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KATHERINE SUTTON: NHS Covid emergency over but service is not out of the woods yet warns an Inverness chief officer

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National Treatment Centre being built at Inverness.
National Treatment Centre being built at Inverness.

FROM the beginning of this month, the NHS in Scotland is no longer on an emergency footing. This is good news, of course – it means that, while Covid is still very much with us, we have developed the systems and defences we need to be able to respond.

It does not, however, mean things are back to exactly how they were before the pandemic. At NHS Highland we are still busier than before, with more people needing in-patient care and more needing care at home.

Why is this? It is down to a combination of factors. We are still seeing patients in hospital because they have Covid, as well as people in hospital for other reasons who may also be Covid positive.

This means we have to be extra careful about testing, PPE, and where we place people in a ward, to make sure that the risk to others is kept as low as possible. That can mean that appointments take more time, or that we can’t fit as many beds into a ward as we used to.

In GP surgeries and other healthcare settings, the risk to vulnerable fellow patients, and staff, can be reduced by making use of phone or video consultations where a face-to-face visit isn’t needed. And you can all play your part by continuing to wear a face covering in any healthcare building, and sanitising your hands when you come in: almost all of our visitors and patients do this, which is really helpful and sensible.

Another reason for us being busy is that some people have had less-urgent operations delayed as we tackled Covid. I’m pleased to say we are now carrying these out again, and we are also looking forward to the opening of the National Treatment Centre Highland, which will allow us to carry out more such operations. But we have some catching up to do and want to help as many people who are waiting as possible, and that adds to the current pressure.

We are also seeing more people coming to hospital with urgent issues. Sometimes these are things that could be treated at a pharmacy or by a GP, so please always call 111 if you are ill or injured and not sure if you need A&E. They will be able to tell you the best place for treatment, and if you do need to attend hospital they can give you an appointment time and share details of your case, saving you a wait.

Sometimes people do need to be admitted. Friends, family and community play a huge part here, by helping people to get home sooner. Research has shown that the longer people stay in hospital, the higher their risk of contracting an infection; and they can also lose some of their independence and ability to care for themselves. Plus, people have told us they generally want to get home quickly and continue their recovery in a familiar place.

The problem is that sometimes it can take a while for a care package or adjustments to someone’s home that they need when they leave hospital to be put in place. That’s where you come in: having a relative stay for a few days, a friend pop in daily or perhaps going to stay with family for a short while can provide the interim support that people need to stay independent. Charities, churches and community groups can be a great help too.

I want to thank all such community and family supporters who are such a vital part of the care system. Now that the emergency is over, we look forward to working with you to shape health and care services for the future and improve access to services.

n Katherine Sutton is NHS Highland’s chief officer acute.

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