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SEC to be turned into hospital and cancer screening halted amid Covid-19 crisis

The number of coronavirus deaths in Scotland is up to 47, while more than 100,000 people are now estimated to have the disease.

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The SEC (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The SEC (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The SEC (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The Scottish Events Campus (SEC) will be turned into a field hospital and cancer screening programmes will be paused to help the NHS respond to the coronavirus crisis, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

Scotland’s First Minister revealed the moves as the number of Covid-19 deaths in the country rose to 47, an increase of six on Sunday’s figure.

There are now 108 people in intensive care who either have the virus or are suspected to have it, an increase of 13 in the past 24 hours.

The number of positive coronavirus cases has risen to 1,563 – up 179 from Sunday’s total.

Chief medical officer Dr Catherine Calderwood said the actual number of Scots with the disease is now estimated at more than 100,000.

Ms Sturgeon said while the temporary hospital might not be needed as the NHS works to increase its capacity, she said it makes sense to act now.

It could be up and running within two weeks, providing 300 extra beds initially, with this potentially increasing to 1,000.

There will be a temporary suspension of breast, bowel and cervical cancer screening programmes, she added.

Speaking at a briefing at the Scottish Government’s headquarters in Edinburgh, the First Minister spoke about efforts to “prepare the NHS for the incredibly difficult weeks that lie ahead”.

She also revealed 10,000 people had responded to the Scotland Cares volunteering campaign, which was launched earlier on Monday, within the first four hours.

This includes about 5,000 former medical and care workers, plus medical students who have put themselves forward to work for either the health or care services.

On the decision to start work on turning the SEC into a temporary NHS hospital, Ms Sturgeon said: “If needed, we expect 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 1,000.”

While she said “we might not need to use the exhibition centre” – saying NHS boards are working to ensure 3,000 hospital beds are available for Covid-19 patients – the First Minister added: “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.”

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “The SEC has been assessed as the best option given its accessibility, its close proximity to hospitals in the west of Scotland, the security and its established infrastructure and transport links.”

Both the First Minister and Ms Freeman stressed the new hospital will be staffed and operated by the NHS.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

The Health Secretary announced Jill Young, a former chief executive of the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank, has been appointed to take charge of it.

On the temporary suspension of testing, which also applies to abdominal aortic aneurysm screening and diabetic retinopathy screening, Ms Sturgeon said: “This is not a decision we have taken lightly, however, it is important to maximise the ability of the NHS to cope over the coming weeks.”

She added: “We will restart the screening programmes 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 restarting the programme is feasible.

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

Anyone who develops symptoms that would usually be screened for – such as breast lumps – should contact their GP, the First Minster said.

While there will undoubtedly be a negative impact on some, we hope this disruption will be small and short-livedRobert Music, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust

Dr Calderwood said screening of pregnant women and newborn babies will continue as normal.

By halting the other screening programmes, she said NHS staff in laboratories could instead work on testing for Covid-19, helping to provide “that vital increase in the capacity for testing for coronavirus that we need.”

Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust said: “Postponing cervical screening appointments is not ideal, yet difficult decisions are having to be made across the NHS to help staff respond to Covid-19 and keep the population as safe as possible.

“Cervical cancer remains a rarer and slow growing cancer, therefore we urge people finding appointments for screening or even treatment of cell changes postponed not to worry.

“While there will undoubtedly be a negative impact on some, we hope this disruption will be small and short-lived.”

Tom Berry, head of Scotland at the  Breast Cancer Now charity, said: “The difficult decision to suspend breast screening in Scotland in light of the coronavirus outbreak may cause significant concern for many women and we now need to do all we can to support them through the coming months.

“This is not a decision that will have been taken lightly but it is a necessary step in both limiting the risk of infection for women of screening age and helping free up emergency resource for the NHS to respond to the crisis.”

PA