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Coronavirus / Community’s ‘determination to do the right thing’ has saved lives, NHS chief executive says

NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

THE DETERMINATION of the Shetland community to “do the right thing” has slowed down the spread of Covid-19 in the isles and “without doubt saved lives”, according to NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson.

However, he said “we cannot relax yet because the virus is highly contagious and is still in our community”.

“The only way to hamper the spread of infection right now is to continue to obey the lockdown,” Dickson said.

The chief executive was asked by Shetland News about when health officials expect the peak of Covid-19 to be reached in the isles.

Scottish islands, including Shetland, have been the focus of discussion recently regarding whether they could be used as pilot areas when relaxing lockdown rules.

“As Shetland has a small population it can be difficult to map our experience to the national modelling,” Dickson said.

“However the additional time we have been preparing for Covid-19 has helped us with our planning and mobilisation.

“After our first two cases were diagnosed we were able to get organised quickly, develop a Shetland-wide personal protective equipment service, roll out supportive technology solutions and reconfigure the hospital ahead of time.

“Also, the contact tracing by our public health team in the first few days after the initial cases came to light was fast and determined and this enabled us to dramatically slow the spread.”

A photo from the 2019 SMUHA procession. Photo: Kevin Osborn

Dickson said the decision from NHS Shetland chairman Gary Robinson to suggest the cancellation of the South Mainland and Delting Up Helly Aas in March was a difficult one to make, but was “without doubt the right thing to do”.

The festivals were postponed while there were only two positive cases in Shetland, with the decisions – made before a nationwide ban on gatherings – setting an early example.

Dickson suggested that people’s actions in the opening phases of the outbreak has helped to reduce the severity of Covid-19’s impact in Shetland.

National Records of Scotland data published last Wednesday showed that there have been six Covid-19-related deaths registered in Shetland.

“The determination by the Shetland community to do the right thing, including self-isolate if they were not feeling well and shielding, has slowed the spread of Covid-19 in Shetland and without doubt saved lives,” Dickson said.

Robinson, meanwhile, told Shetland News last week that a new piece of machinery which allows Covid-19 tests to be processed locally – instead of swabs being sent south – gives the health board “flexibility” in its response to approach to the virus, providing the potential to return to a ‘test, trace and isolate’ strategy.

The idea of coronavirus decision-making in Scotland’s islands being different to elsewhere in the UK was raised at the inaugural meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Covid-19 committee on Friday.

Cabinet secretary for the constitution, Europe and external affairs Michael Russell said, however, that there could be a danger of confusing messages coming from the government if there were varying scenarios for different regions.

“I represent a large number of island communities – there are 23 inhabited islands in the Argyll and Bute constituency,” he said.

“On some islands, it would be comparatively simple for people to say, ‘We don’t have a coronavirus case; we had one, but it has passed. Can we do something different here?’

“However, there would be issues. For example, although the first minister might be happy with that, she might have to say, ‘My message applies to everybody, except for viewers on such and such an island, who should look away now’. That would not be sensible.

“This will take a bit of time and a bit of getting used to, but the core of the issue is very simple: what is the best thing for the people of Scotland, and how do we implement that? It is not surprising that that would be the first minister’s primary thought, because that is her primary duty.”

The cumulative number of positive Covid-19 tests recorded so far in Shetland, meanwhile, remained at 54 on Monday (27 April).

For the latest advice on coronavirus visit the NHS Inform website.