Coronavirus / Next four weeks could be ‘most challenging’ of pandemic yet, health official warns

NHS Shetland will restrict its GP services to urgent or emergency cases only during the festive period

Brian Chittick is Shetland's director of community health and social care. Photo: SIC

A SENIOR NHS Shetland official has warned that the “next four weeks could be the most challenging we have faced during the pandemic” as Covid cases rise through the spread of the Omicron variant.

Director of community health and social care Brian Chittick also reiterated calls to be compassionate and kind to NHS staff.


He was speaking as NHS Shetland announced a reduced GP service over the festive period for non-urgent cases.

Between 22 December and 5 January GPs in Shetland will only be seeing urgent and emergency cases.

This is to free up capacity to ensure that any patient who needs to see or speak to a GP can do so as quickly as possible.

Patients are urged to seek advice from NHS Inform in the first instance if they are unwell, as in many cases there may be another way of seeking help – for example through a pharmacist.

However, anyone will be able to speak with a GP if they have serious health concerns or symptoms.


GPs will be supported by advanced nurse practitioners to ensure that patients will have access to primary care advice and care.

Out of hours and at weekends, patients can also speak with NHS 24 on 111 which will help deciding if individuals need to see a GP.

Practice nurses will continue to work as normal, seeing patients for screening, check-ups and reviews so if any patient has an appointment with their practice nurse, then they should attend.

Patients are also being asked to “flow before you go” and to undertake a lateral flow test prior to attending any health appointment.


If it is positive then they must book a PCR test and start isolating and not attend the appointment.

Patients with any symptoms of winter illnesses like cold, flu and Norovirus are also asked not to attend health centres.

Director of community health and social care Brian Chittick said: “There is no doubt that the next four weeks could be the most challenging we have faced during the pandemic.

“There may be times when patients could be asked to attend appointments in health centres other than the one they are registered at in order to receive a timely appointment.

“Staff are working tremendously hard to keep services running; some are even sacrificing their much needed festive leave.

“I would personally ask that we all treat each other with kindness and compassion, especially at this time of year, and acknowledge that we are all trying to navigate our way through this next wave of Covid infections.”

Shetland’s tally of confirmed Covid cases has increased by 25 since the last update on Friday. Last week NHS Shetland confirmed the Omicron variant was present locally.

Meanwhile all patients attending outpatient appointments will be asked to complete a short health survey from 20 December onwards.


The Scottish Government recently published updated winter respiratory guidance for patients attending hospital and other settings.

This is to help identify people who may be asymptomatic but carrying the Covid virus.

It is also recognised that there is likely to be an increase in other respiratory illnesses this winter.

The survey will be included in the envelope with the appointment letter and it should be completed at home and brought along to the appointment.

Patients are also encouraged to take a lateral flow test at home on the day of their outpatient appointment.

NHS Shetland’s intention is to continue to offer as many planned appointments and tests as possible, whilst working within these new screening rules – “so you may be offered a video consultation or a telephone appointment instead”.

A health board spokesperson said: “Please make sure if your appointment or test is for a serious condition e.g. suspected cancer or cancer treatment etc that you let us know, as we will not cancel these appointments, other than in exceptional circumstances.”

Patients attending the following departments for a planned appointment will be required to take a lateral flow test at home and complete a health survey before arriving at the hospital:

  • Outpatients department
  • Pre-operative assessment
  • Clinic medical imaging department
  • Cardiac physiology department
  • Audiology department
  • Chemotherapy unit
  • Maternity unit (antenatal, postnatal and ultrasound appointments)