Getting the hospital back to some kind of normality could be a bigger challenge than tackling the coronavirus pandemic’s early stages, the boss of Great Western Hospital said.

Kevin McNamara, chief executive of the Marlborough Road hospital, and his team are planning how to re-start day-to-day procedures and appointments.

It’s harder than you might think. Without a vaccine, coronavirus is likely to affect matters for some time.

Managers plan to divide the hospital in two: blue areas and green areas. Areas marked blue will be for coronavirus patients, green for everybody else.

Mr McNamara told the Adver: “I think there is recognition from the board of directors’ perspective that this next phase might be an even bigger challenge than the first phase, in terms of how do we start getting back in but doing it in a way that’s safe.”

At the start of the outbreak the hospital cancelled all non-essential appointments and routine activity, including most operations.

A number of the hospital’s services, including its cancer department and its ambulatory care unit for the walking wounded, were moved to the private Ridgeway Hospital in Wroughton in order to limit the risk from coronavirus.

With a tail off in the number of deaths in Swindon – as well as nationally – managers at GWH are turning their minds to how to business as usual, or at least as close an approximation to it as they can manage.

Mr McNamara said: “How do we do that? Think about radiology. When patients are going to be coming in, as we start opening activity back up if you come in and you’ve got Covid symptoms and you need to have a scan but you don’t need to be admitted, how do we do that if we’ve got a single item of kit? How do we make sure you’re in and safe? What if you’ve got two bits of kit but they’re in the same room? It’s the logistical challenge of all of that.”

Managers must also consider how dozens of senior doctors redeployed to fight coronavirus in gruelling three days on-three days off shifts can go back to working their usual jobs.

The difficulties of putting on and taking off PPE might mean fewer patients can be seen in clinics every day.

Mr McNamara said: “In some areas we’re going to have to take beds out because we need to keep distances between them. That’s in an organisation that, going into winter, didn’t have enough beds anyway.”

Chiefs at the hospital are meeting this week to discuss how to meet the challenges. Mr McNamara would not put a date on when normal service could resume.

Early on in the pandemic, GWH introduced round-the-clock mental health support for staff. That will continue, with a charity committee last week meeting to discuss how cash raised by Capt Tom Moore and other fundraisers could support staff mental health in the longer term.

“We’ve got to think of things in terms of post-traumatic stress,” Mr McNamara said. “Not only will staff have had the work pressure of having to deal with really difficult situations, but they’ll be doing that in the context of their own lives, away from their families and children.”