NHS Lanarkshire has announced that it has taken a range of significant measures to cope with unprecedented pressures arising from increasing numbers of coronavirus (COVID-19) patients in its hospitals.
Standing down all but the most urgent of planned surgeries in the Acute Division, pausing targeted medical outpatient appointments other than one emergency clinic in each speciality and restricting hospital visiting are amongst the radical steps which have been taken to alleviate the crisis.
It follows on from Public Health Scotland reporting in early September North Lanarkshire as having a seven-day COVID-19 positive rate of more than 1,000 per 100,000 population, the highest of any local authority area in Scotland. Alarmingly, six of the top 10 neighbourhoods (and 11 of the top 20) with the highest proportion of COVID-19 cases in North Lanarkshire were in Greater Cumbernauld at that point.
One of the major concerns in recent weeks has been the growing number of people in Lanarkshire hospitals with COVID-19, with 118 inpatients recorded as at 7 September 2021. This was projected to rise to around 172 by 14 September 2021, with University Hospital Monklands one of the infirmities under real strain.
As such, the health board is calling on the public to help reduce numbers of cases by getting vaccinated with both doses, undertaking lateral flow tests twice a week (even if there are no symptoms), using health services appropriately and following precautions on face coverings, hand hygiene and social distancing. Laura Ace, Strategic Commander and Deputy Chief Executive of NHS Lanarkshire, commented:
“NHS Lanarkshire’s services are under significant pressure. This is set to increase in the coming weeks as the impact of high levels of COVID-19 and staff sickness absence continue to be felt across the whole system.
“COVID-19 cases have surged again and Lanarkshire has been experiencing one of the highest rates in Europe. The vaccine is highly effective in stopping people becoming seriously ill, but with so many cases, even a small percentage becoming ill has a huge impact on our hospitals particularly when they are already dealing with a marked and sustained rise in urgent non-COVID-19 clinical activity.
“We urgently need to find space for 50-60 additional hospital patients. Therefore, the health board’s Strategic Command Group has unfortunately had to agree to look at opening intermediate care beds, with some community-based nursing staff being redeployed to care at home services for a period of six weeks.
“This will support care at home and facilitated discharge with the aim of increasing bed capacity within the acute hospitals. Redeployment will be carried out in line with NHS Lanarkshire’s policies and guidelines.
“We understand how difficult the current situation is for everyone and that it is dispiriting not to be able to continue the valuable work needed to recover from the pandemic. We are also calling on all residents of Lanarkshire to do their part to help us protect the most vulnerable in our communities.”
Despite the majority of elective surgeries planned for the next few weeks being rescheduled, the public is being reassured that clinically urgent and priority procedures will go ahead as normal. NHS Lanarkshire’s Acute Divisional Medical Director Dr John Keaney said:
“The sustained pressure we are seeing across our three acute hospitals is showing no signs of easing and our staff are struggling to cope. Unfortunately we have had to postpone the majority of non-urgent surgical procedures, and I would like to apologise to those patients affected.
“Most patients will have received a text message confirming the postponement of their appointment. A small number are still going ahead as scheduled based on clinical priority.
“Cancelling this inpatient activity is releasing bed capacity and staff to support our Accident and Emergency services, which are currently seeing an unprecedented level of activity.”
Accident and Emergency Departments at Monklands, Wishaw General and Hairmyers hospitals have consistently seen a hugely increased combined total of more than 4,000 patients per week since early May, with a peak of 4,698 patients during the first week of June.
To this end, the health board is urging people who think they need to attend Accident and Emergency for conditions that are not serious or life-threatening to consider alternative options, such as calling NHS 24 on 111 any time of the day or night or obtaining healthcare advice from the NHS inform website.
Meanwhile, Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub and Cumbernauld Family Hub are encouraging local parents and carers to ensure that their children take up the offer of the influenza (flu) vaccine over the coming months.
