Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's speech 30 March 2020

Statement given by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a media briefing on Monday 30 March 2020.

Good afternoon everyone.

I want to provide you with a further update on Scotland’s response to the Covid-19 epidemic.

Firstly, I can confirm that, as at 9 o’clock this morning, there have been 1,563 positive cases confirmed which is an increase of 179 from yesterday. As always, we’re very clear that these numbers will be an underestimate.

A total of 108 people last night were in intensive care in Scotland with confirmed or suspected cases of Covid-19 which is an increase of 13 on yesterday.

And it is with sadness that I can report that there have been a further 6 deaths of patients who had tested positive for Covid-19. That takes the total number of deaths in Scotland to 47.

Again, I want to extend my condolences to all of those who are bereaved and say once again how grateful I am to everyone working in our health and care sector. Your dedication and commitment is appreciated - not just by me, but by everyone across the country.

This afternoon I want to update you on three steps in particular that we are taking to increase the capacity of the NHS during this emergency period.

Before I do that, however, it is worth repeating the key message - that helping the National Health Service is a job for each and every one of us.

By staying at home, by staying apart from each other, we are all doing our bit to slow the spread of the virus, to help the NHS and ultimately to save lives. It is vital that everyone continues to do that.

However the Scottish Government is also of course taking other steps to prepare the NHS for the incredibly difficult weeks that lie ahead. The Cabinet Secretary will provide more detail on some of these in a moment, but I want to update you on three measures in particular.

The first relates to hospital capacity – the number of beds that we have available in Scotland.

I can confirm today that following exploratory work over the last week and weekend, we have now taken the decision to start work on turning the Scottish Exhibition Centre in Glasgow into a temporary NHS hospital.

If needed, we expect that the hospital could become operational within a fortnight from now.

Initially, it will provide us with 300 additional beds – but ultimately, it could have capacity for more than 1000 patients.

It is worth, and indeed it is important, to be clear that we might not need to use the Exhibition Centre. There are currently approximately 13,000 beds in NHS hospitals across Scotland, and using those, NHS boards are working to ensure at least 3,000 beds are available for Covid-19 patients within our existing hospital network. The NHS is also working to quadruple Intensive Care Unit capacity to 700.

We expect those steps - along with the continued public response to our stay at home advice - to be enough to ensure we have the beds we need.

The judgement is it makes sense for us to act now to increase hospital capacity further. Preparing the Scottish Exhibition Centre as a hospital is the best option for doing that. The Cabinet Secretary will say a bit more about this in a moment but I want to stress that this will be a NHS hospital, staffed and operated by the National Health Service.

The second measure I want to highlight, relates to how we prioritise NHS services during this emergency period.

We have already had to take some extremely difficult decisions – for example we have had to suspend elective surgery such as knee and hip replacements to create more capacity within our hospitals for Covid-19 patients.

I can inform you today that we have now also taken the very difficult decision to suspend several NHS screening programmes –including our programmes for breast screening, cervical screening and bowel screening.

That decision has been made on the basis of clinical advice from the Chief Medical Officer and a recommendation by NHS National Services Scotland.

As you can imagine, this is not a decision that we have taken lightly – however it is important in order to maximise the NHS’s ability to cope over the coming weeks.

The Chief Medical Officer will say more about this in a moment. And further information will be available from today on the NHS Inform website.

It is not an easy decision, I want to repeat that, but with the balance of risk it supports the approach that we are taking. It is however worth stressing that if you detect any symptoms of the conditions we would normally screen for – if you notice a lump on your breast, for example – then you should contact your GP immediately.

We will restart the screening programmes that we have paused as soon as we can. This is a temporary suspension, and it will be reviewed after 12 weeks - or earlier if evidence suggests that restarting the programmes is feasible.

However at this moment, pausing these programmes is an important way of allowing the NHS to deal effectively with the impact of Covid-19.

The final measure I want to talk about today before handing over to the Chief Medical Officer and the Cabinet Secretary relates to recruitment.

As part of our wider campaign to attract volunteers – “Scotland Cares” - we are encouraging medical students, and retired health and care professionals, to apply for posts working in the health service and the social care sector.

That reflects the fact that we will need more people – not simply to cope with the direct consequences of Covid-19, but to keep other services going at the same time.

We established a new web portal for recruitment on Saturday evening. In total - and this includes earlier expressions of interest – I can tell you that around 5,000 students or former healthcare workers have now expressed an interest in filling the posts.

They will be considered according to their qualifications and experience - and the sort of work that they will be able to do – but our expectation is that many of them will be offered fixed term employment.

I want to thank sincerely everyone who has already applied. These new recruits will make an important difference to the capacity of our health and care services at this time.

And I want to stress that we will continue to welcome further applications – anybody who is interested can find further information through the website.

The response we have had to that call for applications is indicative I think of a wider point – many people across Scotland are responding to this difficult period by showing a sense of community and solidarity.

I’ve already mentioned the “Scotland Cares” campaign. As well as enabling medical students and former health staff to help the NHS, it also encourages people to help their communities.

And I can confirm that in just four hours this morning, since we’ve formally launched the “Scotland Cares” campaign, we have had 10,000 people registering their interest in volunteering through one of the three key strands – former NHS workers, the community reserve volunteer network coordinated by the Red Cross and the expressions of interest for volunteering via existing organisations through Volunteer Scotland.

I want to thank each and every person who has registered an interest. If there are those out there who still wish to do so then is the place to go.

I can also confirm that at the end of the first weekend of the lockdown measures being in operation that Police Scotland have indicated that they have served just 25 fixed penalty notices for breaching those regulations.

And I think those figures do say something quite important and quite profound. They give us an indication, as I always expected would be the case, that the vast majority of people are doing the right thing to protect themselves and to protect their wider community. People are staying at home - except for the very specific purposes such as exercise or buying essential supplies.

That needs to continue for a good while longer – and I know that won’t be easy for people – but it is vital.

By staying at home, we can all help to slow the spread of the virus, we will all help the National Health Service to cope, and we will ultimately save lives. So thank you to everyone across the country who is helping us with those objectives.

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