A health board is putting scheduled hospital treatments on hold, including some for cancer patients, as it moves to its highest risk level – dubbed “Code Black”.
Bosses at NHS Lanarkshire are said to have emailed staff advising them of the change in status, and Labour said the move shows there is now a “full-blown NHS crisis”.
The military is now providing “additional support” in hospitals in the area, the email adds.
It stated: “Unfortunately, the current pressures mean we are having to further stand down elective (planned) procedures including some cancer procedures, which we will reschedule as soon as possible.”
It comes as the coronavirus pandemic continues to put the NHS across the country under massive pressure, with the Army also providing assistance in some other health board areas and to the Scottish Ambulance Service.
Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “This astonishing move puts it beyond doubt that we are in the midst of a full-blown NHS crisis.
“It is a damning indictment of the SNP’s recovery plan that risk levels in Lanarkshire are now higher than they were when Covid was at its peak.”
Ms Baillie, also Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, said that while NHS staff “are working tirelessly to do right by patients”, health services are now being “simply stretched past breaking point”.
She added: “It is a national scandal that cancer operations are being cancelled when we are already playing catch-up and it is frankly terrifying that we have reached this point before winter has hit.
“Lives are on the line because of the SNP’s negligence.
“They need to wake up to the scale of the emergency they’ve created and come up with a recovery plan that is fit for purpose.”
NHS Lanarkshire said while it does not recognise the term “Code Black”, it has now moved to the highest risk level – which is black in the colour-coded system.
Laura Ace, the health board’s strategic commander and deputy chief executive, said: “NHS Lanarkshire is currently at critical occupancy levels across its three acute hospitals.
“The sustained pressure continues across our three acute hospitals and is showing no signs of easing. We are facing relentless pressures, bed shortages and staff shortages due to sickness, stress and self-isolation and university hospitals Hairmyres, Monklands and Wishaw are all at maximum capacity
“The safety of our patients and staff is our top priority and we are working through short and medium-term actions to increase staffing and also improve the flow of patients out of hospital. The military are providing additional support within our hospitals.
“We took the decision at the end of August to temporarily postpone the majority of non-urgent planned care procedures and, unfortunately, the current pressures mean we are having to further stand down elective (planned) procedures including some cancer procedures, which we will reschedule as soon as possible.
“The current situation is unprecedented and marks a different level of risk for NHS Lanarkshire as a whole and moves our current status to the highest level of risk.
“We issued a message on social media this week warning patients to expect long waits at A&E as they are overwhelmed by the number of patients attending and needing admitted.
“This means patients are having to wait much longer to be seen that we would like, and well in excess of our target of four hours. A high number of these patients need to be admitted, which is causing severe pressures throughout our hospitals.
“To help free up hospital beds, we have also asked for any assistance from family members to allow us to discharge people home or to interim care placements as soon as possible.
“We know the impact of the current pressures are being felt right across the health and social care system, including GP practices which remain extremely busy.
“We recognise that our staff are doing everything they can and showing the highest levels of professionalism, commitment and resilience. We hope that the current actions being taken will help reduce the pressures on our staff and services in the coming days.”
But Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said the situation in NHS Lanarkshire showed “fresh resources” were needed for the NHS.
He stated: “Cancelling planned potentially lifesaving operations, including cancer operations, is shocking.
“It is crystal clear that our NHS needs a recovery plan not just from the pandemic but from 14 years of SNP neglect. After over 18 months of pandemic, and as winter approaches, the Government should have had a real plan in motion.
“Scottish Liberal Democrats will continue to press for fresh resources to alleviate the burden on staff and ensure that long-abandoned targets for cancer operation are finally met.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “As NHS Lanarkshire has made clear this is an unprecedented situation and it has introduced a range of measures to seek to reduce pressures at its three acute hospitals.
“The Scottish Government continues to actively monitor the situation and is taking direct action to support NHS Lanarkshire, this includes having secured the provision of temporary military assistance at each of Lanarkshire’s acute sites.”
With Health Secretary Humza Yousaf having warned the NHS is facing its “most difficult challenge ever in its 73-year history”, the spokesman said pressures from the pandemic would “continue to impact the NHS for some time”.
But he said a record winter funding package of more than £300 million would “help support all our NHS staff to deliver care to people across Scotland this winter”.
The spokesman added: “This record funding is directly facilitating rapid action to support increased capacity to manage pressures, increase expedited recruitment, support the flexible deployment of existing staffing, and facilitate the provision of mutual aid across the system.
“We recognise the significant additional pressure staff are facing both within NHS Lanarkshire and indeed across our health and care services at this time. We will continue to do all we can, both now and throughout the winter period, to seek to alleviate those demand pressures and provide support for their wellbeing.”
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