Public not told NHS health board breached Covid-19 capacity amid call for transparency around hospitalisations

The Scottish public was left in the dark as one of the country’s NHS health boards breached its winter Covid-19 capacity as a new lockdown was announced, it has emerged.

NHS Ayrshire and Arran breached its winter Covid-19 capacity on Sunday, January 3 after a major spike in the number of patients in the region’s hospitals.

On Monday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, using the latest figures available to her, said the board was at 96 per cent capacity.

However, data published the next day showed the region was treating 184 patients on the Sunday, well above the area’s capacity.

A patient receiving a vaccination in hospital. Picture: Habibur Rahman

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For planning purposes, the Scottish Government uses a figure of 169 beds in Ayrshire and Arran for the board’s winter Covid-19 capacity.

During the week, more patients arrived with Covid-19, going on to breach the health board's higher autumn capacity of 203 patients with 204 patients in hospitals in the region.

On Friday, Ms Sturgeon and national clinical director Jason Leitch were both asked whether any health board had “breached its capacity for Covid-19 beds”.

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In response, the First Minister said “no health board has run out of beds in that way”.

She said: “If you look back earlier this week, you have Greater Glasgow and Clyde managing patients across their different hospital sites.

"That is not, by any stretch of the imagination, unheard of at times of winter pressure, so they have managed to do that, they have not run out of beds, no health board has run out of beds in that way.

"Nationally we have hospital occupancy with Covid patients above the April peak. There are some health boards that have been above that peak for some considerable time and many health boards are operating at a very high level of occupancy, which is an indication of the pressure they are under.”

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Prof Leitch added: “We haven’t run out of beds, so people should be reassured that the health service remains open and available to you. If you have a stroke or a heart attack, we are there for you and if you have Covid, we are there for you.

"For planning purposes we have to, of course, think with the health boards how many beds should we reserve for Covid and that changes over time.

"We have capacity, but as the First Minister says that capacity sometimes needs moved around the country, moved around health boards and we will continue to do that as the winter goes on.”

Health boards will have flexibility to take in more patients than they have planned capacity.

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However, Professor Linda Bauld, chair of public health at the Usher Institute at the University of Edinburgh, called for full transparency on hospital cases.

She said: “Transparency is really important because the levels framework which we are still using when we think about easing the restrictions I imagine will be referring back to the metrics in that framework.

"Two of those are beds in hospitals and ICU admissions that week. That was published to give the public the sense of the pandemic and a need for consistent comparisons across the months.

"I think it is important that the public know what the hospital figures are and the reason that is important is because of the strategic framework.”

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A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Nationally, Scottish NHS Boards now have over 100 very ill Covid patients in intensive care and there were saw 88 ICU admissions to intensive care units (ICUs) in the last seven days.

“But we still have the ability to double national baseline ICU capacity to 360 within one week, treble to 585 in two weeks and, if required, extend this to over 700, subject to staff and supplies - so we are confident we have enough intensive care capacity across the country.

“Our health boards are in constant communication with the Scottish Government and each other to ensure we use the whole country’s capacity appropriately and the Cabinet Secretary discussed the situation and our response with NHS Board chief executives on Friday.

“The way to ensure our health service is protected and to limit the number of people needing to be admitted to hospital, is for people to stay at home and abide by all the national restrictions. That is our shared response to protect ourselves, our NHS and save lives and it is needed now more than ever.”

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