The north-east’s flagship hospital has been placed on “code red” after a surge of flu patients stretched NHS Grampian to the limit.
Health chiefs have warned patients with flu to stay away from emergency departments at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary (ARI) if possible and for visitors not to go to hospital “if at all unwell”.
Code red indicates that a hospital’s resources are under severe strain – and a patents’ group leader said this could become more common with a “crisis point” approaching.
Further south, neighbouring NHS Tayside said the board had been “experiencing exceptional demand” leading to the closure of wards in Dundee’s Ninewells and Strathcathro.
Health professionals said there were fewer than a handful of beds available in the Aberdeen emergency care centre at one point but an NHS Grampian spokeswoman denied a “code black” was declared.
That most serious level occurred in April when doctors were told to send patients home as soon as possible, free up beds and cancel planned operations.
Statistics released yesterday from Health Protection Scotland showed a rise in flu cases in the week leading up to Christmas Eve.
But one insider said that in more recent days the outbreak had become “rampant”.
A bad winter was anticipated after a similar spike during the flu season in Australia and New Zealand.
Jamie Weir, of NHS Grampian patient group Pact, said “30 years of under-resourcing” of the health service meant boards across Scotland were “approaching crisis point”.
He said: “Because the hospital is always at full capacity there is no slack in the system to handle things like flu outbreaks. There are not enough beds in Scotland and especially in Grampian.
“In the past in winter, the hospital would work at say 85% capacity but now they are always at 95%.
“We are coming to a crisis point. Soon the hospital will be under such pressure that you will find ARI won’t have any beds available any time.”
North-east Conservative MSP Tom Mason said: “We know many under-resourced health boards have already cancelled routine operations in order to cope with the increased demand.
“If someone has flu-like symptoms, it should not require a trip to hospital. Families must take a common sense approach and understand that emergency admissions must have priority.”
An NHS Grampian spokeswoman said: “We have seen a high number of cases of both Influenza A and Influenza B so far this winter. It is circulating widely in the community and this is reflected in the hospital population. Grampian is not unusual in this respect; we know nationally there are a high number of cases being reported.
“Hospitals are often busy at this time of year and Aberdeen Royal Infirmary is no exception. A trip to the Emergency Department should only be made in serious circumstances; your GP, pharmacist or NHS 24 can all offer advice and treatment.
“We would also take this opportunity to remind the general public that if they are at all unwell they should not visit friends or relatives in hospital. Illnesses such as ‘flu or norovirus are very easily spread and prevention is better than cure.