Medical leaders have warned that the NHS in Scotland could be facing a “perfect storm of challenges” this winter – as the coronavirus pandemic means hospitals are already working at near capacity.
Members of the Scottish Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties have spoken out amid concerns that the health service may not be able to cope with a further surge in Covid-19 infections and could be “overwhelmed”.
The government should consider all possible measures to halt the spread of the virus in the community, it said, as it warned it could take “months” for Covid-19 vaccinations to make a “significant difference”.
The organisation, which includes representatives from the Royal College of Anaesthetists, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, and the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, also stressed the importance of the public playing their part.
In a statement released just after mainland Scotland went into lockdown again on Boxing Day, with the strictest level four restrictions imposed, the groups said there was “hope on the horizon” thanks to the rollout of a major vaccination programme.
But while reports have indicated the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine could be approved within days, the medical leaders said restrictions would still be needed for some time.
They stated: “We know there is hope on the horizon with the rollout of a national immunisation programme, with further vaccines likely to be approved shortly.
“However, it will take months for this to make a significant difference, and the short-term situation facing our NHS and public health services remains bleak.”
The statement from the groups said: “The NHS and social care across Scotland are now on an emergency footing, with services already severely stretched.
“Scotland has been able to reduce infection rates, but the new strain is highly infectious and will undoubtedly increase the rate of Covid-19 infection and hospital admissions in the days and weeks ahead.
“We are gravely concerned that this could lead to the NHS being overwhelmed.
“NHS staff are exhausted but are continuing to work hard to keep the public safe.
“However, in the face of the new strain, we are calling on the public, once again, to recognise the severity of the situation and take the necessary steps to support our health and social care services.”
The public were urged: “Please do not let your guard down now. You must continue to play your part to protect the NHS and save lives.
“Our general practices are exceptionally busy and our hospitals are already near capacity. We risk facing a ‘perfect storm’ of challenges if we don’t take collective action now to prevent further spread of Covid-19.”
People must maintain social distancing, and wear masks if meeting people not in their household or “bubble” – regardless of whether this takes place inside or outside.
The groups added that “all other potential measures to decrease community transmission should be considered by the Government”.
They added: “This is urgently required so our NHS can focus on three key tasks – rolling out the vaccine programme, continuing with the rapid testing programmes, and providing emergency care for Covid as well as other medical problems.
“Please use the available resources on NHS inform for health information, speak to your community pharmacist for advice on simple health conditions, cancel any appointments you are unable to attend, and call 111 first if you think you may need to be seen in A&E.
“Only by continuing to look out for each other and following the rules can we give our NHS doctors, nurses and support staff the best chance to do their jobs in the difficult weeks ahead.”