THE number of patients in hospital with Covid in Scotland is now the highest since March, amid warnings the NHS is “stretched”.
The latest daily data from the Scottish Government shows there are 551 patients in hospital who have recently tested positive for the virus, up 76 per cent in just 10 days from 312 on August 20.
The number exceeds the July peak of 529 which followed a surge in infections partly linked to the Euros football tournament, and brings patient numbers into line with those last seen in early March when there were 585 people in hospital with Covid.
The number still remains far short of the the second wave peak of 2,053 in January, but is likely to continue rising given recently record-breaking infection counts.
Although vaccines have slashed the proportion of cases which result in a hospital admission, from 13% to around 3-4% now, the 37,968 cases confirmed in the past week is the highest at any point in the pandemic. Testing capacity during the first wave was much lower, however.
The number of people in intensive care currently stands at 52, up from 33 on August 21, and compares to a peak of 161 in January.
It comes as Scotland’s national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch told the BBC that a “reverse gear” may be needed on the reopening of society, with some restrictions re-imposed to curtail the spread of the virus.
Cases have been rising in Scotland since early August, but accelerated around the middle of the month following on from the move to Beyond Zero – when physical distancing and capacity limits on venues ended – and the return of schools.
Prof Leitch added: “We’re now beginning to see rises in hospital admissions and that is harm. We don’t admit people to hospital for no reason.
“Over 500 now in hospital and a doubling of the case rate every seven days, so we really want to get on top of it.”
There are fears that a steep rise in Covid admissions will add to the stress on waiting lists for other treatment.
Several health boards, including Lanarkshire and Lothian, have already put non-urgent elective surgery on hold in recent weeks as a rise in urgent non-Covid admissions put pressure on beds and absences due to sickness, annual leave and Covid-related self-isolation left departments understaffed.
Prof Leitch said: “When you add a new infectious disease on top of what we already manage, diabetes, and strokes and heart attacks and everything else that comes through our community and hospital system, of course it is stretched.”
He added: “The only thing you can turn off in a health system is elective care. You can’t postpone strokes, heart attacks and emergency admissions for the elderly.
“We don’t want to do that but if you need staff, beds etc for a novel infection disease then that’s what you have to do because you can’t just make respiratory consultants out of nowhere, or nurses in charge of intensive care out of nowhere, so you have to be flexible in that.”