THERE are hopes that a facility to process coronavirus tests could arrive in Shetland in the next couple of weeks – saving a “huge amount of time” currently involved in transporting swabs south.
NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson confirmed that as per national guidance tests would continue to be only given to people unwell with respiratory problems – not people self-isolating with minor symptoms.
He was speaking after local media were given a tour on Thursday morning of the Gilbert Bain Hospital’s Ronas Ward, which is being re-opened with beds purely for people with coronavirus.
At the moment there is no one on the ward with Covid-19, but the health board expects this to change over time.
Currently tests on Shetland people for coronavirus are sent to Glasgow for processing, meaning it has been taking upwards of 48 hours to get results back.
The health board is also effectively at the mercy of when scheduled flights run to the mainland.
But efforts are underway to get the facilities needed to process the tests in Shetland.
“We are looking rapidly to get a facility testing facility on the island,” Dickson said.
“It would save huge amounts of time.”
He said the equipment could be in place “in the next couple of weeks”, although there would be a process involved in getting it set up.
There is, however, an admission that the number of positive coronavirus cases – currently sitting at 16 – are essentially meaningless now that people in the community with symptoms in self-isolation are not being tested.
Dickson also paid tribute to staff – the “unsung heroes” – who have turned the Ronas Ward from a training unit into a working healthcare facility again in a matter of days.
The NHS is also opening a smaller respiratory unit in the hospital for patients who might need to be ventilated.
In total there is set to be nearly 40 beds dedicated to coronavirus patients at the hospital, with the aim to also provide five ventilators.
Thirty four of the beds are “ready to go”, according to Dickson.
The chief executive reiterated that anyone needing intensive care facilities would be transferred to the UK mainland, as there is no dedicated unit at the Gilbert Bain.
But that would not just be to Aberdeen, with a national plan in place for coronavirus patients to get intensive care wherever possible in the UK if facilities are full.
In terms of the effect the outbreak is having on NHS Shetland staff, Dickson said there were two key challenges.
One was staff deemed at risk who have been stood down, such as people aged over 70 and pregnant women.
The other is staff who have been affected by the closure of schools, which could continue through to the summer.
“We are working with Shetland Islands Council to see what we can ramp up in terms of childcare here,” Dickson said.
“We have had assurances that childcare is going to be rolled out.”
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