Work Underway to Restart Local Health Services
The first steps are being taken towards restarting a range of local health services which were postponed when the NHS services across Scotland were placed on an emergency footing to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the last few months NHS Forth Valley has maintained essential community and hospital based services across a number of priority areas including emergency, cancer services, mental health, addictions, maternity and children’s services as well as providing treatment for patients who required urgent operations and tests. Thousands of scheduled appointments have also been able to go ahead via video and telephone consultations and childhood immunisations have continued to be delivered throughout the pandemic. Virtual eye assessments, which were pioneered by a NHS Forth Valley Consultant Ophthalmologist, are now being used across Scotland for people with emergency and urgent eye conditions and an App, developed by local dermatologists, has also been rolled out to allow patients to manage a range of skin conditions. Remote lung function tests have been used to monitor respiratory problems and local ageing and health consultants, who are normally based in hospital, have been working alongside community colleagues to assess and treat older people in their own homes and in local care homes throughout the pandemic.
The NHS remains on an emergency footing however as Scotland moves into Phase 2 of the route map work is now underway to plan how a number of health services can be safely restarted on a phased basis over the coming weeks and months. Some local services have already restarted including the colonoscopy unit at Forth Valley Royal Hospital and diagnostic services such as X-rays, CT and MRI scans for patients whose routine or less urgent scans were postponed. General Surgery, including urology, colorectal and cataract surgery, is also being restarted on a phased basis and other key specialities including cardiology and orthopaedics will be resumed gradually during Phase 2 with patients prioritised by clinical need. Providing mental health and psychological support is also a key priority and local plans have been developed to meet the anticipated increase in demand, building on the new ways of working and innovative approaches developed to respond to the needs of local patients over the last few months. A number of community based services are also being restarted including dental and optometry services for people with urgent dental and eye problems.
People whose scheduled operations or treatment has been postponed will be contacted direct by staff to reschedule their appointment and do not need to contact their GP or hospital departments as this will happen automatically as soon alternative arrangements can be made.
This will take time as not all NHS services will resume immediately or be able to return to normal working arrangements due to the ongoing need to maintain separate areas, pathways and capacity to treat patients with COVID-19. Physical distancing and infection control measures will also have to put in place to protect patients, staff and visitors and this will require wards and other clinical areas to be reconfigured to ensure patients, including those who are shielding, can be seen and treated as safely as possible.
These measures will impact on the overall capacity and limit the number of people who can attend at the one time. In order to reduce to risk to others, patients are therefore asked to attend appointments on their own unless they are accompanying a child or vulnerable adult. If friends or family members drive patients to their appointment they should arrange to either drop them off and return to pick them up later or wait from them in their car rather than waiting in the hospital to help avoid overcrowding waiting rooms and other communal areas. This is particularly important in the Emergency Department at Forth Valley Royal Hospital and the Minor Injuries Unit at the Stirling Health and Care Village. Current restrictions on visiting arrangements remain in place with only essential visits allowed to help protect staff and patients. The Scottish Government also announced that from 29th June 2020 anyone entering care homes and hospitals will also be asked to wear a face covering and face coverings will also be required when attending a hospital appointment.
NHS Forth Valley Chief Executive, Cathie Cowan, said: “I would like to thank the public and patients for their patience and understanding during this very difficult time. I know that any delay in tests and treatment can be distressing for patients and their families and assure you that we are doing everything possible to get people seen and treated as soon as we can. This will be done by clinical priority to ensure that people with the most serious health needs are seen and treated first.
“I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to our local staff for the way they have responded to this unprecedented crisis. They have shown great courage, commitment and compassion in caring for people throughout this pandemic while having to introduce radical new ways of working in a very short space of time. The scale and speed of these changes would not have been possible without the fantastic support of clinical teams and support services staff across the organisation.”
“Although we have faced many challenges in the last few months I know that the next phase of recovery will be equally if not more challenging and we really appreciate the ongoing support and understanding of local people as we all adjust to the longer term impact of COVID-19. While this is daunting there is also a lot of learning, innovation and new ways of working which we can build on going forward to improve services for local patients and their families.”
Restarting more health services sets out key dates for the resumption of some paused services across NHS Scotland including a number of key hospital specialties, GP services, urgent dental treatment, some diagnostic services, optometry services and some chronic disease services.
NHS Forth Valley will implement plans in line with Re-mobilise, Recover, Re-design, the framework for NHS Scotland which sets out how Scotland’s Health Boards will follow national and local clinical advice to safely and gradually prioritise the resumption of paused health services while maintaining COVID-19 capacity and resilience.