The main message delivered during the latest NHS Forth Valley briefing was people doing their best to stay as safe as possible while lockdown restrictions were eased and services were reinstated.
NHS Forth Valley director of public health Doctor Graham Foster talked about schools starting up again after the summer break and he advised that no pupils should go to school if they or anyone in their family is displaying COVID-19 symptoms.
He also had some advice about singing, stating there were studies that showed there was an increased risk of transferring coronavirus when people sang or when they shouted, due to the water particle droplets created by such actions.
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On the whole, however, things were looking positive for NHS Forth Valley.
Doctor Andrew Murray, NHS Forth Valley medical director, said: “There is a very small number of people with COVID-19 in our hospitals now and none in intensive care.
“We are starting to get other services back and re-established in as safe a way as possible. We are into phase two now, but we are still focusing on good hand hygiene and no close contact.
“There is still quite strict social distancing in place when people come up to the hospital and from Monday, June 29 there will be a requirement for visitors and other people to wear masks when they do enter clinical areas and shops in the hospital.
“This is still the bedrock on any approach. It’s more about what is going to happen in the community and if there is a second wave.
“Things are set up to deal with that.”
Dr Murray said people will now be able to go to attend for outpatient appointments and operations, but the number of daily appointments may be restricted for the time being due to having to thoroughly clean facilities before the each new patient is seen.”
Not only do staff have to prepare for the possibility of a second wave of coronavirus patients, they also have to look after people who have experienced physical and mental health problems due to being forced to endure weeks of lockdown.
Dr Murray said there had been an increase in the number of people experiencing mental health problems since the lockdown began.
Dr Foster highlighted the online help available to people through the Choose to Lose and Mood Juice initiatives on www.nhsinform.scot.
An NHS Forth Valley spokesperson said: “Providing mental health and psychological support is 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.”
The spokesperson continued: “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.”
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.
People whose scheduled operations or treatment has been postponed will be contacted directly 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.
Current restrictions on visiting arrangements remain in place with only essential visits allowed to help protect staff and patients.
As Dr Murray stated, the Scottish Government also announced from Monday, June 29 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.”