NHS Scotland crisis: Nicola Sturgeon confirms more NHS 24 staff will be recruited and extra care home beds will take patients to help combat 'exceptional' pressures

More staff will be recruited for the NHS 24 call service and extra care home beds will be freed up to take patients from hospital in a bid to alleviate the “exceptional” pressures on Scotland’s health service, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed.

Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government could call on “escalation contingencies” if required, as she advised people to wear face masks in public places as she stressed “this is without doubt the most challenging winter ever”.

But the First Minister said the Government did not want to take direct ministerial control of health boards for now. She said she wanted health boards to retain flexibility to respond to local pressures and that declaring a “critical incident” would be “simply putting different labels on the problems”.

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Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government would take “further immediate steps” to speed up discharge from hospitals.

Nicola Sturgeon speaks from St Andrew's House. Picture: BBC

She said: “I can confirm that we will be providing immediate extra funding to health and social care partnerships to support the booking of additional care home beds for patients to be discharged to while their care packages are being finalised.

“That will benefit patients, I think it’s important to note that first and foremost, but it will also free up much-needed capacity in hospitals.”

Additional NHS 24 staff had already been recruited in the run up to Christmas, with Ms Sturgeon saying one in 25 Scots had Covid in the final week of 2022.

She confirmed calls to NHS 24 in that same week – between Christmas and New Year – had soared by 50 per cent compared to the previous week. The Scottish Ambulance Service also responded to 16,000 incidents in the final week of last year, Ms Sturgeon said.

Ms Sturgeon said “extraordinary levels of winter flu” and rising Strep A cases were to blame, alongside delayed discharges – where a patient is ready to leave hospital but cannot because the necessary care package or accommodation is not available.

An estimated 1,700 people are still in hospital but are ready for discharge, she said.

The admissions come after Dr Lailah Peel, deputy chair of the Scottish arm of the British Medical Association (BMA), said patient safety was at risk “every single day”, with patients in desperate need of intensive care waiting hours in accident-and-emergency departments.

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Ms Sturgeon said hospitals across Scotland surpassed 95 per cent capacity on January 4, compared to pre-pandemic levels of 87 per cent.

She said: “The reality is hospitals right now are currently almost full. Last Wednesday, hospital bed occupancy across Scotland exceeded 95 per cent. Now for context, at the same stage in 2020, before the pandemic struck, occupancy was around 87 per cent.”

The Scottish Government is also working with health boards to assess initiatives such as extending GP opening hours to Saturdays, as announced by NHS Lanarkshire last week.

Ms Sturgeon said: “While NHS staff continue to deliver excellent care – truly excellent care – for thousands of patients each and every day, in some key areas, the system in not currently providing patients with the speed of treatment that we want to see.”

Mr Yousaf is expected to update the Scottish Parliament on the new measures in a statement on Tuesday.

During the media briefing, Ms Sturgeon, health secretary Humza Yousaf and deputy chief medical officer Graham Ellis were asked if they used private healthcare. Both ministers replied that they did not, while Prof Ellis said his family had done so.

Rishi Sunak repeatedly refused to say whether he uses private healthcare during a BBC interview at the weekend, saying his own case was “not really relevant”.

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Scottish Labour’s Jackie Baillie accused the First Minister of spending “more time making excuses” than addressing the health concerns.

She said: “Faced with the most difficult winter in NHS history, the SNP are deflecting blame and rehashing the same old promises they have been making for years. These changes will barely scratch the surface of this deadly crisis and fail to grapple with the major structural problems clinicians are raising.

“Instead of quietly side-lining her own health secretary, Nicola Sturgeon needs to sack Humza Yousaf and appoint someone up to the job.

“We can’t keep teetering on the brink of disaster – we need action now to support health and social care workers, drive down waiting lists, invest in social care, and tackle delayed discharge for good.”

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