The resumption of NHS services halted amid the Covid-19 pandemic must be a “national priority”, Labour has demanded, as new figures showed a rise in the number of people dying from conditions such as cancer and dementia.
New figures showed there were 1,209 excess deaths from non-coronavirus conditions between March 16 – the week the first death from the virus was recorded in Scotland – and May 10, compared with the average number for this period over the past five years.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman revealed the total in answer to parliamentary questions from Labour.
Afterwards, health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said: “Getting NHS services up and running safely again must be a national priority, to save lives and prevent health problems building up.”
Ms Lennon pledged Labour would support a “national effort” on this, adding: “One priority for us is restarting the cancer screening programme and accelerating a detailed plan for elective procedures.”
She urged the Government to work on a cross-party basis, saying: “Rebooting our NHS is a massive task that will rely on co-operation and collaboration.
“MSPs are inundated with emails from constituents who are living with painful or life-threatening conditions and they are worried that the NHS is not there for them.
“The public and NHS staff need to know what to expect in the weeks and months ahead. It’s vital that measures are taken to maintain Covid-free healthcare environments and that adequate PPE is available so that patients can be treated safely.”
Her call was echoed by Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie as he told First Minister Nicola Sturgeon: “We cannot ignore the plight of people suffering under the lockdown.”
The Lib Dem leader made the plea ahead of a debate in the Scottish Parliament on the easing of lockdown restrictions, saying: “The First Minister must set out detailed plans for getting non-urgent healthcare up and running, and alleviating the pressure on those suffering at home, in isolation or trapped in hospital.”
Mr Rennie added: “Every week I am contacted by people who are either living with painful conditions, struggling with their mental health or waiting on operations that have been deemed non-urgent.
“These people have bravely and stoically put up with much discomfort because they understand the importance of the lockdown to keeping everybody safe, but this situation cannot last forever.”
Mr Rennie said he fears there will be a “significant backlog of mental health cases, surgery waits and the like” – adding that ministers should make clear how long patients could have to wait for “overdue” treatment.
His comments came after recent figures showed almost 10,000 fewer Scots were admitted to hospital for planned treatment in March, compared with the same time last year as the impact of Covid-19 was felt by the health service.
NHS data showed 16,561 patients were admitted to hospital for inpatient or day-case procedures in March this year – down from 26,033 12 months before.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We absolutely appreciate how difficult it has been for people who have had procedures or treatments postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We are intensively planning for how we resume procedures in the NHS, but it is crucial that this is done in an orderly and safe way.
“This work will accelerate over the next few weeks and will be progressed in a phased approach. We will shortly publish a framework that will help inform how the health and care system is aligned and managed during the next phase of the Covid-19 response, and beyond.
“The Health Secretary will also give an update to parliament this week.”
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