NHS Lanarkshire is now an “emergency-only service”, Anas Sarwar has suggested after the health board said its GPs will focus only on the most serious cases.
During First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Nicola Sturgeon emphasised the impact of the pandemic on the NHS, saying the suspension of services will not last any longer than necessary.
On Wednesday, the health board announced it had asked all GPs to focus on the most urgent and time-critical care as part of a “managed suspension of services”.
The health board declared a black alert in October last year as hospitals came under pressure.
But Scottish Labour leader Mr Sarwar said problems with NHS capacity predate the pandemic and are getting “worse, not better”.
He said: “This is an unprecedented situation affecting the health and wellbeing of over 650,000 Scots.
“Isn’t it the case that for people in Lanarkshire, their entire health service has now effectively been turned into an emergency-only service?”
Ms Sturgeon disagreed, saying coronavirus has dealt the health service “two significant additional blows” in the last 10 months.
She said NHS Lanarkshire is in level two of its GP escalation framework for the next four weeks, which is not the most serious level.
The First Minister said: “That ensures that given the staff absences that are being experienced right now, we can continue to focus on the patients who most need care
“None of us want to be in this position, we hope we’ll be out of this position sooner rather than later.”
Scottish Labour central Scotland MSP Monica Lennon also raised NHS Lanarkshire during First Ministers’ Questions, saying people in the region are “very afraid of becoming sick”.
She said: “What am I supposed to tell constituents in Lanarkshire who are reaching for the Samaritans Scotland phone number because they can’t get through to GP surgeries?”
The First Minister said she understands that for people in Lanarkshire and the wider public, this “is a really anxious time because of the ongoing challenges of Covid and the impact that is having on the national health service”.
She stressed, however, that “getting and keeping” Covid under control is key to improving services.
The First Minister went on: “The step that has been taken in NHS Lanarkshire, of course nobody wants any health board to be in that position, but it is about making sure they can maintain access to essential GP services at a time of unprecedented demand and also unprecedented staff absences.
“This is a short-term measure, nobody wants or will allow it to be in place for longer than necessary.”
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