NHS Forth Valley announced today that a number of operations would be put on hold over the next few weeks to help reduce pressure on the Larbert acute hospital.
A spokesperson said it was to “free up staff to support critical health services”.
They added the actions were “in response to a significant increase in Covid-19 infections which has resulted in high numbers of staff absences” and adding to existing service pressures.
It is the first time the health board has postponed planned operations since non-urgent health services restarted in August 2020.
Although there is no indication of how many patients will be affected, NHS Forth Valley has said that operations are now being postponed for four-to-six weeks, adding: “Everything possible will be done to reschedule the
postponed operations as quickly as possible with the aim of giving any patients affected a new date for their surgery no later than six weeks after their original date.”
The board said the temporary measure will help protect vital emergency, cancer care and other critical health services as it will free up staff to support these essential health services and provide cover for areas experiencing “significant staff shortages due to Covid-19”.
Health bosses at FVRH are also anticipating an increase in the numbers of patients who may require to be admitted to hospital with coronavirus-related illnesses.
Cathie Cowan, chief executive of NHS Forth Valley, said: “Increasing capacity and Covid-related staffing pressures are placing additional strain on already over-stretched local health and care services and we expect these pressures to intensify over the next few weeks.
"We have therefore taken the difficult decision to postpone some non-urgent operations in order to maintain critical health services. This will free up staff to support areas experiencing significant staffing shortages and increase the number of inpatient beds available to ensure patients who are seriously unwell can continue to receive the vital care they need.
“I know that this decision will be very disappointing and I would like to apologise to local patients who have had their operation postponed.
"Everything possible will be done to reschedule the operations affected as quickly as possible and we also plan to review capacity on a weekly basis so that we can restart activity sooner if it is possible to do so.”
In recent months, patients attending the A&E unit at FVRH have experienced some of the longest waits in Scotland for treatment and admission.
NHS Forth Valley has said that pressures on social care and carer home services across the region have led to some patients who are clinically well enough to leave hospital facing delays before returning home or moving to a local care home.
This in turn is blamed for the delays in finding inpatient beds for new admissions and leaving some waiting longer in the A&E department.
There has also been a rapid spread of the Omicron variant which has led to record numbers of Covid-19 infections in Forth Valley.
On December 24 the total for the region stood at 150 but by January 5 it had soared to 1063.