NHS Grampian has warned the current perfect storm of Covid cases and backlog of delays is likely to “get worse before it gets better”.
A surge of infections during recent weeks has forced hospitals across the north-east to be placed on “code black” at times to allow staff to focus on the most urgent cases.
Today Jillian Evans, NHS Grampian’s head of health intelligence, explained the board has continued to move in and out of the alert level as pressures change.
Code black means non-urgent procedures are cancelled to relieve pressure amid lengthy backlogs from the pandemic.
However, people staying away from doctors during lockdowns has led to more presenting with emergency cases as conditions deteriorate – a plight described by Ms Evans as the “worst of all worlds”.
When will NHS Grampian return to normal?
Officials have warned the backlog of delayed appointments and operations is likely to take years to clear.
Staff shortages in recent weeks due to the need to self-isolate, coupled with summer holidays and other leave has added to the pressure.
Ms Evans told BBC Radio Scotland the workforce issues appeared to have now “settled a little” but said hospitals were still going in and out of Code Black at times.
However, she stressed it was important to manage expectations of the public while warning the plight is likely to get “worse before it gets better”.
She said: “I have been around long enough to see the NHS have very long waiting times and waiting lists and this does feel like a really exceptional situation.
“It isn’t surprising given what we have been through, it’s going to take years and I think it’s much better to be honest with people about the challenges.”
What is being done to clear Covid backlog?
NHS Grampian hopes lowering Covid infection rates across Scotland will allow health boards to focus more on tackling the backlog.
It is hoped that reducing the number of coronavirus patients will allow staff to dedicate their time on other patients.
Meanwhile, years of preparations to develop new ways of providing healthcare is also coming to fruition to help efforts.
Ms Evans said: “There are many community services that stand by and step in here, which is a programme of change that we’ve embarked on for some time now.
“We have experienced so much change in the last 12 months, things that we’ve not been able to do for a long time that have been in the planning are suddenly coming to fruition.
“Although it’s a very difficult and challenging time for the next few years ahead as we deal with the backlog, we have got opportunities for change presenting themselves for the future.”