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Two more hospitals declare ‘code black’ alerts as cases rise and staff self-isolate

Two more hospitals have declared “code black” alerts in response to mounting numbers of coronavirus patients and absent staff members who have been forced to self-isolate.

Both Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin have reached capacity and have had to to postpone non-emergency elective operations as a result of the growing pressure of rising Covid-19 cases in north-east Scotland, NHS Grampian said.

It follows an announcement from NHS Highland on Wednesday that Raigmore Hospital in Inverness had reached capacity and declared code black status – also halting all non-urgent surgery.

“This is a dynamic situation, subject to change throughout each day,” said NHS Grampian medical director, Professor Nick Fluck. “I can confirm that both Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and Dr Gray’s Hospital have been at black status (i.e. at capacity) in recent days.

“Choosing to cancel procedures or appointments is never a decision we take lightly; however it is our only option if we are to relieve some of the pressure and allow staff to concentrate on the most urgent and emergency care.

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“I know it is distressing for people to have procedures or appointments postponed, sometimes at very short notice. I apologise to anyone who has been affected by this.

“We will work to reschedule these, but we cannot offer any guarantees at present about when this might happen. If you are accessing any healthcare services, please be aware delays are likely.”

Prior to the health board’s code black announcement, the British Medical Association Scotland warned action was needed within days to tackle “a very high level of pressure” on the NHS in Scotland due to the surge in coronavirus cases.

The doctors’ union had said hospitals may have to consider cancelling elective treatment unless measures were taken to ease the pressure on staff, with chairman Dr Lewis Morrison telling the BBC that decisions needed to be made quickly regarding staff absences due to self-isolation requirements.

“Raigmore is an example of what might well happen in other places in the NHS in Scotland if we don’t take some action to deal with what is a very high level of pressure on healthcare, both in general practice and in hospitals, combined with rising Covid cases leading to a quite large number of staff having to self-isolate as contacts,” Dr Morrison told BBC Radio Scotland’s Lunchtime Live programme.

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Meetings were going ahead within the Scottish Government “with some urgency” on the issue, Dr Morrison said, but warned any change in self-isolation policies for double-vaccinated healthcare staff would have to be safe for patients and staff themselves.

“Within the next few days I think some sort of decision needs to be made to assure the continuity of healthcare services in areas under these kind of pressures,” he said, adding: “It’s as urgent as that I think.”

A further 3,799 cases were reported in Scotland on Wednesday, close to the new daily record set last week. Some 10 per cent of the country’s tests results on Tuesday were positive – significantly higher than the five per cent positivity rate above which the World Health Organisation suggests the virus is “out of control”.

On Wednesday, there were 387 people in hospital with recently diagnosed coronavirus and 34 patients in intensive care.

While the latest figures show an average of 424 infections per 100,000 inhabitants across Scotland, this falls to 290 in NHS Grampian – where the two hospitals forced to issue a code black alert are situated. NHS Tayside has the highest infection rate, with 670 cases in every 100,000 people.

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Additional reporting by PA