The First Minister said despite rising Covid cases, plans to fully reopen the NHS would still go ahead, and the temporary Covid hospital, the NHS Louisa Jordan based in Glasgow’s SECC, would not close, although a contract had been signed for it to be decommissioned.
However, opposition politicians said Nicola Sturgeon had “no plan” to tackle the backlog of operations built up as a result of much of the NHS closing down to focus on tackling coronavirus.
New figures from Public Health Scotland revealed the total number of planned operations across NHS Scotland fell by 50.7 per cent, from 28,036 in August 2019 to 13,831 in August this year.
Of the scheduled procedures 7.1 per cent were cancelled either the day before or within hours of when patients were due to be treated.
According to Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton, more than 100,000 scheduled operations have been lost to the pandemic.
He said: “These statistics are another devastating insight into the wider harm being caused by Covid-19. The Scottish Government was right to pause non-essential treatments to ensure that the NHS wasn't overwhelmed. But while we protect people from the virus, people are suffering in different ways and some people's conditions are deteriorating.
"The operations backlog continues to grow. It shows the need for a robust NHS recovery plan which maximises capacity while also keeping patients and staff safe.”
Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said: “Thousands of patients in Scotland have had their operations cancelled and delayed and SNP ministers seem to have no plan to get our NHS back on track. We shouldn’t be in the position where the NHS can only respond to Covid-19 and little else.”
Asked about the statistics at her daily Covid briefing, Ms Sturgeon conceded that operation numbers were dramatically down "because of the potential of being exposed to Covid”.
She said: “But the numbers are rising again so the recovery work and backlog will take some time to complete. A winter planning statement is scheduled for after the October [parliamentary] recess to set out the progress and contingency work under way.
"It is the job of the health secretary to make sure we have capacity and we have earmarked additional capacity for Covid and we have the Louisa Jordan which is there as a contingency for Covid should we need it.”
Ms Sturgeon said while there was a “contract for the eventual decommissioning” of the hospital, the Government had also extended the lease could do so again. "We're not about to close it early,” she said.
The government's clinical director, Professor Jason Leitch, said winter planning was "always challenging", but “now there's the extra layer of maintaining capacity for Covid – we had 800 new positives today and some will be hospitalised in a few weeks time so we have to keep capacity in our hospitals for Covid cases, which means winter planning is harder this year”.