THE boss of Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust says it could be two years before hospitals return to where they were pre-Covid – and he described how his own health issues meant he had to shield in the pandemic.

Matthew Hopkins, chief executive of the trust that runs Worcestershire Royal Hospital and the hospitals in Redditch and Kidderminster, has also spoken of how he was forced to work from home and could not visit the sites as the crisis unfolded, as his own health problems put him at risk of catching the deadly virus.

Mr Hopkins suffered from a serious kidney disease and had his first kidney transplant in 2017, but after that failed he was forced to have a second in 2019, with Mr Hopkins’ partner Rachel Royall donating one of hers.

“We had a complete match in terms of blood groups and so on - she has been incredible, and it was a shock she was able to do that for me, it has been amazing,” Mr Hopkins said.

When coronavirus first hit the news, the 54-year-old said he realised the threat Covid posed to him and that he would be one of those shielding.

“One of the consequences of having a transplant is that you have to take drugs to suppress your immune system and of course it quickly emerged that Covid had a bigger impact on people with weakened immune systems, “ he said.

“The risk assessment we had meant I had to comply with not coming into the (hospital) sites, and working remotely.

“It is interesting though how quickly we all adapt. I had 108 of our staff in a similar position, working remotely because of their illnesses and risk, but people adapted really well.

“I felt I could lead. I had to lead the organisation from a distance, from March to July, and then again in November time. Now we are back on site.”

Mr Hopkins has had both Covid vaccinations which he said made him feel far more comfortable about going out, and encouraged everyone to take up their vaccine when offered.

Speaking on the current situation at the three hospitals, Mr Hopkins said: “We are back to pre-Covid levels of capacity in our diagnostic tests.

“In terms of our urgent patients that need to be brought in again for surgery, we are seeing them quickly again now.

“For the routine non urgent care it is going to be a good year or more, possibly two years, before we are back to pre-Covid waiting times.

“Over the course of the last year our waiting list has grown by a third, and we are still adding people to it.

“We would actually want to improve them (waiting times) because the people of Worcestershire have had to wait longer than average, so we are keen for better waiting times - but that is going to take a couple of years.

“I feel very sorry for people (on the list) who have been affected, but I know people will understand we had to prioritise the sick patients that were coming in.

"In the first lockdown we were instructed to focus on the Covid patients and then in the second we were asked to get the balance right, but were dealing with the second peak which was much greater than the first, and so the impact was much greater on those waiting for routine treatment.

“Our staff did their very best.”

Mr Hopkins said he was sure there would be some kind of government public enquiry into the handling of the pandemic.

“I’m sure the NHS will also be doing a review of the incident response and how things have been organised,” he said.

“If you think of major incidents we normally deal with like a train crash or chemical spillage, those would last perhaps a week at most, whereas this lasted a year. We need to learn how best to manage an incident that goes on for a long time.

“Certainly locally we learned a lot from the first wave of the infected patients and we applied that learning to how we handled the second wave. Now numbers are down to single figures in our hospitals we will look again at how our response has worked, and see if there is any further learning because we can’t exclude the fact there might be a third wave later in the year.”