Vital services such as mental health and cancer screening in Tayside are running with just “bare minimum” staff due to Covid-19 pressures, a new report has revealed.
An update put together by NHS Tayside’s Public Health department states too many staff have been taken away from critical roles to cope with the demands of contact tracing.
This has left other highest priority areas with just skeleton staff.
Critics have called for more support from the Scottish Government to prevent excess deaths from causes other than the virus.
Interim director of Public Health in Tayside, Dr Emma Fletcher, stated in her report to a recent NHS Tayside board meeting that major outbreaks have caused the issue.
She said: “Since mid-August, the demand on the contact tracing service has been relentless owing to a significant increase in community transmission, including a number of major, concurrent outbreaks and linked cases.
“The entire Public Health Directorate has been almost completely reassigned to contact tracing and COVID incident management, with only the bare minimum of capacity deployed to other highest priority areas – immunisation, screening and mental health.”
Dundee Labour councillor Michael Marra said the Scottish Government is “robbing Peter to pay Paul”.
“That is no way to protect life in Scotland,” he said.
“It is blindingly obvious that substituting one service for the other will result in the loss of life through additional cancer deaths and another mental health crisis.
“Immunisation programmes are also a key part of relieving the burden on acute medical care. Any fallback in the rates of those receiving immunisation could impact on our ability to prevent overload of the NHS.”
Marion O’Neill, Cancer Research UK’s head of external affairs in Scotland, added: “NHS staff in cancer services have worked tirelessly to care for patients during these challenging months, and significant investment is needed to ensure we can provide the very best cancer care across Scotland.
“Investing in staff and kit at the earliest opportunity is essential in helping tackle the backlog and get cancer services back on track.”
To remedy the situation, Dr Fletcher said a newly-launched recruitment and training drive aims to expand the contact tracing service.
This will include bank staff who can be deployed within 24 hours in the event of a significant increase in cases.
The new model is designed to provide sustainable staffing until mid-2022 if needed.
The Scottish Government say it has provided £19 million to health boards to support contact tracing.
A spokesperson said: “Boards are required to have in place arrangements to ensure we have capacity to deal with demand.
“We continue to work closely with health boards including NHS Tayside to ensure they have robust plans in place to deal with a range of pressures on capacity in the coming weeks and months, including Covid-19.”