The Scottish government has announced that the emergency footing that the NHS was placed on early in the COVID-19 pandemic is now to be extended to the end of March 2021 to ensure “health and care services are fully supported across winter”.
Scotland’s health secretary has meanwhile repeated her pledge that patients with the most urgent conditions who are waiting for treatment in hospitals and the community will be seen first as the NHS continues to remobilise.
Jeane Freeman says the plans to get back up to speed are taking place alongside preparations for the biggest flu vaccination programme in history, with 2¼ million people due to be vaccinated between October and the end of the year.
The announcement of an extension to the special arrangements was made through a written parliamentary answer in which the Health Secretary made it clear that she was not ruling out extending ‘emergency footing’ even further beyond that date.
“Our health and care system continues to respond magnificently to the enormous challenges brought by the covid-19 pandemic,” Ms Freeman said in answer to a question from Paisley MSP, George Adam.
“NHS Scotland has begun safely and incrementally resuming some services that have been suspended, delayed or deferred due to coronavirus, whilst continuing to protect emergency, urgent and maternity care, support for social care and continuing to maintain covid-19 capacity and resilience; in line with Re-mobilise, Recover, Re-design: the Framework for NHS Scotland, published on 31 May.
“The reality is coronavirus is likely to be with us for some time to come, and so many changes made in the coming weeks and months have to be measured against the need to keep the virus under control, continuing to protect the NHS and save lives. Health boards and their planning partners will continue to work on safely resuming services whilst protecting covid-19 capacity, as informed by the evidence, clinical priorities and associated national networks and guidance.
“Nonetheless, I am mindful of the challenges that winter is likely to bring over the coming months, including seasonal flu and bad weather.
“I want to ensure that our health and care services are fully supported across winter, so NHS Scotland will remain on an emergency footing until at least 31 March 2021, at which point I will review the situation again.”
Speaking at Monday’s daily government briefing, Ms Freeman added that details of how individual NHS boards will prioritise people waiting for treatment will be published in the coming weeks.