Scottish health board just 12 patients away from breaching Covid-19 capacity

Hospitalisations in Scotland have jumped by 30 per cent in a fortnight as one health board – NHS Ayrshire and Arran – is just 12 Covid-19 patients away from breaching its hospital bed capacity, new data has shown.

In total, Covid-19 hospitalisations in Scotland have jumped by more than 300 since the announcement of the Boxing Day lockdown, Scottish Government figures state.

The total number of patients in hospital in Scotland with Covid-19 has risen from 1,032 on December 18 to 1,347 as of January 5, with that number expected to continue to rise as Covid-19 spreads across the country.

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NHS Ayrshire and Arran is only 12 patients away from having its Covid-19 capacity breached, data has shown.

Hospital capacity for Covid-19 is 3,656 beds across Scotland, meaning a third of beds are already taken up with Covid-19 patients.

Some areas, however, are perilously close to breaching their capacity.

NHS Ayrshire and Arran, which covers East, North and South Ayrshire and covers the health secretary Jeane Freeman’s constituency, is just 12 patients away from breaching their capacity of 203 beds, with 192 currently in hospital battling the virus.

A total of 11 patients in the health board are undergoing intensive care, with the capacity for hospitals in the region doubled to 20 for the Covid-19 pandemic.

In addition, areas such as Inverclyde, Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders are worrying the Scottish Government due to high rates of infection.

The case rate in each of those council is 578.4, 536.1 and 432.0 per 100,000 people respectively, well above levels where community transmission is able to be suppressed quickly.

In addition, hospitalisations are known as ‘lag indicators’, meaning their numbers will rise well after the initial infection and are more likely to be connected with infections from around a fortnight beforehand.

The 30 per cent jump in a fortnight shows accelerated community spread of the new variant of Covid-19 was likely already well underway prior to the announcement of stricter measures for Christmas and from Boxing Day on December 19.

The figure is likely to strike fear into those running hospitals in Scotland, with total Covid-19 patients just 173 below the peak of 1,520 in April.

Other areas such as Dumfries and Galloway are also feeling the strain of Covid-19, with hospitalisations having quadrupled from five to 20 between December 18 and January 5. However, their capacity of 70 beds is not yet under threat.

Several regions have seen increases, with NHS Grampian seeing a similar rise to Ayrshire and Arran of 51 per cent (from 51 patients to 77), NHS Lanarkshire a rise of 35 per cent (from 167 to 225), and NHS Tayside seeing a rise of 32 per cent (from 74 to 98).

Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson Monica Lennon said it was time for the Scottish Government to “urgently support” NHS Ayrshire and Arran and labelled the situation “desperate”.

She said: “The situation in NHS Ayrshire and Arran is desperate. Questions must be asked when the Health Secretary’s own local health board is at breaking point.

"The Scottish Government must urgently support NHS Ayrshire and Arran, especially the staff who are exhausted. Support should have been provided long before now.

“With cases rising across Scotland, SNP ministers must rapidly increase resources to support frontline NHS staff and safe patient care.”

The health spokesperson for the Scottish Conservatives, Donald Cameron, said the statistics showed the “gruelling pressure” faced by the NHS due to Covid-19.

He said: “This is an extremely worrying sign and shows the gruelling pressure the NHS is under from a resurgent virus.

“It is vital the SNP Government ensures enough hospital beds are made available for Covid sufferers as cases rise – we can’t have any excuses or failures.

“The burden on our hospitals will become less as more people are vaccinated and key to this is a detailed vaccination plan with a clear strategy. It should outline daily and weekly targets and allow progress to be monitored.

“The SNP Government has failed to produce this required plan yet, despite being asked on numerous occasions, but need to without delay for all our sakes.”

Dr Crawford McGuffie, medical director at NHS Ayrshire and Arran, said Covid-19 capacity was “stretched” in the region.

He said: "NHS Ayrshire and Arran has prepared extensively to deal with Covid-19 and continues to work to ensure we have the right resources, equipment and staffing in place.

“We have experienced an increase in Covid-19 admissions and, in line with other health boards across Scotland, have increased our capacity to support rising demand.

“This expanded Covid capacity is currently stretched, due to a combination of symptomatic patients who are either Covid-19 positive or awaiting swab results, necessary infection prevention and control measures, and staff absence.

“Within the board, the situation is constantly monitored through daily operational and governance meetings. There are established links with Health Protection Scotland and with Scottish Government that are utilised for advice and guidance where appropriate.”

Speaking on Monday to the Scottish Parliament during the announcement of stricter lockdown measures, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said contingency plans remained in place if hospital cases continued to rise.

She said: “Contingency plans remain in place to double and then treble ICU capacity if necessary, and the NHS Louisa Jordan continues to be available to help meet demand, as indeed it has been doing in recent months.

“In short, NHS services are coping at present, although the pressure on frontline staff is considerable, but already in some areas the position is fragile and getting more challenging.

“If the rate of increase in case numbers that we have seen in the past two weeks was to continue unchecked, there would be a real risk of our NHS being overwhelmed – even with contingency plans in place.

"In fact, our modelling suggests that without further intervention, we could breach in-patient Covid capacity within three or four weeks.”

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