Scotland's Covid death toll rises as doctors warned of 'gruelling' winter ahead

Scotland has recorded its highest death toll from Covid-19 since the worst of the early pandemic in May, as doctors were told to prepare for a “gruelling” winter and the Scottish Government admitted errors in its vital test and protect system.

The daily number of deaths as a result of coronavirus yesterday hit a six-month high in Scotland at 64.

The tally contributed to the bleak landmark that saw the UK pass 50,000 deaths, with almost 600 deaths across the four nations yesterday, despite a variety of lockdowns and restrictions.

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Data puts the number of fatalities within a month of testing positive for Covid-19 at 50,365 since the pandemic began – though experts believe the true total is likely to be significantly higher.

Scotland's daily death toll as a result of coronavirus has hit a six month high as hospitals also see cases rise.
Scotland's daily death toll as a result of coronavirus has hit a six month high as hospitals also see cases rise.

In Scotland, the weekly report from National Records of Scotland showed that between November 2 and 8, 206 death certificates mentioned Covid-19, with an equal division of deaths between men and women. Further, in the 24 hours since Tuesday, 64 people who had tested positive for the virus had died – the highest number since May 6.

At the Scottish Government's daily coronavirus briefing today, National Clinical Director Jason Leitch said the numbers were “not normal".

Comparing them with figures from two months ago, he said: “On September 11, 175 new cases of Covid were announced – today the figure is over 1,000; 45 people were in hospital compared with 1,235 today; six people were in ICU, today we have 93; and zero deaths were reported, today it was 64.

"I use the dates to illustrate these numbers are not normal. It is not the time to take our foot off the brakes, it’s the time to be restrictive.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said despite the new figures, stricter coronavirus restrictions had "very significantly” slowed the spread of the virus and saved lives.

"The measures that we have adopted in recent weeks and the sacrifices all of you – and people across the country – have been having an effect,” she said.

"There's no doubt, when we look at the data over the past few weeks, these measures have slowed very significantly the rate at which cases were increasing."

She said without restrictions there would now be 3,000 new cases every day, but that was not the case and added: "Everybody should be under no doubt that these measures and these sacrifices have had an effect, and they will have saved lives."

The new figures came as the four Chief Medical Officers of the UK, the General Medical Council (GMC), Medical Royal Colleges and the NHS wrote to doctors asking them to prepare for a rough winter ahead.

Signed by Scotland's interim CMO Dr Gregor Smith, the letter said the second Covid peak "may well be prolonged throughout the winter period, with wide local variation and fluctuation in cases, requiring a sustained response from the whole profession".

"This will be gruelling professionally and personally," the letter said.

It said the added pressure on the NHS would “inevitably be exacerbated by staff shortages due to sickness or caring responsibilities”, and assured doctors that regulators would take into account the need for temporary changes to practice.

However, it did stress that healthcare professionals would have to be flexible, which "may entail working in unfamiliar circumstances or surroundings, or working in clinical areas outside of their usual practice”.

"This can be stressful and you may have concerns about both the professional practicalities and implications of working in such circumstances," the letter said.

Hospitals and healthcare leaders were told to "bear in mind that clinicians may need to depart, possibly significantly, from established procedures in order to care for patients in the highly challenging circumstances of the epidemic". The GMC said it would "take into account factors relevant to the environment in which the professional is working”.

The letter said: "We all need to support one another during this time. It is, and is going to remain, hard going, but mutual support makes this prolonged crisis easier to manage personally, as well as professionally."

Meanwhile MSPs raised concerns about errors within Scotland's test and protect system as a result of a “coding error”, with the government accused by the Scottish Conservatives of “peddling widely inaccurate data”.

Ms Sturgeon admitted there had been problems with how the Public Health Scotland (PHS) data was being processed, which suggested more people were being contacted within 24 hours of having a positive Covid test, than was the reality.

However, she said the public should still have faith in the system and it was exceeding the World Health Organisation's (WHO) standard.

Corrected data shows in five of eight weeks in September and October, Test and Protect staff failed to contact about half of positive cases within 24 hours of being notified of swab results.

In one of the eight weeks, the proportion of people with positive swabs alerted within 24 hours dropped as low as 41.7 per cent.

Ms Sturgeon said there had been a "coding error" in how PHS classified cases.

"Without going into technical detail, it means some cases classed as processed within zero to 24 hours should have fallen within the 24 to 48 hours and that has changed some of the figures," she said.

“But Public Health Scotland has updated the figures and Test and Protect is working well.”

She added: "The coding error should not have happened. These things do happen in computer systems sometimes. It has been rectified, but the figures published today demonstrate that it is working to a very high standard."

Ms Sturgeon said the WHO standard is that 80 per cent of new cases must have their close contacts traced and quarantined within 72 hours of case confirmation.

The latest figures for Scotland show 95.8 per cent completed in that time, with 80 per cent completed within 48 hours "so Test and Protect is exceeding the WHO standard", she said.

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