Covid Scotland: Army support will not solve NHS crisis, doctors warn

Support from the Army is not a “never-ending resource” and will not make a major impact on the existing crisis in Scotland’s NHS, doctors’ union BMA Scotland has said.

The warning comes as NHS Lothian has become the second health board to say it is “actively considering” asking for help from the Army, along with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Borders are already receiving help from soldiers, while Grampian and Ayrshire and Arran health boards have made similar requests.

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In Lanarkshire, the entire health board has been declared at the highest, “black”, level of risk.

Picture: OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty ImagesPicture: OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images
Picture: OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

Dr Lewis Morrison, chair of BMA Scotland, warned these local flare-ups were representative of the rest of NHS Scotland.

"When we get these local situations, they are really just an illustration of the system-wide pressure across the whole country,” he said.

"It doesn't take too much more to tip a locality over the edge.

“There are very few areas which have not found themselves in these near or at capacity situations, potentially with the exception of some of the smaller, more remote rural health boards. But even then, their geographic fragility means that they're not too far away from that.”

Dr Morrison said he expected these local problems to continue.

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“The pattern so far has been individual health boards, or even individual hospitals, sporadically finding themselves under a peak of pressure, which takes them beyond the capacity that they have to deal with,” he said.

“I suspect over the coming weeks that's what we're likely to see. There will be a problem in another health board and then another health board sequentially.

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“What I'm worried about is that this becomes a consistent, persistent issue, across many health boards.”

Ahead of NHS Grampian asking for military support, head of health intelligence Jillian Evans said she expected other boards were in a similar situation.

Dr Morrison cautioned while support from the Army was welcome, it was not a long-term solution.

The problems are not only down to the pandemic, he said, but are also affected by long-standing issues within the NHS, including staffing shortages and pressures on social care.

“The armed forces are not an unlimited source of potential reserve for these things,” he said.

“My main concern is that the extent to which they can actually help and the length of time for which they'll be able to help isn't going to make a major impact on the kind of crisis that we're seeing at the moment.

“But on the other hand, any help is welcome.”

The Ministry of Defence previously said requests for help which meet the relevant criteria will “continue to be supported”.

It comes after Devi Sridhar, professor of public health at Edinburgh University, said she believed the biggest concern around Covid in Scotland was currently the pressure on the NHS.

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She has called for Covid restrictions to be strengthened, saying: “I think what people need to realise is that when they need the NHS in December, it may not be there in the way we want it to be if we don't put in protections.”

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