North-east health chiefs have exited crisis mode as they now turn their attention to tackling a spiralling surgery backlog.
NHS Grampian, which covers Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Moray, launched Operation Snowdrop as a plan to focus its resources and deal with the pressures of the pandemic in January, February and March as medics contended with high infection and hospitalisation rates.
In an online meeting of the NHS Grampian board yesterday, chief executive of the health board Caroline Hiscox confirmed that the crisis has now eased to the point where more routine operations can resume.
Staff will now devote their time to clearing a surgical waiting list which has ballooned since December.
With recent vaccination success stories in the north-east, including the news this week that more than 250,000 people have received a jab across the Grampian area so far, Ms Hiscox said there is reason for optimism.
But she stressed that the pandemic is far from over, and urged patients awaiting certain treatments to continue showing patience as the health board ensures its resources are placed where most urgently required.
As of March 21, 1,130 people were still awaiting speciality treatment in areas such as gynaecology, plastic surgery and urology.
This figure was 780 by the end of December.
Ms Hiscox said: “Spring is unfolding, and the future in relation to Covid-19 looks more optimistic than it has in the last year.
“I am delighted to inform you that as of today, we have stepped down Operation Snowdrop, our ‘level four response’ in NHS Grampian to the pandemic, and I sincerely hope it is for the last time.
“We are however now in a ‘level three response’, and the NHS across Scotland will remain at an emergency rating until at least June.
“As optimistic as this feels, we will all be aware there are a significant number of countries experiencing adverse effects of a third coronavirus wave, and I would encourage everyone here to keep encouraging those within our influence to do three things.
“It unfortunately appears inevitable that there will be a third wave, but the hope for Grampian and the wider UK is that it will not be as devastating as the first and second waves, but we all have a role to play in achieving that.”
This week, NHS Grampian revealed three new robots would be joining its surgical team as part of a £3.5 million investment in improving patient care.
It is hoped the new technology will allow surgeons to treat patients more quickly, allowing the hospital to cut down waiting times.
Patients asked for patience
The chief executive added: “I want to thank all citizens across Grampian, and assure them that we do understand the complex impact waiting for treatment or assessment will have had on their lives.
“We will prioritise those in most urgent need, but appreciate that what can seem perhaps a minor, non-life threatening issue can have a major impact on a person and their family’s wellbeing.
“We will therefore have to continue to ask for the support and patience of the citizens of Grampian for longer.”
Jabs doing the same job
NHS Grampian’s vaccination team has urged people getting their jab to not waste staff’s valuable time by asking for specific vaccines.
The regional health board has had a number of people ask for an alternative Covid vaccine to the one they are offered during their appointments.
However, the health board has urged the public to take whatever they are offered in order to help the roll-out proceed at the required pace, and explained that unless there is a medical reason, they will only get the vaccine offered to them, and that all jabs “are doing the same thing”.
A spokeswoman for NHS Grampian said: “With the expected arrival of Moderna, and further vaccines anticipated later in the year, it must be noted that the programme doesn’t choose which vaccine we will receive or use.
“Unless there is a specific direction to use one brand, for example we use Pfizer for 16-18 years olds as that is the brand recommended for that age group, individuals presenting for vaccination will receive what is available.
“We continue to work to provide the same brand for second dose as an individual receives for first dose in line with Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) guidance.
“There have been a handful of cases where requests have been made for a particular brand, with no underlying reason to do so.
“Dealing with such requests on an individual basis, in a vaccination clinic takes staff away from vaccination duties.
“We want to stress that all the vaccines are doing the same thing, are equivalent, and there isn’t a choice of product available to the Health Board, the vaccinator or those being vaccinated. “