Argyll lockdown sees COVID-19 peak early

Soldiers carry out COVID-19 testing in the car park of Oban's hospital.

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Sticking to lockdown has seen COVID-19 peak six weeks earlier than expected in Argyll and Bute, but public health predictions suggest nearly 8,000 people across the region will be infected by the end of August.

Figures comparing actual numbers of acute patients with the virus in NHS Highland hospitals, revealed at a meeting of the Health and Social Care partnership’s Integration Joint Board (IJB),  indicated the peak happened on April 12 instead of striking this week as originally forecast.

Our hospitals are now seeing reduced demand for COVID-19 treatment, and depending on relaxed lockdown arrangements it is ‘possible/probable/likely’ that the NHS’s capacity to cope will not be exceeded.

The impact of social distancing is continuing so far but a COVID-19 readiness report, presented  by HSCP Head of Strategic Planning and Performance Stephen Whiston to the IJB via Skype last week, admits the real rate of the virus out in the community still remains unknown because of limited testing capacity – although a mobile army-run testing unit has been back at the Lorn and The Islands Hospital car park.

Putting initial NHS Highland projections into context for Argyll and Bute from April to the end of August, figures in the report estimated around 8,000 of the area’s 86,260 population will be infected, with only 5,300 showing symptoms.

The coronavirus outbreak could also mean 316 additional hospital admissions than usual for that time of year time, with almost 108 of those admissions being  for critical care.

At the time of the predicted peak in this first week of June, it was also expected hospitals would need to escalate to using contingency beds and that by the end of August there would be an excess of 120 deaths due to COVID-19.

To work out estimates for expected coronavirus demand on the NHS, a range of scenarios were  explored, with one of the factors being based on 40 per cent public compliance with social interventions such as lockdown, including school closures and stopping mass gatherings.

Over the coming weeks actual numbers experienced will be pitted against the figures that were forecast  to give ‘some assurance’ about how future demand on the NHS will pan out, the IJB meeting was told.

Public Health projections were that about 40 NHS hospital beds would be needed for COVID-19 patients across Argyll and Bute in the peak week, with 13 possible ambulance transfers to critical care in the Glasgow area.

A bed occupancy report dated May 7 – around three weeks after the actual peak –  showed Oban hospital had one suspected COVID-19 in-patient and three confirmed cases, while Mull and Islay hospitals had none and there was just one confirmed case being treated in hospital in Campbeltown.

IJB chairman and Argyll and Bute Councillor for Oban, Kieron Green, told The Oban Times: ‘We have seen the benefit of people in Argyll and Bute complying with the guidelines from government and that’s really a credit to people locally for accepting the need to stay at home to save lives and protect the NHS. People took that to heart and it has saved lives, that’s what the data showed us. It’s meant people have not had to be admitted to hospital and there has been fewer deaths.’

He added: ‘As the scientific evidence supports restrictions being lifted it’s still important people stay as close to home as possible and don’t take risks.’

According to National Records of Scotland, there were 61 COVID-19 cases in Argyll and Bute up until the week starting May 18. In the  week beginning April 12 there were five deaths in the area’s care homes, one at home and six in hospital. Figures released for the week of May 18 are the latest, recording just two hospital deaths.