Nicola Sturgeon has warned it will take “some time” for services in the NHS to return to normal following the coronavirus pandemic, as new figures showed the number of surgeries carried out is 50% lower than last year.
Fears have now been raised than as many as 100,000 operations may not have been carried out because of the virus.
Liberal Democrats raised concerns after figures for August showed a 50.7% reduction in operations compared with the same month in 2019 – with the total going from 28,036 to 13,831.
Labour health spokesman Monica Lennon claimed that SNP ministers “seem to have no plan to get our NHS back on track”.
Her comments came as the First Minister accepted: “During Covid other operations have been fewer in number, because of not just the capacity needed in the health service for Covid, but the risks to patients of potentially being exposed to Covid.”
But Ms Sturgeon added that while there had been a fall in the number of procedures, “those numbers are rising again”.
She said: “So the recovery work and the backlog work is already under way, though it will take some time to complete”.
Public Health Scotland figures showed that although the number of operations carried out in August was half what it was 12 months before, there had been a 23.2% increase in surgeries compared with July, when 11,224 procedures were carried out.
But the Scottish Liberal Democrats calculated that between March and August there were 59,757 operations carried out in Scotland, compared with 168,389 for the same period the previous year and 171,962 in March to August 2018.
Lib Dem health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Over 100,000 scheduled operations have been lost to the pandemic so far.”
He added: “The Scottish Government was right to pause non-essential treatments to ensure that the NHS wasn’t overwhelmed. But while we protect people from the virus, people are suffering in different ways and some people’s conditions are deteriorating.
“The operations backlog continues to grow, and that is really tough for the patients already living in pain for months and who are being prevented from getting on in life.”
He said the Scottish Government needed to produce a “robust NHS recovery plan which maximises capacity while also keeping patients and staff safe”.
Meanwhile Ms Lennon said: “The Scottish Government has been too slow to remobilise the NHS and prepare for winter pressures. This needs urgent attention.”
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman is not expected to update MSPs on NHS winter planning until after Holyrood’s October recess.
Meanwhile Professor Jason Leitch, the Scottish Government’s national clinical director, warned that winter would be harder for the NHS both in terms of planning and the “actual reality” than in previous years.
Speaking at the Scottish Government’s daily coronavirus briefing, Mr Leitch said: “Winter is always challenging and the extra layer of having to maintain capacity for Covid… we will have to keep capacity inside our health service for Covid cases.
“And that means winter is harder this year in planning, and in the actual reality, than it has been for some time.”
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