NHS could have to resort to urgent healthcare only, BMA Scotland warns

·4-min read
Doctors’ leaders warned ongoing pressure from the Covid pandemic may see the NHS forced to ‘support urgent healthcare services only’ (Peter Byrne/PA)
Doctors’ leaders warned ongoing pressure from the Covid pandemic may see the NHS forced to ‘support urgent healthcare services only’ (Peter Byrne/PA)

Pressure on the NHS in the wake of surging Covid cases could see medics forced to “support urgent healthcare services only”, doctors’ leaders have warned.

Dr Lewis Morrison, the chair of the British Medical Association in Scotland said that without “big changes” in either infection levels or the rules on self-isolation, the health service could find itself in such a situation.

His comments came after Scotland recorded a record number of coronavirus cases, with figures announced on Wednesday revealing a further 15,849 had been infected with the virus – the highest daily total in the pandemic so far.

Over the coming weeks we may have to find ourselves in a situation where we support urgent healthcare services only, unless there is a big change in either the numbers or the rules

Dr Lewis Morrison, chair, BMA Scotland

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf refused to rule out the need for field hospitals – as the NHS in England started setting up new Nightingale “surge hubs” at hospitals.

The Scottish Health Secretary however stressed a “range of other options” were being considered to increase capacity in the NHS.

It comes at the same time as the Scottish Government is also looking at relaxing the rules on self-isolation – which currently require people to stay at home for 10 days if they test positive, even if they have no symptoms.

In England, however, isolation can be ended earlier, if people return negative lateral flow tests on days six and seven of their isolation.

Scotland also requires all those people living in the same home as someone with the virus to isolate for 10 days.

Dr Morrison spoke out about the impact that having large numbers of staff self-isolating was having on services, saying: “If you go to work and you’re missing colleagues, then there is extra work to do.”

But he told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “Additional to that, there is going to work and not knowing how many colleagues you are going to have. I worked the Christmas weekend and two colleagues essentially were self-isolating, one going into the weekend we knew already and one was essentially sent home because someone they lived with tested positive.

“It’s that level of anxiety I think people feel, not knowing how much work you are going to have to do and how long you are going to have to stay when you go into work.

“That is on the back of the fact that we have been dealing with this pandemic for a very long time, people are pretty washed out.”

Speaking about the ongoing impact of the pandemic on the NHS, he added: “When the system comes under pressure you have to have a plan to be able to shut down the less urgent things and redeploy people to the absolutely essential things, urgent care, the front door of hospitals.

“The problem with that is trying to do it at short notice and of course the expectation people understandably have that having aspects of their healthcare postponed yet again, nobody wants to do that.

“But I think over the coming weeks we may have to find ourselves in a situation where we support urgent healthcare services only, unless there is a big change in either the numbers or the rules.”

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said ministers needed to see a ‘range of data’ before deciding if self isolation rules can be changed. (Jane Barlow/PA)
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said ministers needed to see a ‘range of data’ before deciding if self isolation rules can be changed. (Jane Barlow/PA)

Mr Yousaf explained ministers were waiting for a “range of data” on the impact of the new Omicron variant to become available before making a final decision on whether or not to change the rules on self-isolation.

He explained: “Essentially the question we are looking to answer from that range of data is whether or not reducing the isolation period could inadvertently accelerate transmission in the community, and of course that would be bad for public services and bad for the economy.”

Mr Yousaf told BBC Radio Scotland: “We can all see and understand the enormous pressure that our public services and indeed our economy is under, so we hear the call from those individuals, from those parts of society, asking us to look at this reduction in the isolation period.

“But I won’t pre-empt any final decision that is made, we’re genuinely looking at it with an open mind and being guided by the data.”

Asked if field hospitals may be needed if the surge in Covid cases results in a large increase in hospital patients, the Health Secretary said he was “not completely ruling it out”.

But he stated: “We are looking at a range of other options where we need to increase capacity, maximise the workforce, ensure that those who are clinically safe to discharge are discharged and we are at capacity in our hospitals.

“So all options are being explored in preparation for what could be a really challenging few weeks ahead.”

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