The north’s flagship hospital has reached capacity and is at “code black” status, with long waits at A&E.
Raigmore Hospital’s beds are full and all non-urgent surgeries have been cancelled as staff struggle to cope with the surge in Covid cases.
More than 100 cases are being recorded on a daily basis and last month alone, there were 1,300 – a fifth of NHS Highland’s total cases since the start of the pandemic.
Many colleagues are self-isolating, while the summer holidays and planned annual leave are also taking their toll.
NHS Highland is now warning of long waits at the emergency department and have told people only to go to the hospital if they need urgent treatment.
‘Upsetting and frustrating’
Over the past week, demand on health and social care services has reached unprecedented levels – with the number of people in hospital due to Covid at their highest since March.
Dr Boyd Peters, medical director for NHS Highland said: “We are doing all we can to safeguard services but we have had to make the difficult decision to cancel non-urgent work which I know many will find upsetting and frustrating. We are very sorry that we have had to do this.
“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. We also have a high number of staff having to self-isolate.”
Out-patient activity has also been reduced to only involve that which is essential, such as cancer, diagnostic activity and allied health professionals.
Medical, surgical and clinical support teams are working to continually assess the situation and decide how to best treat patients while reducing pressure on the hospital.
Some services are ongoing, including cancer treatment and urgent procedures. Orthopaedic and day case work will also go ahead wherever possible.
We have stood up internal incident command to manage our response to the significant pressures present across NHSH.
— NHS Highland (@NHSHighland) July 6, 2021
‘Unprecedented levels of demand’ on services
A spokeswoman for NHS Highland said: “Over the past week we have also continued to see unprecedented levels of demand across health and social care services.
“The impact of this at Raigmore Hospital, in particular, has been significant over the past few days. 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.
“The impact on services is also being experienced across our community teams both in Highland and Argyll and Bute.”
Dr Lewis Morrison, chairman of BMA Scotland, described the situation as “extremely concerning” and said it was a “stark reminder” of how overstretched the NHS is.
He said: “There is growing pressure and demand across all services of our NHS, and some services are now seriously short-staffed. Given the rising number of cases in the community it is somewhat inevitable, however we didn’t have the staff to cope properly prior to these increased pressures, we certainly don’t have them now.
“NHS Highland may be something of a warning light for much of our NHS and reflects the experience members are increasingly reporting to us, highlighting just how susceptible to disruption many services are right now. While the well-being of staff off sick is, of course, a priority, every single person who is off leaves a gap which must be covered by already over-worked, and in many cases exhausted, colleagues. These rising levels of sickness will only make staff shortages substantially worse, and reinforces the need for people to be cautious, stick to the rules and for the government to keep this in mind when making decisions about restrictions.”
The health board is working closely with NHS24 to ease the pressure, with rotas under review and improved investigation support.
But communities are being urged to play their part in stopping the spread too, but remaining vigilant, taking precautions and following the Facts guidelines.
Plea for help to ease burden on contact tracers
The health board believe the Delta variant is now getting to communities previously unaffected, and the “rapid rise in cases” is impacting the move vulnerable – with outbreaks once more in care homes.
Dr Tim Allison, NHS Highland’s director of public health, said: “While the contact tracers are working incredibly hard, the very high case numbers means that it is taking longer for us to contact cases.
“If you have tested positive, you will receive an e-mail with a form to complete. While rates are so high, we would be very grateful if you could fill this in and return this to the Health Protection Team. Early experience has demonstrated that we can double the number of cases that can be contact traced per day by doing this and are asking for your help with this.
“We have already highlighted the impact the increase in case numbers is having on services and it is vitally important that people complete their forms to help in our efforts to contact trace across Highland, Argyll and Bute.
“We would also like to thank the public for everything they are doing to try to reduce the spread within their local communities and would urge caution with rising rates of Covid-19.”