Edinburgh hospital 'at breaking point' as staff fear 'toxic triad' of viral infections

Concerns have been raised by an NHS Lothian doctor that Edinburgh’s Sick Kids hospital could be at breaking point due to Covid and two viruses which would normally not make an impact until winter.

The new Royal Hospital for Children & Young People. Picture: Scott Louden

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Paediatrician Thomas Christie Williams warned “a toxic triad of RSV, rhinovirus and SARS-CoV-2 (Covid) is starting to stretch the Scottish hospital I work in to its limits”.

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The Sick Kids doctor also warned his colleagues in the emergency department “look burnt out and exhausted”, and that nursing colleagues “fret about the weeks and months to come”.

The concern is that seasonal illnesses would swamp services in NHS Lothian and affect children, with existing infection levels having already risen to worrying levels.

Union leaders had warned only last month that patients were facing up to 12 hours wait at accident-and-emergency at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (ERI) amid warnings of a major crisis caused by “crippling” staff shortages.

Conditions at the ERI's emergency department had been previously likened to “a bad winter”. More than a dozen beds at the Western General in Edinburgh and St John’s in Livingston have also recently been closed.

The pressure on hospitals across the Lothians comes as Covid-19 cases among those aged under 18 in Scotland have skyrocketed as children return to school.

Most children in Scotland returned to school around three weeks ago, and now cases among those in school account for more than 11 per cent of cases, with little indication that this will fall.

Rowland Kao, a mathematical biologist at the University of Edinburgh who studies infectious diseases, said: “There are people who haven’t been vaccinated, people who are immunocompromised as well as the possible effects of declining immunity and so you have a combination of things that will make the upcoming period extremely volatile.”

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Professor Kao added that jabs for teenagers younger than 16 could be used as a tool to tackle the problem.

“With the rising number of infections and with the knowledge that even with vaccination there is still the possibility of reinfection, vaccinating more people and at younger ages would seem to make sense,” he said.

NHS Lothian remains one of Europe’s worth Covid hot-spots, with the health board ranked in the top six for highest rates.

A total of 987 new positive Covid cases were recorded in NHS Lothian in the 24 hours to Wednesday, with 6,303 cases in the past week alone.

Dr Tracey Gillies, m​edical director at NHS Lothian, said: “Our staff have worked extremely hard throughout the pandemic and we continue to closely monitor the impact pressure is having on our teams.

"We have put in place a wide range of physical, emotional and mental health support for staff, and we routinely assess and risk plan to ensure safe staffing levels.

“People can also help to relieve pressure on our services by visiting NHS Inform online or calling 111 for guidance on accessing the right care service for non-life threatening conditions. With winter approaching we ask everyone to play their part in protecting the NHS."

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