Nicola Sturgeon is being urged to get non-urgent health services up and running again, with Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie telling the First Minister: “We cannot ignore the plight of people suffering under the lockdown.”
The Lib Dem leader made the plea ahead of the debate in the Scottish Parliament on the easing of lockdown restrictions.
Scotland has just moved into phase one of the plan, with this including “the safe restart of NHS services, covering primary and community services including mental health”.
But it is phase two before ministers propose to bring back some chronic disease management services – which could include pain and diabetic services.
Meanwhile, it is phase three before it is proposed all dental practices will begin to see registered patients again, with community optometry services also reoepning, with social distancing safeguards in place.
Mr Rennie said he fears there will be a “significant backlog of mental health cases, surgery waits and the like” – adding that ministers should make clear how long patients could have to wait for “overdue” treatment.
His comments came after recent figures showed almost 10,000 fewer Scots were admitted to hospital for planned treatment in March, compared with the same time last year as the impact of Covid-19 was felt by the health service.
NHS data showed 16,561 patients were admitted to hospital for inpatient or day-case procedures in March this year – down from 26,033 12 months before.
Mr Rennie stated: “Every week I am contacted by people who are either living with painful conditions, struggling with their mental health or waiting on operations that have been deemed non-urgent.
“These people have bravely and stoically put up with much discomfort because they understand the importance of the lockdown to keeping everybody safe, but this situation cannot last forever.”
The Lib Dem demanded: “This week the First Minister must set out detailed plans for getting non-urgent healthcare up and running and alleviating the pressure on those suffering at home, in isolation or trapped in hospital.
“This needs to be done safely but while we protect people from the virus, we cannot ignore the plight of people suffering under the lockdown.
“What’s more, for the foreseeable future we are likely to see significant backlog of mental health cases, surgery waits and the like. Ministers will need to set out exactly how long people can expect to wait for their overdue treatment and what additional measures will be put in place to cut waiting times.
“These would be simple steps that the Government could take to give people hope for the future. If the Government is able to prioritise these complex issues it would have our full support.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We absolutely appreciate how difficult it has been for people who have had procedures or treatments postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We are intensively planning for how we resume procedures in the NHS, but it is crucial that this is done in an orderly and safe way.
“This work will accelerate over the next few weeks, and will be progressed in a phased approach. We will shortly publish a framework that will help inform how the health and care system is aligned and managed during the next phase of the Covid-19 response, and beyond.
“The Health Secretary will also give an update to parliament this week.”