The British Medical Association (BMA) Scotland has urged the Scottish Government to take a cautious approach to the return of some NHS services.
Non-emergency procedures and screenings for diseases including cancer were postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak in Scotland but plans have now been unveiled to allow the health service to provide a full range of care again.
In the lead-up to a debate in the Scottish Parliament on the framework for the return of services – known as remobilise, recover, redesign – BMA Scotland chairman Lewis Morrison stressed the complexity of the task, saying a balance between increasing patient numbers and stopping the spread of the virus must be struck.
He said: “It is vital we get as much of our NHS back up and running as quickly as can safely be done for people who depend on it – and need our care.
“We completely understand the desire to resume more normal NHS services as lockdown begins to ease.
“But this has to be carefully balanced with the huge scale and complexity of the challenge we face.
“Many doctors are concerned about how they will cope with surges in demand as the NHS begins to open up and a second wave of coronavirus remains a real possibility. We already know the NHS cannot cope with both a high level of coronavirus as well as everything else.”
A majority of 910 respondents to a survey by the union also said they were not confident demand would be met when NHS services resume, with 52.7% saying they felt that to be the case in their own practice or department, 57.9% about the local health economy and 63.6% about community settings such as care homes.
It was also found that 43.6% of respondents were not confident in being able to meet patient demand if there is a second peak of the virus, 17.4% of whom said they were “not at all confident”.
On Sunday, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said there would be a “cautious, phased” return of services.
BMA Scotland outlined five “asks” they would like to see the Scottish Government meet as the services return.
Along with balancing capacity for coronavirus and non-coronavirus services, the union stressed the importance of ensuring there are adequate stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE) and measures put in place to ensure the wellbeing of healthcare staff who have worked during the pandemic – including a call for “time and space to recover mentally and physically”.
The union also called for clarity, on the future role of staff and the fate of training and career progression, as well as with the public on the limitations they can expect to see within NHS services.
Dr Morrison added: “The understandable desire to use the lessons learned from Covid-19 to evolve and redesign NHS services needs to be tempered with a realisation of what is going to be deliverable.”
Ms Freeman said: “We fully agree on the importance of an evidence-based, cautious and phased approach to resuming NHS services.
“That is why, at the weekend, we published a framework which sets out how Health Boards will follow national and local clinical advice to safely and gradually prioritise the resumption of some paused services.
“The safety and wellbeing of both NHS staff and patients continues to be a top priority, which is why we are taking a cautious approach as we take these next steps to restore services for patients, whilst maintaining Covid-19 capacity and resilience.
“We will continue to work with the BMA and other professional bodies as well as health boards, local authorities, unions and other key stakeholders to ensure those working in our health service continue to feel supported throughout this period.”
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