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NHS Grampian say it’s ‘one patient in, one patient out’ as Covid hospitalisations hit all-time high

Photo of Jill Evans over Aberdeen Royal Infirmary
Jillian Evans

NHS Grampian has said it is near breaking point over a surge in the number of Covid cases hitting the north-east.

The health board said it was operating a “one patient in – one patient out” system as it tries to meet the rising demand in Covid patients, as well as continuing to provide primary care.

Head of health intelligence Jillian Evans has now urged the Scottish Government to rethink its plan to relax the rules around face coverings from Monday.

The health board currently has 149 Covid patients in hospital – which represents the highest number of cases since the pandemic was declared two years ago.

Ms Evans described the situation as “immense”.

She said staff were meeting four times a day and into the evening to try and find solutions for “very ill patients” most in need.

Situation is dire

She said: “We have 149 people in hospital beds, that is the highest number of Covid patients we have ever had.

“That is a mix of people who are really unwell with Covid and people who have been exposed to Covid in hospital.

“Over the weekend, it was really difficult. Staff and resources were under immense pressure and it was very difficult to get some very ill people into beds.

“When you have levels like this, it becomes difficult to care for people in hospitals and keep them safe from infection. Patients who are very ill cannot be discharged, which creates a backlog.”

BA2 variant of Omicron now hitting

Ms Evans said the situation has arisen due to the very transmissible BA2 variant of Omicron and a relaxation of Covid measures.

“The pressure is immense,” she said. “We have patients in community hospital settings with Covid, such as Cornhill and Woodend.

“But the majority of patients are in ARI.”

She said across primary care, community health care and into care homes – high Covid numbers were halting the flow of patients, which was impacting on services.

She continued: “Staff are carefully managing the situation. They have been meeting three and four times a day, and remaining in communication all the way through the evening.

“But, it has been one patient in and one patient out.

Photo of Aberdeen Royal Infirmary from above
Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. Picture by Kenny Elrick

‘It is the most trying I have ever known it’

“We have been operating at maximum and we can not further increase our capacity.

“We have sufficient staffing – we have no more capacity.”

She said: “It is the most trying I have ever known it. We are not in a stable position right across the system from primary care, community, hospital, and into care homes.

“If we continue to see things rise, it will become really difficult, and it will be not possible. We are not in that place yet – but we need to be clear this is a very difficult situation.”

Tomorrow, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is expected to confirm if the legal requirement for face coverings will be dropped on March 21 as previously announced.

Chief medical officer Professor Sir Gregor Smith said earlier that ministers will be advised to take a “cautious approach” to lifting the remaining restrictions in Scotland.

He said he is “keeping a close eye on” rising infection levels and hospital cases.

Masks need to continue, for now

But Ms Evans said she believes the legal requirement for masks should not yet be dropped, based on what she is seeing.

“It is not forever, but for now when risk is high,” she said. “Our behaviour is influenced when we see things – such as masks. They are a reminder that we need to be more cautious.

“There are people who think the pandemic is over right now, but it is far from over.

She said: “Do the right thing. If you even think you have a cold, stay home – isolate – and get a Covid test. And wear a mask.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are seeing an increase in cases in Scotland due to the dominance of the more transmissible Omicron BA.2 variant, and inevitably as people mix more, the virus transmits more.

“Covid-19 has not gone away. People should remain vigilant and careful, particularly around people who are more vulnerable. Vaccination is still be the best way to protect yourself against severe disease and those called forward for boosters should do so.

“All public health measures are kept under continuous review and decisions are informed by the latest scientific and clinical advice.

“Any changes will be announced to parliament. The first minister will provide her regular update to parliament today.”