Oxygen shortages in English hospitals have left Jason Leitch feeling “horror and fear” about the impact of the pandemic on the NHS.
Mr Leitch, national clinical director, warned Scotland should not become “complacent” about its own oxygen supplies for treating coronavirus patients.
He was speaking to Holyrood’s Covid committee following reports that oxygen supplies had “reached a critical situation” in some hospitals in the south-east of England.
Mr Leitch said Scotland currently had “enough” oxygen, but reiterated the need to “keep that prevalence down in order for us not to have to face those same challenges”.
The clinical director also said vaccinations could be carried out 24 hours a day if people wished, although he believed the issue is a “red herring”.
‘No present oxygen challenge’
His remarks on oxygen supplies follow publication of a Scottish Government report that admitted the NHS could soon become “overwhelmed” in some areas due to the new coronavirus strain.
Giving evidence to MSPs on Thursday, Mr Leitch said: “There is no present oxygen challenge in Scotland, we have enough both of the oxygen and the kit to get it to patients. But we shouldn’t be complacent.
“As we said at the beginning, there were 107 admissions in the last seven days. In peacetime we have a capacity in intensive care of around 120.
“So we are already, just with Covid, almost reaching what was a peacetime capacity.
“Now, we are well beyond that capacity now; we’ve got available space, people shouldn’t be worried, but it’s just to put in perspective what Covid has done to the National Health Services of the UK.”
He added: “We look on with horror and fear about what has happened in the south-east, and in England, but this is not a competition.
“I’m in touch with my colleagues there and I feel for them, we want to help them as much as we can, but equally if there are bits of England that don’t have that challenge, and Scotland not having that challenge, we want to keep that prevalence down in order for us not to have to face those same challenges.”
Mr Leitch said there had often been enough oxygen at the affected English hospitals, but the problem had been getting it to the correct places in sufficient volumes.
“It’s not that the tanks don’t have enough oxygen in them, it’s the logistics of course of doubling, trebling, quadrupling your intensive care units,” he said.
“And you don’t build brand new, shiny intensive care units – you put people in theatres, or you put people in wards that do not have the same infrastructure.
“That’s why you’ve seen in some English trusts, they are struggling to get enough oxygen to enough people.”
Mr Leitch was also asked if there was anything to prevent a move to start vaccinating people 24 hours a day, but he played down the importance of that debate.
“Nothing, except, do you want to go for your vaccine at 4am when I can give you it at 8pm?” he said.
“I think it has taken on a bit of an iconic status that I think is not worthy. It makes for good headlines.
“The fundamental answer to your question is, if you want 24/7, you can have it.
“But we’ve got vaccinators working from 8 until 8, working their socks off round the clock, in and out of care homes.
“I don’t think care homes want vaccines at 3am. If people want vaccines at 3am because they are on nightshift, because they are a midwife – that is already available within the NHS.
“I think it is a little bit of a red herring, the 24/7 thing. It makes for a nice front page, so if they want the front page, yes, 24/7 is available.”