After the first full-scale emergency response before vaccines, the NHS moved to remobilisation – but the health service is now entering a new phase, which will see it cope with the virus as part of everyday life in health care.
Members of NHS Forth Valley board agreed on Tuesday that Covid-19 should no longer feature as an item on the health service’s strategic risk register. However, it was stressed that does not mean there is no risk.
The ongoing risks will be managed as part of the NHS’s annual planning, following national guidance about how best to live with Covid and continued warnings that the virus hasn’t gone away.
The board heard that it is still very much present in the hospital, with a peak of 75 in-patients in June, thought to be due to the variants of Omicron, BA-4 and BA-5. However, this month numbers have fallen again and there were 40 positive cases when the report was presented to the board on Tuesday.
Members heard that many of the patients are asymptomatic and the rest are showing very mild symptoms, so ITU admissions have remained very low.
In moving into the ‘new normal’, many of the measures that have been put in place to control the virus will stay as part of long-term planning in the hospital. Masks and some physical distancing will remain, while some mobile or hybrid working will continue although there is no longer a requirement for shielding.
The Covid vaccination will now be delivered as part of the overall vaccination programme that is completed every year and the weekly audit of PPE stock will now be ongoing.
As board members had previously heard, the Test and Protect service is now finished and efforts are ongoing to redeploy the staff elsewhere until their contracts are complete, while others will have returned to their substantive posts.
Some of the technology that was introduced to cope with pandemic restrictions will also remain, such as the ‘Near Me’ service, which is a video consultation service that allows patients to attend appointments from home or wherever is convenient.
Earlier in the meeting, board members had also heard how technology used during the pandemic to allow relatives to stay in touch with patients. After hearing how grateful one mum was for the reassurance it provided her about her son, the meeting heard that the technology is continuing to prove useful. In many cases, face-to-face video calls were now replacing phone calls altogether.
Cathie Cowan, NHS Forth Valley chief executive, said: “We continue to follow the national guidance in relation to our ongoing response to Covid-19. However, it’s important to recognise that Covid-19 hasn’t gone away and we therefore need to build this into our wider service plans as we all learn to live with the virus and adapt to the challenges it presents, now and in the future.”