Covid Scotland: Booster vaccine target will further stretch NHS, health chiefs warn, as Yousaf labels new restrictions 'inevitable'
The target to offer all adults a Covid booster by the end of the year will put further pressure on an already stretched NHS, health chiefs have said amid warnings that fresh restrictions may be announced today.
Health secretary Humza Yousaf warned new restrictions would be “inevitable”, while the first person to die with Omicron was recorded in the UK yesterday.
It comes as the Scottish Government asked the public for “patience” amid reports of people being unable to book booster vaccine appointments across the country, and pleas for military support.
The UK Government said it had not granted a request from the Scottish Government for extra troops to help meet the ambitious vaccination target.
An additional 200 people will support the programme in England, it was announced on Monday, but the figure of 100 personnel already working in Scotland will stay the same, despite calls from Scottish ministers to increase this.
Healthcare leaders have supported the vaccination drive and increased protective measures in Scotland, but warned they will put further pressure on an NHS already struggling to cope.
GPs, who are already delivering some vaccinations in partnership with some health boards, must not be expected to take on more of a role, BMA Scotland said.
Practices are already in an “incredibly difficult situation” and struggling to keep up with workloads, said Dr Andrew Buist, Chair of BMA Scotland’s GP Committee.
The Royal College of Nursing also voiced concern about the expansion.
Nurses in Scotland are already facing huge demands and under “unsustainable pressure”, said Norman Provan, RCN Scotland Associate Director.
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf admitted on Monday that meeting the end-of-year target may require some elective surgeries to be cancelled as staff are relocated to the vaccine programme.
Professor Michael Griffin, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, said the direct impact on surgeries may be relatively limited, as much of this work had already been postponed until after the winter.
But the potential impact on primary care staff is “particularly concerning”, he said.
“The individuals who provide surgical access, in other words theatre staff, anaesthetists and surgeons, are unlikely to be the individuals who will be providing the vaccine rollout,” he said.
“So I really don't think it is going to make a huge amount of difference to surgical recovery.”
He added: “What I am concerned about is the difference it makes to primary care and their ability to look after and respond to both elective and urgent referrals as a result of this.”
Prof Griffin added that new self-isolation rules may cause the biggest problems in terms of pressure on the NHS.
Under the new rules in Scotland, all household contacts of anyone with Covid-19 must self-isolated for ten days, even if they have been fully vaccinated.
“What we are facing now is more healthcare workers having to self-isolate if people in their family have tested positive, so that there is going to be an increasing problem with workforce,” he said.
He added: “If more staff have to go off for longer periods because of the Omicron variant, because they've had exposure to it despite being vaccinated, then that is going to have a more of a knock-on effect and redeployment of staff to give the vaccines.”
Despite these added workforce pressures, Prof Griffin added that he supported the “cautious” approach of the Scottish Government to slowing the spread of the Omicron variant.
It comes as the Scottish Government asked the public for “patience” amid reports of people being unable to book booster vaccine appointments.
Eligible Scots took to social media on Monday morning to report being unable to book appointments, after the online booking portal opened to those aged 30 to 39.
"Edinburgh has zero appointments”, wrote one user on Twitter, while another added, “Trying to book a booster appointment in Edinburgh and I feel like Schwarzenegger looking for that toy in Jingle All the Way”.
Another Twitter user reported that “nowhere has appointments” in Glasgow, while another said they had found no slots available at any facility in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board area.
Mr Yousaf asked people to “be patient and bear with us” as the system is experiencing very high demand.
A spokesperson for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said the health board was considering options to increase capacity in the coming days and weeks.
“At this time we would ask for the public’s patience and support for our vaccine teams on the ground who are working tirelessly to administer as many doses as possible,” they said.
“Given the significant increase in the number of people attending our clinics, patients may find they have to wait longer than expected, but please rest assured we are doing everything possible to make sure everyone is able to get an appointment and receive their booster at one of our vaccine clinics.”
Ian Murray, Labour MP for Edinburgh South, called on the Scottish Government to provide more resources and facilitate more drop-in centres.
“There are problems across Edinburgh, with people struggling to find appointment slots in locations close to them until the New Year despite the rollout having to increase,” he said.
“Some are having to travel long distances, even outwith the city, the secure a booster appointment.
“It’s more important than ever to get Scotland boosted to protect our NHS and save lives.
“We have asked so much of our NHS staff in recent months, but once again we must do so again – and the Scottish Government must provide the health service with the necessary resources to meet the ambitious vaccination targets, including widespread drop-in centres.”
Edinburgh Health and Social Care Partnership, which leads the vaccination programme in Edinburgh, did not respond to a request for comment.
The Scottish Conservatives urged the government to take further steps to re-open mass vaccination centres.
"The rapid rollout of mass vaccine centres and more drop-in clinics is now a necessity. It is mission critical that the booster jag programme accelerates to win the race between the vaccine and the virus,” said Scottish Conservative Leader Douglas Ross.
A spokesperson said the Scottish Government is “working urgently” to increase appointment capacity.
"We are working with all the Health Boards to increase the number of appointments as quickly as possible and more are becoming available on a daily basis as we recruit more vaccinators,” they said.
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