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NHS Highland declares a Code Black for Raigmore Hospital as it reaches capacity amid 'unprecedented' demand due to a large spike in Covid cases and staff absences through self-isolation

By Scott Maclennan

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Code Black has been declared at Raigmore Hospital.
Code Black has been declared at Raigmore Hospital.

THE public has the power to help stem a surge in Highland Covid cases that has helped push Raigmore Hospital on to an emergency footing.

That was the message from NHS Highland and politicians yesterday as the health board declared “Code Black” measures, saying the hospital was at capacity and cancelling non-urgent operations and almost all outpatient services.

NHS Highland blames the combination of a large number of healthcare workers currently having to self-isolate and more staff now taking annual leave at a time when it is trying to restart services suspended during lockdown for the crisis.

Last month more than 1300 new cases of Covid-19 were registered in the NHS Highland region – around a fifth of the total number since the start of the pandemic.

A spokeswoman said: “We have reached capacity in the hospital, we have long waits in our emergency department and we know people requiring urgent care will still need to come in for treatment.

“As a result, the hospital is currently at Code Black status.

“Urgent work is taking place to ensure we can treat our patients appropriately and compassionately.”

She added: “All non-urgent elective surgery has been cancelled. Cancer and urgent cases will continue and we will also, where possible, carry on with orthopaedic and day case work.

“Not only will this help with the bed pressures but it will also reduce the pressure on those working in theatres at the moment.”

NHS Highland medical director Dr Boyd Peters said the public now has a vital role to play in stemming the spread of infection.

“Covid is on the increase again but what is different this time is that we are seeing more medical and surgical activity at the same time,” he said. “We also have a high number of staff having to self-isolate.

“If you are accessing services please be advised that your wait may be longer than expected. We are doing everything we can to minimise that, but the pressure on the system is significant.”

The Scottish Government refused to confirm if it would be offering any additional support to the health board.

Public health minister Maree Todd, who is herself self-isolating, said the move to Code Black at Raigmore showed the significant risks Covid still poses.

“While the increase in NHS staff absences over recent weeks is significantly lower than previous phases of the pandemic, this reflects the overall increase in infection rates across the population and it is a reminder that each of us needs to continue doing all we can to slow the spread of the virus,” she said.

Inverness MP Drew Hendry said: “The virus is still very much with us and poses significant risks to health and to the wellbeing of our communities.

“These developments further highlight the importance of the vaccination programme, regular testing and track and trace.”

However, Highlands and Islands MSP and Scottish Conservative Donald Cameron, claimed the problem lies deeper than just the surge in Covid cases and questioned both track and trace and capacity within the board.

“This announcement from NHS Highland underlines why it is so important for the Scottish Government to fix the track and trace system and speed up the vaccine rollout in order to tackle increases in the infection rate,” he said.

“It also underlines the serious concerns held by many of us about the underlying capacity of the health service across our region, both in the short term when it comes to the immediate pressures facing our hospitals, but also in the long term when it comes to tackling the backlog of operations.”

Party colleague Edward Mountain said: “We need to be clear that increasing infection rates do not lead to increasing hospitalisations, So it is absolutely vital that the Scottish Government reassess its test and protect scheme to ensure its hospitals can function in a safe manner.”

Related story – NHS Highland records 83 further cases of Covid-19 coronavirus

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