding to see the county through the coming period, saying: “Cumbria’s public health team have done a really great job throughout this crisis, as have our local police force, our hospitals trust and our local councils.

“The work they have done, particularly with the amount of early testing that Morecambe Bay Hospitals Trust did, gives me confidence that if we do see a second wave then Cumbria will be in a good position to respond.

“However there are some big issues that need answering from central Government – in particular what financial support will there be for people in the event of another national lockdown, especially for those workers and businesses that were excluded from the Government’s original support schemes, and what lessons have been learnt about they can better protect care homes from a second wave of infections.”.

SLDC, which forms part of the area's Local Resilience Forum, was also approached for comment.

Kate Maynard, Interim Chief Operating Officer at UHMBT, said: "“Our teams are working exceptionally hard to restore all the services that were paused to allow us to be able to respond to the pandemic but they can’t be simply switched back on to operate in the same way they did before.

"We have to do it in a way that meets all the relevant guidelines and most importantly, keeps everyone safe. We have written to all patients waiting for an appointment to let them know that we will be in touch again in the next three months to give them more information about when they may be seen.

“We are very mindful that we are still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and whilst we currently have very low hospital admissions, there is still the very real risk that infections may increase again.

"It is essential that in order to invite more patients back to our services, we build on the safety measures we have already put in place, such as wearing face masks in public areas; following national guidance regarding self-isolation and testing before planned procedures; ensuring colleagues have access to appropriate PPE; and using technology for patient appointments where appropriate.

“Winter is always a challenging period for the NHS with often high levels of flu and other seasonal illnesses such as norovirus. We will no doubt see that again this year but with the added pressure of potential spikes in cases of COVID-19 in our communities that require hospital care."

She also said: “A key part of our planning is the roll out of our annual colleague influenza vaccination programme which launches in two weeks.

"To ensure as many colleagues as possible can protect themselves and those around them, we have increased the number of drop in and bookable clinics and for the first time, are launching a drive through vaccination clinic. This flexibility will enable colleagues working shifts or working remotely or those who are vulnerable to access the vaccination early at their convenience.

“Even though the numbers of COVID-19 cases have reduced, our Trust and its partners across Lancashire and South Cumbria continue to monitor and manage the situation as a system - not as individual organisations. So far, this has included pooling of resources such as PPE and workforce, allowing partner organisations to access priority testing through our Trust, and open discussions around pressure areas so that we can help each other where needed.

“The Elective Care Recovery Group has been established to have an oversight of all the key areas of restoration and recovery, including the Cancer Alliance, Diagnostics, Critical Care, etc.

"The group is also developing a system view of the region’s waiting list to help promote system working and mutual aid whilst trying to ensure equal access to services across the patch. This work also feeds into the local, regional and national Adapt and Adopt programmes which look at innovating and improving key areas of in-hospital care, such as Theatre Productivity, Outpatients, Imaging, Endoscopy and the Cancer Recovery Taskforce.

“We will continue to work together to take measures as a health and care system to enable the recovery and restoration of services across the region and manage any future spikes of COVID-19 or indeed, any other winter illness or other issues.

“Members of the public can help their local NHS by adhering to national guidance such as wearing face masks; maintaining social distancing; regularly washing their hands with soap and water; having an influenza vaccination; and follow the advice of the NHS Test and Trace if you have been in contact with a person who has Coronavirus.”