NHS Shetland is to “cancel all but core business” to free up staff after implementing its pandemic disease plan.
The health board activated the plan on Monday in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The plan sets out what NHS Shetland does if it has an infectious disease outbreak that cannot be dealt with through normal day-to-day activities.
It also means is that normal NHS board activities have been suspended as “all resources are directed to responding to the pandemic”.
In the short-term this involves cancelling all but core business to free up staff.
Wards at the Gilbert Bain Hospital are in the process of being reconfigured with the Ronas Ward, which is currently used for clinical training after being closed in 2017, now coming back into operation.
A critical care facility is also being put in place to cope with patients that might need to be ventilated.
Later in the afternoon UK prime minister Boris Johnson announced more stringent measures including avoiding unnecessary social contact and working from home if possible.
Current scientific evidence suggests that over the course of this pandemic as many as four in five people may develop coronavirus at some point.
A large proportion of people will have symptoms equivalent to a cold and will recover completely.
There will be a small percentage of those who contract the disease, perhaps four percent, who will require hospital treatment.
The NHS said this will not be all at once and will take several months.
The measures the NHS is taking aim to reduce the peak and pressure on services.
NHS Shetland reiterated that the public’s help in responding to the pandemic is “crucial”.
“It might seem basic but the simple message of washing your hands (singing happy birthday twice if you must!) is really important, don’t touch your mouth, eyes and or nose, unless you have recently cleaned your hands and use a tissue for coughs and sneezes,” a spokesperson said.
“There are measures that have been introduced last week which aim to reduce contact with other people to delay the transmission of the virus. The key message is if you have a new continuous cough and/or a high temperature (over 37.8 degrees centigrade) then stay at home for seven days.
“If you have mild symptoms you don’t need to contact your GP or NHS 24 (111). If you are concerned about more serious symptoms or if your symptoms worsen, then contact your GP in hours, or out of hours NHS 24 on 111.
“We will test patients who are admitted to hospital with flu-like illness. The changes to who we test mean that from this week the numbers of confirmed cases will only capture tests undertaken for people who are unwell in hospital with suspected Covid-19.
“In anticipation of increased demand on the health service we have been working as a health system to increase our capacity. To achieve the capacity required will require us to work differently, for example by using ‘near me’ technology to have virtual and telephone conversations, staff taking on different roles, coming back from retirement, staff trained up and working in a wider range of areas.”
This will also require NHS Shetland to reduce demand by suspending some activity, and people will have to wait “much longer” to be seen unless their treatment is really urgent.
The health board said it is “anticipating further measures to be announced in the coming weeks including social distancing for the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions”.
“Once we receive guidance we will communicate what it means for our system. We are very committed to minimising conflicting advice and clearing up any misunderstandings,” it added.
The latest information and advice can be found online.
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