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Health / Health board ‘stable’ as winter approaches

Lerwick's Gilbert Bain Hospital. Photo: Shetland News

NHS Shetland is in a “stable but fragile” position in the lead-up to the second winter of the Covid pandemic, according to its interim public health director.

Dr Susan Laidlaw warned, however, that it “doesn’t take much to affect our health services” due to the size of the organisation.

There has been significant worry nationally about the impact the colder months of winter will bring on the health service whilst there remains continued Covid cases, despite the success of the vaccination programme.

Speaking during a media briefing on Tuesday, Dr Laidlaw said NHS Shetland was in a stable position as winter approaches.

When asked what it would take for things to become a problem, she said: “In terms of the NHS services in particular, if they had a number of people admitted with Covid for example, with other respiratory infections that needed to be isolated on the wards, that needed more staffing, then that could affect things significantly.

“And (…) if there was a large number of staff that were off needing to isolate or because they were ill, then that would affect things as well.

“We’ve not got a huge number of beds, so it doesn’t take a huge number of people to be able to fill up those beds quite quickly.”

Dr Laidlaw added that another key issue is preventing Covid or flu entering care homes.

Nearly all of Shetland’s Covid cases are people who have travelled south, their contacts and then other household contacts.

Meanwhile NHS Shetland’s Covid booster and flu vaccine programme is progressing well.

Dr Laidlaw said vaccinators have now been out to all the care homes to do flu and booster jabs.

The team is now calling people age 70 and over, and those who are extremely clinically vulnerable.

Vaccinators will then work down the age groups over time. “It will be quite intense from now until the end of November, doing the booster and flu jabs.”

NHS Shetland has now also vaccinated nearly half of people aged 12 to 15.

This figure is expected to increase as many youngsters have been unavailable during the holidays.

“The Covid and flu vaccination programmes are complex and changing,” Dr Laidlaw reflected.

“We are having to adapt and be flexible with how we deliver the programmes as we go.

“I would like to ask the community to have patience, but to take up the offer of a covid and/or flu vaccination appointment when they are offered one.

“Please do not contact your GP practice or the vaccination team to ask about appointments unless you have specifically been asked to do so, or if you need to change an appointment you have already been given.

“There will be opportunities to contact us if you have been missed for whatever reason.”

Dr Laidlaw also confirmed there are no plans in place to increase capacity to process more Covid PCR tests locally.

She said trained technicians are in short supply, “so we probably can’t increase it any more than we have done already”.