Hospital staff are bracing themselves for another wave of coronavirus cases as the Omicron variant begins to spread across Scotland.
While the latest Covid strain hasn’t yet led to an increase in admissions, it’s feared patient numbers will rise rapidly in the coming weeks.
That will further stretch an NHS that is already struggling with normal winter pressures.
‘We have no choice’
STV News returned to the Royal Alexandra Hospital (RHA) in Paisley nearly a year after speaking to “overwhelmed” staff there as they emerged from last winter’s Covid wave.
Dr Claire Harrow, chief of medicine at RHA, warned that staff were “anxious” about what lies ahead.
“People are already doing everything they can,” she said. “There is fear among staff in all areas – doctors, nurses, managers.
“I am really proud of what the NHS has done because we have reacted to every single challenge Covid has thrown at us. We have learned as we have gone about the illness, and we now have a whole range of treatments available to us.
“We can’t unfortunately say to staff ‘take the next couple of weeks off to prepare’, we just have to keep going and that is how it has been throughout. We have no choice.”
Waiting times at RHA are longer than the national average, with 65% of patients seen within four hours last week.
“Patients are not getting the care we want them to have, but the problem is we have nowhere for them to go,” Dr Harrow said.
“I absolutely understand the frustration of patients. That is mirrored by the frustration of the emergency department staff, who want to do their best for the patients coming to them.
“I would love nothing more than to be standing here talking about recovery, but it’s the same teams doing it all and there is only so much we can do.”
‘I’m in agony’
In the emergency department, 62-year-old Linda Clark was waiting to be assessed when STV News visited.
She had already spent two hours on a hospital trolley after falling at home.
“I was on the floor for a couple of hours and then we had to get an ambulance,” she said. “I’m in absolute agony.
“I think it’s ridiculous, I’m absolutely freezing. I do appreciate that they are busy and they are doing their best and I’m grateful for that, but it’s just a bit much to be waiting all this time.”
The emergency unit at RHA has 23 bays – last Monday it was dealing with three times as many patients as beds.
Dr Euan McMillan, a consultant in emergency medicine, said: “We know the system is under pressure and we know we are not doing the utmost for our patients at the moment.
“We are keeping things as safe as we can, but extra pressure from another wave has got us all worried about what the future might bring.
“There is no doubt that within the next few weeks, we will see [Omicron] cases within this hospital and with the amount of activity already going on, that’s clearly a significant concern.”