Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: Health Secretary's statement - 19 March 2021

Statement given by Health Secretary Jeane Freeman at a media briefing in St Andrew's House, Edinburgh on Friday 19 March 2021.

Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us once again.

I am joined today by Professor Jason Leitch, who will help me to answer questions.

Before that, there are a few issues I want to update you on. I will as usual start with today’s statistics.

The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 655.

That represents 2.9% of the total number of tests, and takes the total number of confirmed cases in Scotland to 212,509.

162 of those new cases were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 138 in Lothian and 134 in Lanarkshire.

The remaining cases were spread across 8 other health board areas.

397 people are currently in hospital – that is 8 fewer than yesterday and 35 people are in intensive care, which is a reduction of 3 from yesterday.

I’m very sorry, though, to report that 8 deaths were registered yesterday, of patients who first tested positive over the previous 28 days. That takes the total number of deaths, under this measurement, to 7,544.

And as always we remember that behind those numbers, are people whose loss will be sorely mourned by their loved ones, and I send them my heartfelt condolences.

I can also provide an update on our latest vaccination figures.

As of 7.30 this morning, 2,066,460 people in Scotland have received their first dose of the vaccine.

That is an increase of 43,458 since yesterday.

In addition, 9,335 people received their second dose yesterday, which brings the total number of second doses to 201,435. 

97% of those aged 65 to 69 have now received their first dose.

So have 80% of 60 to 64 year olds; 46% of 55 to 59 year olds; and 36% of 50 to 54 year olds.

As you know, supplies across the UK will be lower than expected, in the coming month.

Over that period this means we will have in Scotland approximately 500,000 fewer doses than we had previously anticipated.

And it means that there may be periods in April when we have to prioritise second doses.

However, we do still expect to offer a first dose to JCVI groups 1 to 9, that is the highest priority groups - that is everyone over 50, all unpaid carers, all adults with particular underlying health conditions – by the middle of April.

And we still expect to have offered a first dose to all adults by the end of July.

There are three other points I want to cover today.

The first is about decommissioning the NHS Louisa Jordan.

As you know, we established Louisa Jordan Hospital at the start of the pandemic as part of our COVID contingency planning to further support the NHS if we needed to.

It has been operational for almost a year now.

Because of the enormous effort of NHS staff across the country and your support, we’ve never had to use Louisa Jordan for Covid patients, but it has played a vital part in the remobilisation of the NHS while the pandemic continued – and the roll-out of the vaccination programme has also benefitted from that service.

In fact, by the end of this month, the hospital will have been used for more than 30,000 outpatient and diagnostic appointments.  Nearly 7,000 healthcare staff and students will have received training at the facility.  And around 175,000 people will have had their vaccinations there. 

Of course, we’re now at a point where – largely thanks to the vaccination programme and your continued compliance with all the difficult restrictions we ask you to follow – our steady return to normality is in sight. 

And so it makes sense now for us to reallocate some of the hospital’s resources to other parts of our NHS.  This will also enable the SEC – where the hospital is located – to return to being a venue for conferences and events. So NHS Louisa Jordan will close on Wednesday 31 March.

But the vaccination which remains so critical to us will relocate next door to SSE Hydro, so vaccination will still continue in that campus area. Some of the staff will continue to support the vaccination programme, others will return to their own health boards, to support NHS remobilisation.

The closure of the NHS Louisa Jordan is of course a significant milestone.

It has played a very valuable part in our response to the pandemic.

So I want to take this opportunity to thank all those who helped construct it, establish the facility, currently work in the facility as support or healthcare staff, or leaders, very much indeed for all of their efforts.

It was quite a remarkable achievement, and continues to the end of this month to provide a very important service to our NHS. The vaccination will continue on that same area.

My second update for today is about the return of hospital visiting.

Since the pandemic began, visits to hospital wards have been suspended – unless a patient is reaching the end of their life, or in other exceptional circumstances. 

These restrictions have been unimaginably difficult for patients, and for their loved ones.  And imposing them has been one of the, amongst many, difficult decisions that we have had to take.

But also know that it has been essential – in protecting patients and staff, and in minimising the spread of the virus.

Some restrictions on visiting will be essential for some time to come. And so we are providing extra funds to support virtual visiting – where patients keep in contact with their loved ones, using a tablet or other device.

And virtual visits have been used throughout the pandemic in circumstances where an in-person visit has still not been possible, and they have proved themselves to be a valuable alternative.

But I know that many patients and loved ones are desperate to be able to see each other in person. So I am pleased to confirm that – subject to continued suppression of the virus – hospital visiting will restart, from 26 April.

Initially, only one visitor will be allowed for each patient. We will be issuing guidance to health boards to help them ensure that visits are as safe as possible, and also to help ensure that patients and their loved ones understand what will be possible from 26 April, and what we need them to do to help support that.

The 26 April will not be a return to normal visiting. But it is, I think, an important step towards normality, and will I hope be welcomed by health staff, by patients and by their loved ones. 

My final update is about additional help which is being made available through GP practices.

GPs are very often on the frontline of finding out about the different types of help and advice that people need – but there are obviously limits to the assistance that GPs themselves can provide.  

That’s why we are providing additional funding – to help GP practices provide a wider range of support. 

The funding will ensure that, from September, dedicated advisers are embedded with 150 GP practices in our most deprived areas. 

The advisers will help people with issues like benefit eligibility, debt resolution, employability and housing. 

As a result, by picking up on patients’ social and economic needs early, which often then show themselves through health problems, and referring those individuals to trained advisors this work will help to prevent people’s problems from escalating further. And it will free up GPs to focus on clinical care that they are best able to provide, enabling people to cope better with the challenges they’ve faced during this crisis, and bringing benefits to GP practices and to individuals, in communities across the country.

Those were the issues I wanted to cover today.  As usual, I want to close by emphasizing the need for all us to continue to stick to the rules and the guidelines.

Until 2 April, that means staying at home, except for essential purposes.

Don’t meet up with other households indoors.

And on any occasion when you do leave the house, remember FACTS.

  • wear face coverings when you are doing essential shopping
  • avoid anywhere that’s busy
  • clean hands and hard surfaces
  • use two metre distancing
  • and self-isolate and book a test if you have symptoms

By sticking to these rules at the moment, we can make it safer for restrictions to be eased in the future.  And we can keep the virus under control, while vaccination continues.

So please – for now, stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.

And my thanks, once again, to everyone who is doing that.

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