The Army has been called in again to help two of Scotland’s struggling health boards, the Scottish Health Secretary has announced.
Humza Yousaf requested the military’s assistance due to staff shortages at NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Borders, in a bid to cut escalating waiting times and improve patient care.
A total of 86 military personnel – nurses, Army medics, general troops, drivers and organisers – will be deployed from Tuesday for at least three weeks.
It comes less than a month after the Army was asked to help drive Scotland’s ambulances amid a staffing crisis that had caused deteriorating response times.
Both health boards recorded their worst-ever compliance with the A&E waiting times target in August, with 780 (28.8%) patients in the Borders and 5,992 (32.5%) in Lanarkshire having to wait longer than four hours to be seen.
They were also the two worst-performing health boards in Scotland, according to the latest Public Health Scotland data.
From October 19, NHS Lanarkshire will have the support of three Army nurses, 45 medics, 12 general duty troops and three drivers to work in acute settings.
NHS Borders will receive two nurses, 14 medics, a driver and four additional military personnel to help in acute settings.
A further two military medics will oversee operations from the Army’s Scottish headquarters at Redford Barracks in Edinburgh.
Mr Yousaf blamed the coronavirus pandemic for the crisis as he revealed the health boards’ acute services – such as emergency departments, surgeries and diagnostic services – are operating at maximum capacity.
“The NHS is experiencing significant pressure at the moment because of Covid-19 admissions and the backlog in care built up during the pandemic and we are taking a range of steps to introduce additional capacity in order to help with the unprecedented pressures on the health and care system,” he said.
“In the NHS Borders and NHS Lanarkshire areas, staff shortages because of Covid-19 are affecting bed capacity and temporary military assistance has been requested to support the boards at this time.
“With increasing levels of social mixing and close social contact, it is expected that this winter Covid-19 will circulate alongside respiratory viruses, such as flu, adding to the winter pressures usually faced by the NHS.
“This military support will allow both boards to support existing staff to reduce waiting times, enhance care and provide a better experience for our patients.
“As always I would like to thank all those involved in our healthcare systems for their continuing hard work and dedication over this particularly busy time.”
The Health Secretary also cited the £300 million winter funding announced earlier this month aimed at improving hospital capacity, reducing delayed discharges and increasing pay for social care staff.
Brigadier Ben Wrench, commander of the Joint Military Command in Scotland, said “The Armed Forces in Scotland, as always, stand ready to support civil society in Scotland and the rest of the UK.
“The ability of trained military healthcare professionals and their support team to deploy at short notice and provide short-term support to cover a critical gap shows the utility of the armed forces and the strength of the ongoing relationship with partner civilian organisations.”
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack added: “Our fantastic British Armed Forces are playing a key role in helping Scotland’s health services at this challenging time.
“They supported all parts of the country during the pandemic, and I’m very glad they are able to step in again to help public services in Scotland in these times of need.
“Nearly 90 Army medical personnel and support staff will be working at the front line of Scotland’s NHS.
“We are grateful for all their efforts to keep us safe.”
Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie praised the assistance being offered but said it showed the NHS is “spiralling ever further out of control”.
She added: “We need a robust national action plan to ease pressures across the country, not drawing down troops health board by health board as the crisis spreads.
“That means field hospitals to ease the pressure on the NHS and the adoption of a 30-minute ambulance turnaround time to save lives.”
Both health boards welcomed the military aid.