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NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson says public cooperation is vital in controlling the spread of Covid-19

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'I would urge the people of West Berkshire – do NOT underestimate the importance of social isolation’

CE NHS Providers Christopher Hopson
CE NHS Providers Christopher Hopson

CHRISTOPHER Hopson has been a very busy man over the last few weeks.

As the scale of the coronavirus pandemic has become more apparent, he has played a key role in helping the NHS acute hospitals and community, mental health and ambulance services to ready themselves for the crisis.

Mr Hopson, whose family owned department store Camp Hopson, grew up in Newbury.

His mother Sue Hopson and brother Jonathan still live in the area, but he now lives in London, where his role as chief executive of NHS Providers, formerly the Foundation Trust Network (FTN), the membership organisation for the NHS acute hospitals and community, mental health and ambulance services that treat patients and service users in the NHS, involves coordinating the collective effort of hospital trusts across the UK.

Mr Hopson and his team are central to communication between trusts and getting the right message across to the right people, whether it is suppliers, the Government, the media or the public.

He said: “I see our main role as getting the message across of what we are doing.

“It’s very easy for people to say ‘why haven’t they done this?’ or ‘why haven’t they got this or that equipment’, but what you have to realise is that from a standing start about six weeks ago, the NHS has achieved a tremendous amount.

“Look at Basingstoke, Swindon and Reading hospitals – we have created the equivalent of 53 of those hospitals, with the capacity for 33,000 extra beds in just six weeks.”

Mr Hopson explained: “We were able to look at the situation in Italy and implement best practice based on the problems they were experiencing.

“Italy was unlucky that they were the first European country to be so badly hit, but their experience has helped other countries.”

He also says, recent events have served to highlight the benefits of having an NHS.

“You can see in other countries, where different systems within different territories have meant some medical establishments have been left to sink or swim.

“It is different over here. Take London – all the hospitals and ambulances services are linked up. If one hospital gets full they can divert patients to other hospitals very swiftly.

“Each region across the country has a surge plan, so that we are never caught out.”

Mr Hopson said the crisis has probably highlighted three things – the importance of a well-funded NHS, and secondly the importance of frontline workers, including those who support them – “the admin staff, caterers, cleaners, the list is endless, are crucial”.

And thirdly, he said, it highlighted the preparedness of the NHS.

“When this started there were 100,000 vacancies, is that right? No.

“But we have turned things around very rapidly, we have implemented more staff testing, we have supplied more equipment.

“People have to remember that the normal supply chain usually provides everything in a stable and predictable environment.

“The surge in current demand is off the scale and the coordination and cooperation between different bodies is making a difference

“We now have an emergency response in place for delivering equipment – pallets are loaded and ready to go.

“Hospital trusts will receive the equipment whether or not they currently require it – it will be there for them so that if and when the time comes they don’t have to wait.”

The army is also now involved in the supply chain, so that personal protection equipment (PPE) gets through to the trusts.

“It is all part of solving the problems.”

He goes on to say: “Regional hospitals have a bit longer to prepare for any surge that may come, but trust me they are not as far behind as people may think.”

As well as ensuring that the public understands what has been achieved, Mr Hopson explains that his organisation also acts as a central intelligence gathering hub.

He said: “I have real-time communication with all trust CEOs which means I can get instant reaction and feedback on what is needed and I can then convey that to the relevant suppliers or organisations.

“By sharing best practice and protocol among trusts, we are increasing efficiency.”

But of absolute key importance to having any success in controlling the rapid spread of the virus, says Mr Hopson, is public cooperation.

“When I go for my daily exercise, I can’t believe how many people I see jogging and not observing the two-metre distance rule,” he said.

“People must understand how important social distancing is and that they must follow it to the letter, in order to make a difference.

“We are expecting the peak over the next fortnight – mid April to the end of April.

“Yes social isolation has made a difference, but we must not take our eye off the ball.

“We have stretched the capacity of the NHS to an incredible degree, but we don’t want the numbers of sick patients too concentrated.

“I would urge people of West Berkshire – do NOT underestimate the importance of social isolation.

“Frankly, people are being irresponsible, arrogant and selfish if they don’t.

“Please, please, take note in order to prevent loss of life.”

Mr Hopson says the media jumps on issues – like PPE, ventilator capacity and testing – but, it’s doing it without really appreciating what’s been achieved.

He said: “Trust me everybody is doing the best they can.

“There will be problems and failures by definition, but it is better all-around if we focus on what we are doing and plug the gaps rather than negative criticisms ‘why didn’t we’, ‘why aren’t we’?

“There’ll plenty of time for all that afterwards – and trust leaders will be key to contributing to that debate.”

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