Covid Scotland: Health board cuts GP services for a month as NHS staff absences double since end of December

GPs in Lanarkshire will attend to only the most urgent cases in the next month as the health board struggles to cope with continued demand and NHS staff absences across Scotland reached the highest levels since April 2020.

By Elsa Maishman
Wednesday, 12th January 2022, 5:56 pm
Updated Wednesday, 12th January 2022, 6:20 pm

Absences have more than doubled since the last week in December, to an average of 7,174 in the week to Tuesday.

The Royal College of Nursing said staff are exhausted and worn down, and called on the Scottish Government to do more to support nurses.

“The increase in Covid-19 related absence for NHS and care home staff is a significant concern,” said interim director Colin Poolman.

Staff at University Hospital Monklands ventilate a Covid-positive patient on the ICU ward on February 5, 2021 in Airdrie, Scotland. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

"Nursing staff across acute, community and social care services are telling us that they are seeing the impact on their ability to provide safe care for patients and residents, and on their, and their colleagues’, wellbeing.”

An average of 3,570 nursing and midwifery absences were recorded each day last week, along with 156 in medical and dental.

NHS Lanarkshire has announced GPs will enter a “managed suspension of services” for a month to cope with staffing shortages and high demand.

Practices will focus on only the most urgent care, including suspected Covid-19 or cancer.

Those with less urgent issues have been asked to visit the NHS Lanarkshire website for further advice, or to phone NHS 111 or visit a pharmacy.

The changes came into effect on Tuesday and will continue for four weeks.

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Dr Keith McIntyre, chair of Lanarkshire GP Sub-Committee, said: “There are a number of alternatives where people can turn to for health care, which will allow GP practices to focus on the most urgent of cases.

“The services provided under this change will vary between practices depending on their individual circumstances. However, GPs will continue to see patients in-person as and when it is appropriate. Practices have infection control processes in place, including physical distancing.

“People should continue to contact their GP practice for urgent issues, such as if they think they have symptoms of cancer.”

NHS Lothian said while the health board remained under pressure, there is currently no reduction in GP services.

Jenny Long, director of primary care at NHS Lothian, asked the public to consider other routes to care if appropriate.

“Rather than going straight to a GP practice there may be other options such as self-care or your local community pharmacy can often help before or instead of seeing your GP practice team,” she said. “You can also get help and advice on NHS Inform.

“Many GP practices are offering telephone triage and advice, which provide more ways to access care, often in a more convenient way for people, and to reduce the infection risk of attending a busy surgery.

“We continue to work with the Health and Social Care Partnerships and have resilience plans in place to support GPs and will continue to review this as we move forward.”

Scottish Labour health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said the step was indicative of an NHS crisis.

"Not long ago escalating to risk level black was almost unheard of, but now not even that is enough,” she said.

“Staff are working tirelessly to do right by patients, but services have been pushed past breaking point.”

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