Flu Cases Threaten To Overwhelm Scots NHS

Health bosses in the north-east have been forced to cancel non-urgent hospital appointments as a result of a flu-like respiratory virus which is causing havoc across Scotland.

NHS Grampian said last night that Aberdeen Royal Infirmary was running at full capacity and had postponed a number of outpatient appointments because of the bug.

It has put further strain on the health service at the busiest time of the year.

And Wishaw General in Lanarkshire was yesterday forced to turn away all but emergency cases after being overwhelmed with patients suffering from the virus. Any non-999 patients were diverted to its two sister hospitals so it could cope with the influx.

NHS Lanarkshire said Wishaw had experienced a 64% surge in patients suffering from the bug, which can cause a severe cough and bad throat.

Officials said the hospitals were treating people who had “become quite ill” from the bug and needed urgent care.

NHS Lanarkshire said: “We are experiencing unprecedented levels of activity in the three hospitals with a significant rise in emergency medical admissions resulting from the respiratory illness that is affecting the whole of Scotland.

“We are working with clinical staff and colleagues in primary care to ensure that all patients are seen, assessed, treated and admitted where appropriate.

“We have escalated our winter plans to cancel some elective admissions but are continuing with urgent and cancer inpatient procedures.

“All day-case procedures are continuing as normal.”

The trust added: “Patient safety is a priority and for this reason the decision was taken to divert 999 calls for a short period from Wishaw General during this unprecedented period of emergency medical activity to ensure patients requiring admission are admitted to a bed as quickly as possible.”

Last night a spokesman for Wishaw Hospital said things were returning to normal and outpatients were unaffected.

NHS Tayside said Ninewells Hospital in Dundee was managing to carry on as normal despite the virus.

“We’re extremely busy but we’re coping – it’s what we would expect for this time of year,” a spokeswoman said.

Asked if any operations had been cancelled, she said: “No, we’re just very, very busy.”

NHS Grampian said a respiratory virus had led to a number of staff being off sick and yesterday forced the cancellation of nine medical procedures, including eye and bladder assessments.

A spokeswoman said: “We are certainly running at full capacity, our activity levels are high. The virus has created a few problems over the last few weeks but it’s always busy at this time of year.

“Although activity levels have been high, we’ve been coping and all the postponements will be rescheduled within a couple of weeks.”

Medical helpline NHS 24 said last night that in the first week of January it had received more than twice as many calls from people complaining of flu-like symptoms than during the same week last year.

Leading microbiologist Professor Hugh Pennington said: “We’ve been lulled into a false sense of security in the last few years because we’ve not had much winter flu. So when we get what we used to get every year it seems quite unusual.”

The Aberdeen-based scientist added: “It looks at this stage to be the normal winter flu. There may be two or three different viruses out there which make people feel quite rotten, with high temperatures, so I’m not surprised people are seeking medical assistance.

“It’s difficult to say why there’s more of it about this year. We don’t know enough about the virus. We don’t know why it’s been so common this winter and not last winter.”

The bug contributed to a big rise in calls to NHS 24 over the festive period.

Some 93,436 calls were taken over the eight-day festive holiday when GP surgeries were closed – a jump of 15% on the same period last year.

A spokesman for the Scottish Executive said: “Early January is typically a very busy period for the NHS and every year plans are in place to manage these pressures and ensure services are not unduly disrupted.”