Nicola Sturgeon urged to offer ‘full clarity’ on end to Covid rules amid deepening NHS crisis

Nicola Sturgeon - ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP/Getty Images
Nicola Sturgeon - ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP/Getty Images

Nicola Sturgeon must stop "pondering" and provide "full clarity" on when restrictions will be eased and how she will resolve the deepening NHS self-isolation crisis, opposition leaders have demanded.

Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, accused the First Minister of confusing people and businesses with "mixed messaging" by stating that not all restrictions that are due to be eased when Scotland moves to Level Zero on July 19 may go ahead as planned.

He said that Ms Sturgeon must use her statement to Holyrood on Tuesday to "deliver full clarity once and for all on the road ahead", and argued that Scots can "ill afford" the First Minister leaving them "in limbo again".

The Tories plan to use the statement to demand answers to a series of unresolved issues, including whether she will help struggling hospitals by ending the requirement for NHS staff to self-isolate for 10 days if they test negative.

Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said on Friday he had been contacted by staff at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary (ERI) warning of the worst staff shortages since the pandemic started thanks to "spiralling self-isolation".

He said Ms Sturgeon "cannot come to Parliament on Tuesday with more plans to make plans. This isn’t a time for more pondering."

NHS Lothian is one of four major health boards to cancel non-urgent operations due to a combination of surging Covid cases, staff on summer holidays and those deemed to be a close contact of a positive case being forced to self-isolate for 10 days.

NHS Tayside on Friday pleaded with adults under 30 to get vaccinated as quickly as possible to alleviate the "exceptionally serious" situation in the area, which has the second highest Covid rates in Europe.

Dr Emma Fletcher, the board's director of public health, said the number of coronavirus patients in hospital is now at its highest since February, including many young people. An additional 30-bed ward has opened for Covid patients at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee.

The call for Ms Sturgeon to deliver "urgent action" came as the Office for National Statistics disclosed Scotland had easily the UK's highest Covid rates for the second week running.

Around one in 100 people are estimated to have tested positive for Covid-19 on the week ending July 3, up from one in 150 the previous week.

In England, the proportion of people thought to have the virus increased from one in 260 to one in 160, in Wales from one in 450 to one in 340, and in Northern Ireland from one in 670 to one in 300.

Scotland recorded a further 3,200 cases yesterday and six deaths. The number of people in hospital rose by 26 to 427, including 39 in intensive care.

The Prime Minister has promised to tear up most of England's coronavirus regulations at Step Four of his road map on July 19, but Ms Sturgeon said on Thursday many protections will be retained north of the Border such as face coverings.

She said the decisions she will announce next Tuesday in a statement to parliament "needn't always be binary", with some planned changes going ahead but others held back.

Along with the move to Level 0 on July 19, it had been expected social distancing outdoors would be abolished. All major legal restrictions and social distancing indoors were due to be scrapped on August 9.

The First Minister also confirmed her Government was reviewing whether to make staff who have had both vaccine doses exempt from having to self-isolate for 10 days if they are a close contact of a positive case, but had made no decision.

But Mr Ross said: "The latest update from Nicola Sturgeon only created further confusion for people and businesses across Scotland.

"Enough is enough. Her statement on Tuesday as the Scottish Parliament is recalled must deliver full clarity once and for all on the road ahead. She can ill-afford to deliver another update that leaves people in limbo again."

Calling for "concrete actions and urgent changes" on self-isolation rules, Mr Rennie said: "ERI staff tell me that workforce shortages are worse now than at any other point in the crisis.

"They say it is piling pressure on the hospital and remaining staff. It's the self-isolation that's behind this, not Covid-driven patient demand."

Douglas Ross - Jeff J Mitchell/PA
Douglas Ross - Jeff J Mitchell/PA

Elective operations at Raigmore Hospital, the largest in the Highlands, have also been axed and NHS Lanarkshire has cancelled non-emergency operations and diagnostic tests at University Hospital Wishaw.

NHS Grampian also said it had no option but to cancel operations at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and Dr Gray's Hospital in Elgin, which are at full capacity.

The number of NHS workers absent because of the virus has more than doubled in the past month to 2,760, with staff away on summer holidays worsening the crisis.

The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow has suggested the Scottish Government could examine "at a more proportionate policy for double vaccinated" NHS workers allowing them to return to work with daily tests.

In a video message, Dr Fletcher said NHS Tayside was treating the highest number of patients since Feb 12 and the area's Covid rate has surged 10-fold in recent weeks.

She added: "Unfortunately there are young people right now with Covid in Ninewells - not only in our general wards, but also in our intensive care unit and our high dependency unit. So today we have a simple plea: Please go and get your vaccination."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We have repeatedly been clear that easing of restrictions is dependent on the situation with the virus – rather than committing to lifting curbs come what may, and regardless of the circumstances."