The NHS in Scotland may be unable to cope with any surge in virus infections, according to leading medics in Scotland who have issued a grave warning over the arrival of a new variant of covid-19 when the vaccination programme remains ‘months away from making a significant difference’.
Members of the Scottish Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties say the governments of the four UK nations must work more closely together to control community transmission over the Christmas holidays.
They warn the arrival of the new, more transmissible variant of covid-19 during the festive period, combined with the normal winter surge in respiratory illness and hospital admissions, could produce a ‘perfect storm’ that threatens to overwhelm the health service.
All of mainland Scotland entered the highest level of covid restrictions on Boxing Day, while a travel ban between Scotland and England is also in force.
Representatives from the Royal Colleges of Anaesthetists, General Practitioners, Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, Physicians of Edinburgh, and Surgeons of Edinburgh, said:
“We know there is hope on the horizon with the roll-out of a national immunisation programme, with further vaccines likely to be approved shortly.
“However, it will take months for this to make a significant difference, and the short-term situation facing our NHS and public health services remains bleak.
“The NHS and social care across Scotland are now on an emergency footing, with services already severely stretched. Scotland has been able to reduce infection rates, but the new strain is highly infectious and will undoubtedly increase the rate of COVID-19 infection and hospital admissions in the days and weeks ahead.
“We are gravely concerned that this could lead to the NHS being overwhelmed.”
Just before Christmas, people on the shielding list because they are most at-risk of covid-19 were advised to take extra precautions when mainland Scotland entered the level four Boxing Day lockdown.
The Colleges group added: “NHS staff are exhausted but are continuing to work hard to keep the public safe. However, in the face of the new strain, we are calling on the public, once again, to recognise the severity of the situation and take the necessary steps to support our health and social care services.
“Our plea to the public is simple, please do not let your guard down now.
“You must continue to play your part to protect the NHS and save lives. Our general practices are exceptionally busy and our hospitals are already near capacity. We risk facing a ‘perfect storm’ of challenges if we don’t take collective action now to prevent further spread of covid-19.
“We are calling for social distancing to be two metres at all times and for masks to be worn in any situation where you are meeting people who are not in your household or bubble – indoors or outdoors.
“All other potential measures to decrease community transmission should be considered by the government.
“This is urgently required so our NHS can focus on three key tasks – rolling out the vaccine programme, continuing with the rapid testing programmes, and providing emergency care for covid as well as other medical problems.
“Only by continuing to look out for each other and following the rules can we give our NHS doctors, nurses and support staff the best chance to do their jobs in the difficult weeks ahead.”