COVID in Forth Valley: 'We are still losing people' warns senior health boss

Forth Valley’s director of public health has said they will need to watch and wait to see how the coronavirus pandemic evolves, as he warned: “We are still losing people”.

In an update to members of NHS Forth Valley board on Tuesday, Dr Graham Foster stressed that things were moving quickly, and said uncertainty over future cases meant now was a time to watch and wait to see the direction the coronavirus takes.

And while he praised the success of the vaccination programme and agreed there are many signs that progress is moving in the right direction, he stressed that vaccination was not a “magic bullet” to stop transmission.

From January this year, the appearance of first the alpha variant and then the even more transmissible delta variant – which swept across Scotland – led to an increase in cases throughout June and into July.

Picture Michael Gillen

Hospital admissions rose across Scotland – however, the success of the vaccination programme has meant that hospitalisations have been low and deaths very low compared with previous waves.

On July 20, 2021, there were 48 patients within FVRH being Covid-19 positive and less than five people in ITU being Covid-19 positive.

“We are still losing people and its something we take very seriously, but it does show that the vaccine is working,” said Dr Foster.

“Many vaccinated patients do get mild to moderate symptoms and it does appear that vaccinated people can still transmit the virus, so the vaccine is not a magic bullet that stops transmission.”

Dr Graham Foster, NHS Forth Valley director of public health.

Dr Foster said there continued to be a huge amount of work to control outbreaks and the test and protect team was “incredibly busy”.

“We are seeing signs now that that has worked and from the first week in July onwards we are seeing decreasing rates again which is really positive.”

“It’s been hard won, but I’m pleased to see that success,” he said.

Currently less than a third of Covid-19 positive in patients are actually in hospital due to Covid, the director said.

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He explained that not all patients testing positive in hospital are symptomatic. Many have actually been admitted for non-Covid reasons, with the virus only detected when they were screened for entry.

“It’s been an incredibly busy summer for the hospital,” he said.

“The demand – particularly in A&E but across all departments – is now incredibly high as the country opens up and more people return to more normal activities.

He added: “There is a whole range of pressures combining to make life difficult for all of the health and social care sector.”

Dr Foster said that Forth Valley continued to have a very high rate of testing.

He praised the work of the test and protect team, although he said staffing there was also proving a challenge as people returned to their own jobs.

The key word at the moment, however, is “uncertainty”, the director said as they watch and wait to see the effects of restrictions lifting across the UK.

He said: “It’s very difficult to tell with the large scale opening against a background of a vaccinated population.

“It’s really very difficult even for the expert modellers to tell us whether things are going to keep getting better.

“It really is an uncertain time. We are all just waiting to see.”

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