According to the union Unison, admissions at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary’s A&E department are running at three times daily capacity – with some patients on trolleys in corridors – and staff morale has hit “rock bottom”. “Many are talking of packing it in. They are on their knees,” one official said.
While Nicola Sturgeon, among others, took comfort from experts like Professor Neil Ferguson, who said the recent rise in Covid cases in Scotland had reached a “hint of a plateau”, the fear is that the current crisis will continue until the annual winter surge in admissions.
We all hope that, following the end of most lockdown restrictions and greater mixing of people that allowed, this is the virus’s last major flare-up and life will gradually return to something like normality.
However, we need to consider the chances Covid is not done yet and the serious and profound questions this raises about how we cope.
A return to the strict lockdown of last winter, with the resultant economic damage, the isolation and the loss of the joy of shared human experiences, would be a bitter blow.
This bleak prospect underscores the need for everyone to wear a face mask, get vaccinated, and generally act in a responsible way to help reduce the spread of the virus.
And if the pandemic is to be with us for the foreseeable future, the NHS will clearly need extra resources. The record high of 4,854 vacancies for nurses and midwives in Scotland puts the Scottish government plan to recruit an extra 1,500 staff – a “woefully inadequate” number, according to the Royal College of Nurses – into stark context.
Lockdown is an effective way of stopping Covid’s spread, but it is a time-limited one, we cannot cut ourselves off from others forever. So, if this crisis is not nearing its end, we may have to accept that we need to live with the virus and, most regrettably, a regular number of deaths.
It is not clear what the future holds and scientists could yet come up with even better ways to control Covid, but we may need to prepare ourselves for some very bad news indeed.