Covid Scotland: NHS Grampian chief says clearing surgery backlog will take years with some hospitals declaring ‘code black’

The chief executive of NHS Grampian has said clearing the backlog of hospital operations will take years – adding that the current wave of the coronavirus pandemic had left staff “exhausted”.

The recent spike in infections has put many parts of the NHS in Scotland under pressure, with some hospitals declaring “code black” and postponing non-urgent surgery.

NHS Grampian is urging people in the region to help relieve pressure on the health service, reminding patients they should call 111 rather than heading straight to hospital if they suffer an injury which is not life-threatening.

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Professor Caroline Hiscox told the Press and Journal newspaper: “Every single day the clinicians sit down and discuss who is going to get access to (the operating) theatre.

“One of the things they discuss every day is how they avoid cancelling any patients waiting for surgery.”

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She added: “When we are talking about recovering things like surgery we’re not talking weeks, we’re not talking months, we are talking years to recover the position of our surgical backlog.”

Admissions at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary are rising “significantly and rapidly”, she said, while many staff were becoming “exhausted”.

Clearing the backlog of hospital operations will take years, the chief executive of NHS Grampian has said.

Prof Hiscox continued: “The number of patients attending through accident and emergency, or through their general practitioners, are more unwell and the volume of those patients are higher.

“We have had to reduce our bed base to comply with physical distancing.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We recognise the additional pressure NHS staff are facing as they work tirelessly to respond to the pandemic whilst continuing to provide vital treatment and safe patient care.

“We are in daily contact with Boards facing the greatest challenges and are monitoring the situation closely, and they have provided assurances that those of most clinical urgency will continue during this challenging period.

“We have allocated an additional £380 million to Health Boards to help with costs arising from the pandemic. This comes on top of the £1.7 billion already provided to Health Boards and Health and Social Care Partnerships last year.

“We have also outlined an £8 million package to support the wellbeing of health and social care staff to fund a number of immediate recovery actions and lead to the development of a National Wellbeing programme in recognition of the incredible work being done across the country as we remobilise.

“Although pandemic related pressures have eased over recent months, as restrictions relax we are seeing a rise in non-Covid attendances and admissions. We are encouraging people to consider options closer to home, by seeking medical advice online at NHS inform, by calling NHS 24, their GP practice, or by contacting their local pharmacy who can also help and prescribe treatment.”

She said: “We are still going to see more people in hospital over the next few weeks.

“We know that there’s at least three or four health boards in Scotland that are expressing real concern about their capacity.”

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