Covid Scotland: Health boards request further military support as more hospitals reach maximum capacity

Two health boards set to receive assistance from the military until Wednesday have asked the Scottish Government for the support to be extended, as hospitals around the country are reported to be at or near maximum capacity.

It comes as other pleas for help from NHS Grampian and NHS Ayrshire and Arran made in October are yet to be approved by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

It is understood theses requests have been approved by the Scottish Government, but are still being considered by the Standing Joint Military Command.

NHS Grampian said the health board was facing “pressing and serious” challenges and the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary had recently reached maximum capacity in some areas.

Members of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard set up a Covid vaccination centre in Glasgow in January. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images.

NHS Ayrshire and Arran separately reported that its two acute hospitals, University Hospitals Ayr and Crosshouse, are now at maximum capacity.

It comes as Covid-19 infection across the UK remains near record levels, according to the Office for National Statistics, with levels of infection slightly lower in Scotland, but unchanged or higher in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Some 86 Armed Forces personnel have been supporting acute care in NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Borders since late October, with the arrangement due to come to an end on November 10.

But both health boards have asked the Scottish Government to request an extension from the MoD.

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A Scottish Government spokesperson said the requests were being “urgently” considered.

NHS Lanarkshire said the health board remained at maximum capacity, a state known in some health boards as “code black” and which was declared on October 22.

NHS Forth Valley has re-introduced some restrictions on hospital visiting from Monday, due to high levels of Covid-19 in the community.

NHS Grampian said it was facing “severe” pressure and stressed the approval of the health board’s request for military assistance would be welcomed.

There has been a “marked” increase in admissions for Covid-19 in Grampian in recent weeks, said the health board’s head of health intelligence Jillian Evans.

These are particularly among over-60s, she said, meaning they are more likely to need to stay longer in hospital.

There have also been “exceptionally high” cases of non-Covid respiratory infections in children.

This demand has been coupled with “significant” staff vacancies, particularly in nursing.

Ms Evans said she was grateful for the military support for the Covid-19 and flu vaccination programmes announced earlier in the week, but confirmed the health board was waiting to hear for news about a further request for help with acute care, as was granted to NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Borders.

“We're looking to extend military assistance as much as possible,” she said.

Ms Evans added: “It's a combination of demand and capacity that's making this situation difficult and it's going to require many things to make it easier for us to manage.”

The Aberdeen Royal Infirmary has reached maximum capacity in some areas.

“We get right upwards to 95 per cent bed capacity and in some parts of the hospital you would be at a maximum level,” Ms Evans said.

“There have been occasions where we have been at maximum capacity in terms of our Covid wards.

“Really, when you talk about anything being over 85 per cent, you are managing a very difficult situation.

“We certainly get to 95 per cent capacity and it fluctuates on a day by day, hour-by-hour basis, so we're in and out of being at capacity all of the time.”

Ms Evans issued a plea for people to work from home, and observe protection measures such as opening windows when meeting others to limit the spread of Covid-19.

NHS Ayrshire and Arran said University Hospitals Ayr and Crosshouse were under “extreme” pressure and were now at maximum capacity.

"Unlike other departments, the emergency department and combined assessment units are unable to close their doors when all available spaces are occupied, and both our acute hospitals are now at full capacity,” said interim chief executive Professor Hazel Borland.

"We are taking agreed and immediate actions across our whole health and care system to alleviate the pressures and this is being reviewed on a daily basis.”

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