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Health chiefs say claims that a locum doctor continued to work in the Belford Hospital in Fort William after declaring he had coronavirus symptoms, have proved unfounded.
The health board carried out an urgent investigation after a report in a national newspaper appeared on Monday, causing widespread anxiety according to local MSP Donald Cameron.
The report had prompted the Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP, who is also Shadow Health Secretary, to write to the chief executive of NHS Highland seeking reassurance that Covid-19 protocols were being rigorously observed in the region’s hospitals.
Mr Cameron told us: ‘It is very important that patients and staff feel safe and secure when in hospital and I know that local people in Lochaber have been very concerned following the recent newspaper reports on events at the Belford.
‘I very much hope that NHS Highland can provide the reassurance that I am seeking and that if things have gone wrong that there are procedures in place to prevent a recurrence.’
Asked to comment, NHS Highland confirmed that a locum member of staff in the Belford Hospital had tested positive for Covid-19 one week ago, on Monday September 28.
‘All contact with patients ceased when symptoms developed on the 28th,’ the health board said in its statement.
It continued: ‘NHS Highland investigated immediately, including clinical risk assessments of those who had been in close contact in the days beforehand. A very small number of people have been self-isolating as a precaution. None have tested positive to date.
‘The member of staff who developed Covid-19 did not report symptoms or feel unwell over the weekend and wore PPE while working, which will have protected others.
‘Standard procedures for monitoring and managing the incident are in place to ensure the safety of patients and staff. Usual infection control precautions will continue and all patients, visitors and staff who come into the hospital should wear face masks and clean their hands regularly with soap and water or alcohol gel.’
In an update on the overall Covid-19 situation in the Fort William area, NHS Highland told the Lochaber Times on Tuesday it was aware of a total of 20 cases of the virus within the local community, identified over the past couple of weeks. Most of these cases are linked as part of local community clusters.
NHS Highland’s Health Protection Team has undertaken case follow up in accordance with national guidance. Contact tracing has been carried out with all those identified as close contacts being advised to self-isolate.
With the latest available Public Health Scotland figures (September 27 to October 3) showing that the ‘Fort William South’ area has the second highest positive rate in the Highlands, constituency MSP Kate Forbes has called on everyone to be extra-responsible and follow the guidance.
‘I am grateful to NHS Highland for investigating so quickly as undoubtedly these reports caused huge anxiety and worry – I am reassured that patient contact ceased as soon as the locum doctor displayed symptoms,’ said Ms Forbes.
‘Though they are often heroic, it goes to show that doctors and nurses are not immune from the coronavirus and must follow the same guidance as everyone else.
‘The message is clear: anyone showing symptoms of Covid – regardless of whether they are wearing full PPE or not – should go home and self-isolate immediately.’
Meanwhile, supermarket giant Morrisons, has confirmed that a member of its workforce in Lochaber has tested positive for Covid-19.
The company told us: ‘A colleague in our Fort William store has tested positive for the coronavirus and we wish them a speedy recovery.’
A positive case of Covid-19 was also diagnosed for a pupil associated with Lundavra Primary School in Fort William this week.
The pupil, however, has not attended school recently and Highland Council says its health protection team has advised that no action is required by the school.
Vice convener of The Highland Council, Councillor Allan Hendersonm who is chairman of Communities and Place Committee, said: ‘I understand that there will be anxieties among the community so there is support and assistance available from Environmental Health, and Benefits and Welfare and community partners. A leaflet has been produced to highlight the support available.’