After years of research, collaborative planning and a full refit, the former maternity unit at Whangarei Hospital has been rebirthed as Te Wāhi Tirohia Oranga Whēkau, Northland DHBs new Endoscopy Suite, which when translated means, ‘looking inside for the wellbeing of your health’.
Unfortunately for the Endoscopy team, the official opening was scheduled to occur on Wednesday 25 March. Just hours before Alert Level 4 came into force, so it had to be put on the back burner and ever since they have been busily adjusting to their new space albeit much sooner than expected.
Endoscopy Services clinical nurse manager Chloe Henderson said the original plan was to carry on procedures in the Theatre Department for five weeks after the official opening. Allowing them time to set the new Suite up operationally and do mock run-throughs and extra training.
However, when the Surgical Admissions Unit (SAU) was shut down due to COVID-19, Chloe said they lost the pre and post-procedure spaces for their patients.
"One week into Alert Level 4, we were informed that we were to come back online with urgent endoscopy, the decision was made to make the move."
They swiftly relocated their entire operation over three days, rather than the planned five weeks. Chloe said there was a lot to do in a very short time, but they managed it safely, and it all ended up fine.
Northland patients were grateful for the opportunity to continue with appointments where possible. However, some were too frightened to leave their bubbles to attend, which included patients from Kaitaia. The latter had to travel down to Whangarei after Kaitaia Hospital's Theatre was turned into a red zone during the pandemic.
Although there is still a lot to be ironed out, Chloe said they are all feeling a bit more settled, and it is good to see the project finally come to fruition, "The main thing was that we were able to move here and bring a service to our patients during COVID-19, which was great."
Before the Suite opened, Endoscopy patients were admitted by SAU. Then they would have their procedures done by the Endoscopy team in a small room in the Theatre Department or the satellite unit out of Outpatients on Mondays and Tuesdays. The patients were then recovered and discharged home by the SAU staff.
The nurses in Te Wāhi Tirohia Oranga Whēkau now work in all roles; admitting patients, working in the procedure room and looking after patients in the recovery phase. The nurses also share in the on call roster providing support after hours for emergency endoscopy cases in the Theatre Department.
Chloe's focus is to ensure the quality of the procedures is high, and her team have the flexibility to deal with difficult cases without putting them under any extra pressure.
"It was challenging to work out how to staff a standalone suite when we had always been a part of a much bigger department. It wasn't as easy as just picking up the Service and dropping it in a new location.
"A new model of care had to be planned to increase efficiency, flexibility and patient care, and we hope this will improve our ability to see all patients, including acute patients on time.
"We had to ask for more staff than what we had allocated to us in Theatre, and we are in the process of interviewing for more staff at the moment."
Currently, because there is no screening for Northlanders, patients only come to the Service if they have been to their GP with an issue or have been identified as having a family history or previous symptoms that need checking on.
"Often, patients don't know why they have been referred to us. Our speciality clinic nurse Sandra Cunningham does a wonderful job to get them on board to help them understand why they are having tests done and alleviate any fears they might have. It's a tough job, but we need to know people are seen to give them the best chance to deal with whatever they have."
As June is Bowel Cancer Awareness month, Chloe and her team encourage Northlanders to go to their GP if they think they have any bowel issues, because early detection is vital.
The National Bowel Screening Programme (NBSP) which is being rolled out gradually across the country is due to be launched in Northland in August 2021. The free NBSP is for men and women aged 60 to 74.
Meanwhile, the Service continues to get lots of great feedback from patients who appreciate the well designed, open space. Chloe said her nurses love working there, and one of the locums who has worked all over the country and overseas, told her it is the best endoscopy suite in New Zealand, which makes all their hard work and planning worthwhile.
Image: Chloe Henderson in the new Endoscopy Suite