Health bosses are gearing up for potential staff shortages as a result of the Scottish Government’s new test, trace and isolate procedures.
The new scheme aims to prevent a second peak of coronavirus by ensuring those who have come into contact with it take steps to isolate.
A new report to be discussed at next week’s meeting of the integration joint board (IJB) in Aberdeen, states as the new test and trace procedure begins, it is likely there may be more staff shortages as a result.
However, health bosses said they feel well prepared to deal with this possibility.
The report, prepared by the Aberdeen Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “As the lockdown restrictions start to be eased in a gradual manner, it is recognised that the impact of these changes may result in additional peaks and potentially new staff shortages as a result of the test and protect phase.
“It is anticipated that we will require to live with Covid-19 for a considerable period, which will require having systems and processes that both ensure that our staff and citizens continue to be protected, while seeking to maintain health and care services that are needed across the Aberdeen population.”
Under the scheme anyone with a new continuous cough, temperature or a loss or change of taste or smell should visit NHS Inform, where a test will be able to be booked at a mobile or drive-through testing centre, or a home testing kit ordered.
If a positive test is returned, people will be asked who they have been in close contact with including their household, anyone they’ve had direct face-to-face contact with and those who have been within two metres of for more than 15 minutes.
Those people will then be contacted and will be asked to self-isolate immediately in order to stop the spread of the virus.
A spokesman for the Aberdeen City Health and Social Care Partnership said: “The Health and Social Care Partnership has business continuity plans in place to manage any staff absences which may be created by the Scottish Government’s Test and Protect initiative.”
A spokeswoman for the Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership said: “Test and Protect gives Scotland a route out of lockdown and as a partnership we have been working to ensure that we can continue to respond, at pace, to any future demands that Covid-19 may place on us.”
Meanwhile an NHS Grampian spokeswoman added: “We are confident we can manage any absences with our existing core and bank staff complement.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The aim of Test and Protect is to protect the public from spreading Covid-19 and to protect the country from a second peak.
“By ensuring those who may have come into contact with the virus take steps to isolate, we can break the chains of transmission and keep the virus suppressed whilst slowly changing lockdown measures.
“The Health and Social Care recruitment portal, which has been developed to support the NHS and social care employers should they require additional staff, remains in place.”
North-east Conservative MSP Tom Mason said: “It’s vital the situation relating to coronavirus improves so we can start to rebuild the economy in the north-east and Scotland as a whole.
“Test and Protect needs speed but it also requires accuracy – there cannot be a repeat of what happened at NHS Orkney where more than 50 coronavirus test results were sent ‘in error’ to a local business.
“NHS Grampian has done a fantastic job keeping us safe during this pandemic and the Scottish Government must ensure everything is done so staff shortages don’t occur at the health board.”
Aberdeen Central MSP and Scottish Government minister Kevin Stewart said: “Trace and Protect is vital tool to tackle this pandemic and it will allow us to gradually ease the restrictions and help to suppress Covid-19 so society can adapt to a new normal.
“Of course there will be challenges along the way as with any new system, but I’m glad both the city and shire’s health and social care partnerships report that they are in a good position to deal with the demand – we cannot thank our hardworking health care staff enough.”
Meanwhile, health services in the north-east are also now moving from its previous Operation Rainbow approach to Operation Home First.
The report adds: “It is clear that Covid-19 has created many challenges and unfortunately many, many sad outcomes.
“However the need to respond, at pace, to minimise negative impact has enabled the fast tracking of many of the plans that had previously been developing in line with our strategic plan.”
These include the use of remote digital systems to enable staff to work at home and clinicians to conduct patient consultations.
It also involves building on the initial response to coronavirus, maintaining agile thinking and decision making, respond to prolonged period of physical distancing and the impact that has on reduced footfall and need for technology and maintain safe services for those who are shielding.
The IJB will also discuss plans for green zones for patients who are shielding.
There are 5,600 patients that fall into this category in Aberdeen, and require “safe and accessibly pathways to routine but essential healthcare.”
These patients are described as having a higher need for some health services including phlebotomy, ECGs, wound management and drug delivery.
Proposed options for three different green zones are currently in the process of being approved.
The report adds: “Green zones will have very stringent protocols to ensure patients are screened for Covid symptoms before attending.
“The nursing staff working in these zones will also be screened for symptoms and will only be working with shielded patients on that day.
“The buildings will have separate entrances and exits to ensure patient flow.
“Investigations undertaken may be requested in primary or secondary care and there are now IT solutions in place to allow this.
“These zones will provide a useful test of processes required for the roll out of the community care and treatment services that are required as part of the primary care improvement plan.”
The reports will be discussed on Tuesday.