Health Secretary Jeane Freeman has warned that reopening the NHS must be done “carefully and cautiously” while acknowledging it must not return to pre-lockdown “normal”.
Ms Freeman told MSPs the NHS “will remain on an emergency footing” for the next 100 days as the Government slowly works to reopen healthcare services.
During that time, the NHS will have to resume “as many of its normal services as possible” if it is safe to do so while retaining the capacity to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Speaking at the start of a debate about the NHS’s next steps, Ms Freeman said it would also have to start preparing for the winter season, including “replenishing stockpiles and readying services”.
She added that areas of the NHS being prioritised as services resume will be cancer treatment, elective procedures, mental health, pain clinics, dental care optometry, as well as “planning for the return of screening services”.
When challenged by Scottish Labour’s Neil Findlay whether a return to “normal” would see a return to high levels of delayed discharge and long waiting times, Ms Freeman replied: “I don’t want us to return to normal.”
She explained that she wanted the health service to retain some of the “significant changes in service and care delivery” adopted during the pandemic, such as the increased use of technology to enable care to be delivered at home.
She said: “I’m acutely aware that the rapid reconfiguration of our NHS was not without cost to other patients.
“We all increasingly understand the cost of dealing with this pandemic to health and to our well being; it has brought worry, continuing pain and anxiety for many.
“Stopping large and important areas of healthcare was never a decision I would have taken if I felt I had any other choice and I deeply regret the pain and the anguish that caused.
“But there was no other choice, lives were – and still do remain – at stake.”
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs said he wanted to see NHS services restarted “safely and sustainably”, and suggested that the coronavirus crisis can be an “opportunity for change”.
He said: “Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak SNP ministers were failing to meet any of their own waiting time targets and health targets.
“There can be, and I hope there will be, an opportunity for a new cross-party consensus to help improve and secure, the future success of our Scottish NHS.”
Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman Monica Lennon raised the figures, released earlier on Tuesday, showing the number of planned operations was down by more 80% in April.
“We know that we’re storing up a backlog of health problems,” she said, urging services to be resumed safely for both patients and NHS workers.
Scottish Greens co-leader Alison Johnstone said many health and care staff had felt stressed about a lack of PPE during the coronavirus crisis.
She said: “We have to bear in mind that there may be staff working in the NHS and in care at the moment who will be affected by post-traumatic stress.”