A Scottish health board is redeploying office staff to help at hospitals and GP surgeries amid soaring demand for accident-and-emergency (A&E) services across the country.
NHS Lanarkshire said its three hospital sites at Hairmyres, Wishaw and Monklands had been “inundated” over the festive period and “exceptional measures” were necessary to ensure patient safety.
Office workers have been volunteering to help out colleagues in hospitals and GP practices by taking on administrative and cleaning roles over the next five days.
The health board is also one of several across Scotland that has been forced to temporarily postpone elective or non-urgent procedures due to the increased pressure on services.
Chief executive Calum Campbell said: “This is an unparalleled situation in Lanarkshire and exceptional circumstances need exceptional measures to enable us to deliver our number one healthcare priority – patient safety.
“We asked our office-based staff to consider volunteering to suspend their ‘day-job’ to support their clinical colleagues, bearing in mind our key purpose and commitment as an organisation to care for people who need our help.
“Not surprisingly, we’ve had a tremendous response which demonstrates the strong team spirit that exists within the NHS.”
NHS Grampian said it had postponed “a small number of routine operations” in the last week while NHS A yrshire and Arran has also put back about 15 orthopaedic procedures over the past two weeks “due to an increase of orthopaedic trauma emergencies”.
Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary was moved to “red status” on Wednesday due to high admissions, with some outpatient clinics suspended and non-urgent elective surgeries postponed for the day.
NHS Lothian said it was monitoring the situation closely, adding that “due to current pressures it has been necessary to reschedule some elective procedures”.
The latest figures for the week ending December 24 show that 83.3% of patients in A&E units were seen and either admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours, against a target of 95%.
A total of 26,569 people visited A&E during the week, up almost 20% from the same week in 2016.
The Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow experienced a 44% increase in attendances while the city’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital saw a 26% rise.
Wishaw, Raigmore, Borders and Inverclyde hospitals also saw increases of more than 25%.
Health boards attributed the increase in demand to acute seasonal illnesses, with the rate of GP consultations for flu and respiratory infections rising by over a quarter during the period.
The Scottish Ambulance Service and NHS24 also reported rises in call volume, with the latter experiencing the busiest festive period since the service began 15 years ago.
Scottish Health Secretary Shona Robison said: “Our NHS and community health service do a fantastic job all year round but there is no doubt that winter can bring additional demands, and I’d like to thank them once again for the dedication they have shown during this busy winter period.
“We’re working with boards to help them cope with pressures and this year alone we have invested £22.4 million to create extra resilience across the system.”
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Gregor Smith said: “These figures illustrate the demands being placed on health staff right across Scotland as a result of spikes in various illnesses such as flu.
“We can all play a part in ensuring demand on our most acute services is minimised, however, by taking time to think of the best way to access treatment.
“Only go to A&E if you have had an accident or you are experiencing significant difficulties, such as trouble breathing or severe bleeding.”
Scottish Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar said: “These statistics reveal an SNP winter meltdown in the health service.
“The NHS shouldn’t have to rely on office staff volunteering to help on the frontline in the 21st century, yet that is the reality after a decade of SNP mismanagement.
“This must serve as a stark warning to Shona Robison at the start of this year. She failed Scotland’s patients and NHS staff in 2017, and we cannot afford for her to fail in 2018.”
NHS Borders said t he Borders General Hospital continued to experience high demand in its Accident and Emergency Department.
A health board spokesman said: “We are currently ensuring that urgent patients and those with cancer and fractures receive their operations. All other operations are being reviewed on a case by case basis.
“We are working closely with our social care colleagues at Scottish Borders Council to ensure that patients who no longer require hospital care are discharged to an appropriate setting for their care needs.”