76 deaths but coronavirus hospital ‘may not be needed’
By Bill Heaney
As deaths from coronavirus rose to 76 today, a temporary hospital being built at the SEC in Glasgow to serve the local health board area will hopefully not need to be used, Nicola Sturgeon, pictured right, has said.
The first minister, who today looked pale, tired and anxious, announced earlier this week that the facility should be operational in a fortnight.
But she told MSPs on Wednesday during an unconvincing “maybes aye, maybes naw” speech to the Scottish parliament that she hoped the country’s existing hospitals would have enough capacity to cope with the coronavirus crisis.
She appeared to be unable to give any definitive statements as to what equipment and staff would be in place for the NHS to cope with the virus and what wouldn’t.
Ms Sturgeon also confirmed that a further 16 people with Covid-19 have died, bringing the total to 76.
She said there had now been 2,310 confirmed cases of the virus in Scotland, an increase of 317 from Tuesday.
But she again stressed that this was an underestimate, and that the actual number would be considerably higher.
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The emergency facility at the SEC will be run by the NHS and will initially have capacity for 300 patients, which could be expanded in the future to more than 1,000.
But with an estimated 3,000 hospital beds expected to be available for coronavirus patients in traditional hospitals across Scotland, Ms Sturgeon said it was hoped that none of the beds at the temporary hospital would be needed.
Her estimate of the number of beds that will actually be available in Scotland was complicated and unconvincing as so much depended on what was happening elsewhere.
Assurances about NHS Scotland being well able to cope at the outset are now being questioned by members of the the public and opposition politicians.
One said: “The Covid 19 news today is the worst yet. Our politicians North, South, East and West are way behind the 8-ball and have been for 3 months.
“All have ignored the conclusions and recommendations following Exercise Cygnus in 2016 published in 2018 regards pandemic and readiness.”
She paid tribute to people for observing social distancing rules since the UK-wide lockdown was imposed at the start of last week, which she said would be crucial in limiting the demands on the NHS over the next few weeks.
“That is not unexpected, but it is heartening and it will continue to be crucial in the weeks to come.”
The latest statistics showed that a total of 2,352 people with coronavirus had died across the whole of the UK by 17:00 by Tuesday – 563 more than in the previous 24 hours.
Some experts believe that Scotland is behind other parts of the UK, particularly London and the south east of England, in terms of the spread of the virus, and that the lockdown was therefore introduced at an earlier stage of the country’s “epidemic curve”.
They hope that this could result in Scotland continuing to have a lower death rate than elsewhere in the UK.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Our current modelling of the spread of the virus – which I must stress assumes continued high compliance with the lockdown measures -together with the steps we are taking to increase ICU capacity, suggests our intensive care units are in a much stronger position to cope with the expected peak of the epidemic.”
There are currently 147 patients with coronavirus being treated in hospital intensive care units (ICU), which Ms Sturgeon said was likely to increase over the next two to three weeks.
ICU capacity across Scotland has doubled to 360 beds, 250 of which will be for the exclusive use of coronavirus patients, with work continuing towards ultimately quadrupling the number to more than 700 ICU beds.
Given the projections of people contracting the virus in Scotland and the number of beds being provided elsewhere, these figures appear remarkably small.
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About 1,900 tests for the virus are being carried out in Scotland every day, with the Scottish government expecting to increase that to 3,500 tests every day within a month.
Ms Sturgeon said: “We are now at the stage of this epidemic, as we expected to be, when the number of cases is rising rapidly and unfortunately that means that the numbers becoming seriously unwell and dying are also, sadly, rising.
“We hope that the lockdown measures we are asking people to comply with will have a marked effect on the spread of the virus, and that we will see a slowdown in the next few weeks.
“However, given that these measures take some time to have an impact, it is too early to draw any firm conclusions yet and we must continue to plan for what will be a considerable impact on the National Health Service and on wider society.”
For Scotland still to be at the planning stage, particularly in regard to staff equipment and ventilators, which Ms Sturgeon said have been ordered “from a range of manufacturers”, with these due to be delivered in the coming weeks.
No one however asked her when “in the coming weeks” that would be.
NHS boards have been working to repurpose operating theatre anaesthetic machines for use as ventilators to “bridge any gap” in provision ahead of these new ventilators arriving.