NHS Shetland has been setting aside space in the Gilbert Bain Hospital to treat those with confirmed cases of coronavirus.
The step, which has been taken as handling of the virus moves into the ‘delay’ phase, will free up around 30 beds at the hospital.
Speaking at a daily press briefing on Sunday afternoon, the health authority’s interim medical director Brian Chittick said there would be enough ventilators and trained staff on the reconfigured ward, which would be used for isolation. He also stressed that they were committed to protecting hospital staff handling any confirmed cases.
“We are in unprecedented times,” said Mr Chittick.
“I do not underestimate the challenge,” said Mr Chittick, who added these were times “we have never really had before” that had opened the eyes of the nation.
In the coming weeks, the number of cases will rise substantially, according to health officials, but the symptoms are mild and most people will recover quickly.
Mr Chittick described it as a “rapidly changing” and complex situation, due to the disease spreading all over the world.
One of the difficult things for the health board has been keeping up with the latest updates and applying to their practices, when “guidance has been fast and furious”.
Hospital staff are also being trained to help treat cases in the hospital’s reconfigured ward. Meanwhile, any non-urgent elective work and other procedures are being postponed in order to deal with the outbreak.
Scottish government figures indicate that the number of confirmed coronavirus patients in Shetland remains at 11, the same reported as yesterday. The number of cases hit double digits on Friday, more than doubling, following cases tripling on Thursday to six.
However, the testing regime has changed since moving into the ‘delay’ phase, meaning that only tests undertaken for people who are unwell in hospital with suspected Covid-19 will be taken, and there will be no community testing.
Meanwhile, across Scotland cases continue to rise, up to 153 on Sunday from 121 the day before, with one confirmed death so far, who had underlying health problems and was being treated by Lothian Health Board.
Mr Chittick said that every bit of support they asked for they were getting, and this meant he was fully confident that they were able to plan for the future – but at the moment they need to take stock of where they are, he added.
The national strategy focused on the vulnerable, he said, and distancing measures. Moving forward, the local health board remained aligned with the government, mentioning particularly those were were aged 70 and over with underlying health issues. NHS Shetland is also working with other health boards.
Those displaying symptoms should not visit anybody in care homes or places where there are vulnerable people from our society.
For anyone with appointments, Mr Chittick said that unless they were displaying symptoms or had been contacted by the health centre they should still go. The health board was also reviewing elected primary care to see if some care needed to be postponed.
Responding to speculation that all over 70s may have self-isolate soon, Mr Chittick said that this was not guidance but may be discussed in the coming week depending on government advice. The driver for any changes like this would be the “protection of the vulnerable”.
Responsibility also lays with the individual, said Mr Chittick, as folk should think about whether they should be visiting places with vulnerable people, and hospital visits should not be made unless completely necessary.
Those with symptoms (new cough, fever, shortness of breath), regardless of their travel history or contact with confirmed cases, must stay at home for seven days, but should not contact their GP unless symptoms significantly worsen. If after this period there are no symptoms for two days then the person can come out of self isolation.
The health board has also advised being “meticulous about washing hands with soap and water or using hand sanitiser. Use and dispose of tissues safely and stay away from anyone who in a vulnerable group if you are even mildly ill”.
The health board in Shetland is the only one who are providing these kinds of press briefings.