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NHS Scotland placed on ‘emergency footing’ to deal with coronavirus outbreak

Image credit: Anna Moffat/Holyrood

NHS Scotland placed on ‘emergency footing’ to deal with coronavirus outbreak

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman has announced NHS Scotland will be placed “on an emergency footing for at least the next three months” to deal with the outbreak of coronavirus, with non-urgent operations suspended.

Freeman’s speech to the Scottish Parliament came as news broke that a second patient in Scotland had died after testing positive to Covid-19. More than 5,000 tests have now been conducted in the country, with 195 people in Scotland testing positive for the virus.

She told parliament the Covid-19 outbreak would lead to “nothing short of the most rapid reconfiguration of our health service in its 71-year history”.

“We are asking our society to take some truly unprecedented steps to suppress the spread of this infection and minimise its impact. Our goal is simple: to protect and save lives, and we need everyone’s help to achieve this,” Freeman said.

“To respond to Covid-19 requires a swift and radical change in the way that our NHS does its work.

“I am formally placing our national health service on emergency footing for at least the next three months. I am giving my instructions to NHS Scotland and the individual health boards to do all that is necessary to be ready to face a substantial and sustained increase in the cases of Covid-19.

“Should I require new regulations to enable our boards to achieve this, I will bring them before this parliament swiftly.”

She said the first goal would be “to double the ICU capacity in Scotland”.

“Boards are working towards this by providing the necessary training for staff and by repurposing facilities,” Freeman said.

“Our contingency planning for the supply of oxygen both in hospital and in the community is in place and we have ordered a further 450 new standard concentrators for use in the community as well as further contingency which can be called on if necessary.”

She said current bed capacity in NHS Scotland was 13,000 but boards were taking all necessary steps to increase this by a further 3000 beds and this would lead to the suspension of some non-urgent operations.

“Our normal programme of non-urgent elective operations will be suspended. I want to be very clear though, vital cancer treatments, emergency, maternity and urgent care will continue,” she said.

“NHS boards are aware that they must take a structured approach around postponing of non-urgent elective procedures with a view that the patients will remain on the waiting list until it is clinically appropriate to have their procedure undertaken. All boards are developing local mobilisation plans to achieve this.”

Freeman said a national cancer treatment response group would be created, to provide advice and support for those receiving cancer treatments.

“The impact of Covid-19 on cancer patients has been a priority in all of our planning. And we will ensure that all appropriate measures are undertaken in the present situation to protect those living with cancer,” she said.

Additionally, Freeman said she had set a goal for health boards to reduce delayed discharges by “at least 400 by the end of this month”, and she said she was engaging with the independent health care sector in Scotland about whether they can help maximise available bed capacity to help the NHS.

“All of these steps will necessitate some redeployment of staff within our health service,” she said.

“We’ve issued guidance to health staff on planning and redeployment. We will keep these under review regularly, with updates and advice as the situation evolves.”

She said she was looking at deploying senior students in nursing, allied health professions and medicine into settings “appropriate to their skills” to help with tackling the virus outbreak.

“As we work to suppress this infection, we will continue a strong testing regime that will include that workers, including frontline staff, will be tested first so that they don’t self-isolate unnecessarily,” she said.

“The safety and well-being of our hard-working NHS staff is a huge priority and I expect all boards to ensure that staff dealing with Covid-19 cases have the appropriate training and personal protective equipment to ensure their safety.”

She said supplies of facemasks, aprons, gloves and eye protection for GPs had been issued to health boards.

Freeman said people who are immunosuppressed will be contacted by the NHS next week and advised of “the stringent measures you need to take to keep yourself and others safe”.

“NHS Scotland will make those contacts directly next week and work closely with other social services to ensure that supported is provided,” she said.

“We are discussing with Scottish Care and COSLA what more can be done to ensure the overall wellbeing of residents in long-term care homes. We are also engaging with third sector partners who have contact with, and already support, those who are clinically vulnerable to ensure people receive the right advice on what precautions to take and that those supporting them also have the best information available on how to keep people safe.”

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