Scotland’s NHS has been formally placed on an “emergency footing” to to cope with an expected surge in coronavirus cases as a second death was confirmed.
Jeane Freeman, the Scottish Health Minister, told MSPs “the most rapid reconfiguration of our health service in its 71-year history” was required to cope with the pandemic.
Among the “truly unprecedented steps” she announced was the suspension of all non-urgent elective operations to increase the number of beds available from around 13,000 to 16,000.
Ms Freeman said patients would stay on a waiting list until it is “clinically appropriate” for scheduled operations to commence again.
Nicola Sturgeon warned that dealing with the crisis would involve “the biggest peacetime action our nation has undertaken in our lifetimes.”
Among the other extraordinary moves being considered by Scottish ministers are enforcing an amnesty for rent and mortgage arrears so no one who loses their job is evicted from their home.
The measures were announced as the number of confirmed cases in Scotland increased by 24 to 195, including a second patient who died.
The elderly patient was being treated by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and had underlying health conditions.
In a statement to the Scottish Parliament, Ms Freeman said she using powers the National Health Service Scotland Act 1978 to formally put the NHS on an emergency footing for at least three months.
She said: “I am giving my instructions to NHS Scotland and the individual health boards to do all that is necessary to be ready to face a substantial and sustained increase in the cases of Covid-19.”
The Health Minister said a “swift and radical change” was needed in the way the NHS does its work, including doubling the number of intensive care beds.
She said: “Our nation faces a challenge to its way of life and to public health in a manner that has never been seen before in our lifetimes.”
Ms Freeman added: “I want to be very clear though – vital cancer treatments, emergency, maternity, and urgent care will continue.”
Although she said all health boards are developing local mobilisation plans, it was unclear whether cancer screening would continue during the outbreak.
The Health Minister said she is working with councils to achieve a reduction in hospital ‘delayed discharges’ of at least 400 by the end of the month.
This occurs when patients are well enough to go home but end up blocking hospital beds because there is no social care available for them in the community.
In addition, she said the Scottish Government had entered talks with private healthcare providers to access their beds.
Ms Sturgeon also confirmed her administration would seek to deliver a “no-evictions” policy. Aileen Campbell, the Communities Minister, said she would unveil more details on Thursday.
Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish Economy Minister, said: “In recent times the country has supported the banks. It’s now time for the banks to support the country.”
Jackson Carlaw, the Scottish Tory leader, said he had “every confidence” in Ms Sturgeon to lead Scotland’s response to the pandemic despite their political differences.
He said: “To those venting against the UK government or to me about ‘Sturgeon’s government’ let me be very clear. For now, this is a government for all of us, just as the government at Westminster is a government for all of us.”
The First Minister responded that admitted that mistakes would be made but said: “I have never been less interested in party politics than I am now.”