The NHS in Scotland will remain on an emergency footing for at least another six months, the Health Secretary has said.
Humza Yousaf said while the number of new coronavirus cases is beginning to fall, the health service is facing a “challenging winter”.
Then health secretary Jeane Freeman initially put the NHS on an emergency footing for a minimum of three months when Covid first hit Scotland in March 2020.
The NHS has remained in this state since then and Mr Yousaf – who took over the role after May’s Scottish Parliament election – confirmed it will now continue until at least the end of March 2022.
The move, revealed in answer to a parliamentary question at Holyrood, comes after the regent surge in Covid-19 infections contributed to sustained pressure on medical services in Scotland, with accident and emergency departments recently recording their worst ever waiting times performance.
Meanwhile, long waits for ambulances prompted the Scottish Government to call in the help of both the Army and firefighters to drive some non-emergency vehicles.
Mr Yousaf said he was “mindful of the impact of these pressures” on frontline health and care staff, who have now been dealing with coronavirus for some 18 months.
He said: “It is clear that as we move into the winter period, we need to continue to balance the capacity of the NHS to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic against increasing demands of emergency, urgent and planned care and delayed discharges.
“With this in mind, I have decided that the NHS will remain on an emergency footing until at least March 31 2022.”
He thanked health and care staff “for their magnificent work” during the pandemic and said: “Whilst we are beginning to see a reduction in the numbers of new Covid cases, the last few weeks have been enormously difficult and our health and care services are continuing to deal with a challenging combination of issues.
“With the continued increased demands on services across health and social care, we must ensure that the vital services provided by our NHS are protected as we move into a challenging winter period.
“This means we must continue with a measured and consistent approach to remobilising and renewing across our system, learning from the pressures we were subjected to over the last year and maintaining the ability to quickly respond and intervene, where necessary.”
Tory health spokesman, Dr Sandesh Gulhane, said it was “astonishing” that the move had been announced in a written parliamentary question instead of the Health Secretary making a statement to MSPs.
Dr Gulhane, who is also a GP, claimed: “It is astonishing Humza Yousaf didn’t announce a decision of this magnitude to Parliament first.
“He now wants to avoid scrutiny despite confirming our health service will be on an emergency footing for at least another six months
The Conservative MSP said: “Humza Yousaf has been too slow in getting on top of the crisis in our NHS. Our health service would be better served by him delivering a winter plan for our NHS, rather than prioritising photo ops.
“He’s had to call in the British Army to sort out ambulance wait times. My colleagues in the health service are completely overwhelmed.”
He continued: “The SNP promised a winter plan for our NHS would be published last week. There’s no sign of it.
“Humza Yousaf and the SNP should urgently produce that plan and maximise the use of our armed forces in our health service, rather than pursuing their campaign for independence.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said the extension of emergency status was “clear evidence that NHS and care services are ill prepared to tackle winter workloads”.
Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “The SNP’s recovery plan is riddled with holes and their promise to increase NHS activity by 10% looks delusional.
“Firstly the Health Secretary needs to be honest with people about the scale of the challenge. Secondly he needs to listen to the Liberal Democrats, NHS representatives and others and actually deliver the scale of resources necessary to see our health service through the winter.”
Meanwhile Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “This is an incredibly serious revelation which underlines the scale of the crisis in our NHS.”
She added: “This crisis did not come out of the blue, nor was it inevitable.
“The SNP’s catastrophic mishandling of the NHS has led us to this situation, with lives now at risk.
“The SNP must now be prepared to pull out all the stops to ensure our NHS is not further overwhelmed this winter and to tackle the growing NHS backlog.”
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