NHS Lothian forecasts £119 million bill for Covid and warns of longer waiting times ahead

Backlog will mean longer wait for other treatment

By Ian Swanson
Wednesday, 16th September 2020, 7:30 am
Extra staff, additional capacity and enhanced cleaning all contributed to the Covid bill
Extra staff, additional capacity and enhanced cleaning all contributed to the Covid bill

HEALTH bosses in Lothian expect to run up a Covid bill of £119 million by the end of the year.

NHS Lothian finance director Susan Goldsmith told MSPs the extra costs from coping with coronavirus included creating extra capacity, bringing in extra staff to cover for absences, recruiting more student nurses, enhanced cleaning and taking on extra porters.

The £119m total does not cover social care, but does include some estimated costs for getting services back up as the health service recovers from the crisis.

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The Scottish Government has made extra funding available to help meet costs, but Ms Goldsmith said how the money is shared out was still under discussion between the government and health boards.

Giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s health committee, she said it was recognised the usual population-based formula was “not necessarily appropriate”.

“Some costs were driven by population size, like test and protect, but others were to do with the way in which Covid hit boards, where we’ve seen a greater impact in Lothian and Glasgow and less impact further north.”

Calum Campbell, NHS Lothian interim chief executive, told the committee that Covid would mean longer waiting times for other treatment.

He said: “We didn’t have enough capacity to meet demand prior to the pandemic - that’s why we had waiting time challenges - and the pandemic has brought that into really sharp focus. There will be a significant backlog which will take us a significant amount of time to address and clear.

“We are going to have to be honest and say the waiting times will be a real challenge to get back to. It will take us a significant amount of time and the financial availability to support that, I would have thought, given the impact on the economy, is going to be limited.”

He was asked about hip and knee replacement operations. Mr Campbell said: “We were struggling before this with our capacity. We will have to see if we can work with the independent sector because, while not clinically urgent, the impact on somebody’s life of these things can be absolutely massive. We need to find a solution to it and I think it is going to come at increased cost.”

MSPs also asked what new technologies used during the pandemic might be retained by the health service.

Mr Campbell said “Near Me” video consultations offered by GPs had “great potential” and could be used especially for patients in nursing homes.

“Remote monitoring can also reduce the need for patients to come to hospital.”

And he said the success of home-working by staff in HR, payroll and finance departments had been “a revelation”.

He said he expected the NHS would spend more on technology in the wake of the pandemic.

But he warned: “We have to be careful about digital exclusion. As we invest in the health service we have to be aware we don’t drive inequalities in a different way.”

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