Covid surge rings in New Year changes

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Essential visiting only rules have been introduced at Lorn and Isles Hospital to stop Covid spreading and impacting on staffing numbers.

NHS Highland bosses who have also restricted visiting at Fort William’s Belford Hospital say increasing cases of Covid directly impacting staffing levels are risking its rural hospitals not being able to deliver services.

Earlier this week there had been no specific ward closures in Oban because of the virus.

Katherine Sutton, NHS Highland’s Chief Officer (Acute), said: ‘We have worked closely with our colleagues in infection control and we believe restricting visiting will help reduce the risk of introducing infection from the local community into our hospitals, and give us the best chance to protect our patients and staff.

‘We understand that this decision will cause anxiety for our patients, families and staff, however we believe the move to essential visiting across the hospitals will help us reduce the spread of the virus into our hospitals.’

National guidance asks essential visitors should take a lateral flow test first to check for a negative result.

To help CalMac cope with its Covid-related staff absences, the ferry provider  announced temporary changes to several timetables that started on Monday this week and will until at least January 23, and be kept under weekly review from then on.

Changes include removing the Oban-Coll-Tiree service on a Sunday, as well as the Wednesday Oban-Colonsay sailing.

Latest figures from CalMac showed 93 crew and 18 port staff were off work because of the virus.

CalMac managing director Robbie Drummond says the timetable changes will let it focus available crew resources on maintaining lifeline services.

‘We fully appreciate the difficulties these changes will cause for some of our customers, and we apologise for any disruption that may result. However, because this situation is changing rapidly, we must protect core services, which is why we are now having to introduce this temporary timetable, said Mr Drummond.

Meanwhile anyone in the Oban area who missed out on getting their booster jags before the New Year bells are being urged to book online for vaccination clinics at the Corran Halls today, January 6, then on January 7, 14, 17, 24 , 25 and 29.

Dr Boyd Peters, Medical Director for NHS Highland says the threat and impact of Covid remains a significant concern as any big increase in community infections now will cause serious issues in late January, both for individual patients and for the staffing of services.

‘Our health and care system is fragile, the loss of staff to this variant through testing positive or the need to isolate has a huge impact on our ability to deliver the services needed across our patch and this is already a challenge,’ he said.

If you cannot book a booster appointment online you can telephone the helpline on 0800 030 8013, which is open from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.

Details of Argyll and Bute Covid-19 Booster Vaccination Clinics are regularly updated and published at