NHS Lanarkshire has commenced its biggest ever flu immunisation programme in light of the ongoing pandemic, with all primary and secondary school pupils being offered the free flu vaccine for the first time year. Children aged between two and five years-old are also eligible for the vaccine and the health board has started to invite parents and carers to attend a vaccination appointment.
School children and toddlers are being given the flu vaccine by means of a live nasal spray this year. The spray is a quick and painless way of providing immunisation to youngsters. The flu vaccine cannot give you flu, but it can stop you catching it. Maree Todd, Scottish Government’s Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport, remarked:
“More people than ever are being offered the flu vaccine and we hope to see a large uptake amongst children and young people as we aim to keep flu out of schools this year.
“Last year, with the public health measures that were in place, there were lower levels of flu than there has been in previous years so our immunity levels to flu may be lower this year. The vaccines are safe and the best way to help protect you and others from flu this winter.”
The flu virus changes every year, so people need to get the vaccine annually to stay protected. The COVID-19 vaccine does not offer any protection from flu, hence why both vaccines are required.
THE FLU AND THE FLU VACCINE: KEY QUESTIONS ANSWERED
What is Flu?
Flu is a common infectious viral illness spread by coughs and sneezes. It can be very unpleasant, but you’ll usually begin to feel better within about a week. You can catch flu all year round, but it’s especially common in winter, which is why it’s also known as seasonal flu.
Flu isn’t the same as the common cold. Flu is caused by a different group of viruses and the symptoms tend to start more suddenly, be more severe and last longer. Some of the main symptoms of flu include a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above, tiredness and weakness, a headache, general aches and pains, and a dry, chesty cough.
Cold-like symptoms, such as a blocked or runny nose, sneezing, and a sore throat can also be caused by flu, but they tend to be less severe than the other symptoms you have. Flu can make you feel so exhausted and unwell that you have to stay in bed and rest until you feel better.
The dangers of flu are increased this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Flu is a different virus to COVID-19, but it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between the two if you are feeling unwell.
The main symptoms of COVID-19 are a cough, fever, shortness of breath and a loss or change in sense of taste and smell. There is currently no vaccination available for COVID-19, although medical experts around the world are working hard to develop one.
How Does the Flu Vaccine Work?
The flu vaccine stimulates your body’s immune system to make antibodies to attack the flu virus. Antibodies are proteins that recognise and fight off germs, such as viruses, that have invaded your blood.
The flu vaccine is often given through a jab to the upper arm, but this year children are being given it through a painless live nasal spray.
How Much Protection Does the Flu Vaccine Provide?
The vaccine takes around 10 days to work and should help protect you from flu for around a year. You have to get immunised every year because flu viruses change constantly and your immunity reduces over time.
The flu vaccine can’t give you flu, but it can stop you catching it. Flu vaccines help protect against the main types of flu viruses, although there’s still a chance you might get flu. If you do get flu after vaccination, it’s likely to be milder and not last as long. Having the flu vaccine will also stop you spreading flu to other people who may be more at risk of serious problems from flu.
What Are the Risks and Side Effects of the Flu Vaccine?
All flu vaccines used are tested for safety and effectiveness before they’re allowed to be used. Once they’re in use, the safety of vaccines continues to be monitored by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Sometimes the flu vaccine can cause side effects, but they are usually mild and only last for a day or so. They can include a slightly raised temperature, muscle aches and sore arm where the needle went in.
It’s very rare for anyone to have a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to the flu vaccine. If this does happen, it usually happens within minutes, and the person who administers the vaccine will be trained to deal with allergic reactions and offer immediate treatment.
Which Groups Should Not Have the Flu Vaccine?
Most adults can have the flu vaccine, but you should avoid it if you have had a serious allergic reaction to a flu vaccine in the past.
You may be at risk of an allergic reaction to the flu vaccine injection if you have an egg allergy. This is because some flu vaccines are made using eggs. It’s important to let the person carrying out the vaccine know if you have an allergy to eggs. For those affected, there are egg-free and low-egg brands of vaccine which can be used.