NHS facing ‘significant’ pressure as peak of Omicron wave approaches – Yousaf

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  • Humza Yousaf
    Scottish politician (born 1985)
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said with Scotland ‘absolutely’ heading into the peak of the Omicron wave, the NHS is under ‘significant’ pressure (Jeff J Mitchell/PA)
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said with Scotland ‘absolutely’ heading into the peak of the Omicron wave, the NHS is under ‘significant’ pressure (Jeff J Mitchell/PA)

The NHS faces “really difficult decisions” in the coming weeks as Omicron infections reach their peak, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has said.

Mr Yousaf said Scotland is “absolutely heading into that peak”, adding this is expected to happen “over the course of the next few weeks”.

He issued the warning as bosses at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde urged people not to go to accident and emergency departments unless their condition is “very urgent or life-threatening”.

With Covid infections now in the worst case scenario level as set out in a Scottish Government paper on Omicron, Mr Yousaf told how the health service faces a “perfect storm” over the winter period.

The Government paper, published in December, warned that in the worst case scenario, the number of coronavirus cases reported each day could hit between 7,500 and 25,000.

I don’t think there’s any way of sugar coating the fact that these next few weeks will probably be amongst the most difficult our NHS has ever faced in its 73-year existence

Humza Yousaf, Health Secretary

Earlier this week Scotland recorded a record high number of cases for the pandemic, with 20,217 infections reported in just one day – with more than a third (34.9%) of all cases coming back positive.

“We’re clearly into the worst case scenario in terms of levels of infection,” Mr Yousaf told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Thursday.

He added that as Omicron “thankfully” tends to be a less severe infection, this will “hopefully give us a more optimistic picture in terms of hospitalisations”.

However he warned: “Even a small percentage of a big number is itself a big number at a time when the NHS doesn’t have much headroom at all, and that is putting real pressure, coupled with staff absences, on our NHS and social care system.

“I don’t think there’s any way of sugar coating the fact that these next few weeks will probably be amongst the most difficult our NHS has ever faced in its 73-year existence.

(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)

“We are facing pressures on a number of fronts, we have the pandemic backlog that has built up over the last 21-odd months, we have high levels of staff absences, with increases because of Omicron and its higher transmissibility. Then of course we are also treating people, over 1,200 people who are in hospital with Covid.”

The number of people in hospital who have Covid has increased by 80% over the past week to stand at 1,223, figures published on Wednesday showed.

Mr Yousaf added cases are rising “during the winter months when we tend to see busier hospitals, more pressure on our health service”.

This, he said, “means there is a perfect storm in place across the winter”.

The Health Secretary was blunt as he warned: “This is going to be an extremely challenging period.”

He pledged the Government will do “everything we can”, with efforts being made to treat people at risk of requiring hospital care at home with new anti-viral medications.

“Hopefully that helps us with our capacity challenges,” he said.

(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)

But despite this, he said NHS bosses across Scotland are “already making exceptionally difficult decisions in terms of prioritising care”.

Mr Yousaf said: “Ultimately the health service will be there to assist, to support, to care, to treat you.

“What we are saying to people is that in these next few weeks there will be significant, significant pressure on the health service, so please do make sure you get the right treatment at the right time at the right place.

“Clearly what we can’t do is stop people having heart attacks, strokes, coming in to emergency care, but yes where health boards have to make really difficult decisions around non-emergency care they are already doing that, and we are seeing examples of that up and down the country.

“Nobody takes those decisions lightly, and of course we will look to restart treatment as best as we possibly can. There is no doubt at all we will prioritise certain treatments, such as cancer treatment for example.

“These are really difficult times therefore they precipitate we need difficult decisions being made.”

It comes as bosses at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde appealed to patients not attend A&E without first calling NHS24 on 111.

Glasgow health board bosses have urged people not to attend A&E units unless they have been referred (PA) (PA Wire)
Glasgow health board bosses have urged people not to attend A&E units unless they have been referred (PA) (PA Wire)

Scott Davidson, deputy medical director for acute services, said: “Our A&Es remain open and continue to assess, treat and admit emergency patients, however they are extremely busy and staff are facing huge challenges to ensure we’re able to treat patients safely and as quickly as possible.

“We continue to see large numbers of people attending with symptoms that could be managed by speaking to a GP, local pharmacy, or by calling NHS24 on 111 before attending A&E.

“As a result of current demand at A&E, people are facing long wait times and our staff are under severe pressure.

“There are other services geared up and ready to see and treat you. If you’ve had a slip, trip or fall, we have numerous minor injuries units across NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde which can look after you, including if you’ve broken a limb.

“GP practices across Greater Glasgow and Clyde are operating normal hours, and community pharmacies are also open to help you get the treatment you need.

“Unless very urgent or life-threatening, please do not attend our A&Es unless you are referred.”

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