Facing criticism on social media and elsewhere, NHS Western Isles has responded with a strongly worded statement, particularly in relation to the source of the Covid-19 outbreak in Stornoway and the need to provide essential care for islanders from Barra.

NHSWI says: “To blame anyone, or point fingers at this time, is unhelpful. In particular, to blame healthcare staff or the NHS for a move to Level 4 is unjustified.

“We are proud of our staff, many of whom have been working tirelessly and selflessly throughout this pandemic to prepare, plan, train and put themselves in the frontline, without a second thought, to care for any and every individual that needs our services, regardless of personal risk.”

In relation to available hospital services in Stornoway and elsewhere, the authority says: “The situation in terms of hospital capacity…has, we are pleased to say, improved. We do have staffing support identified and agreed and clinical staff will be attending from the mainland. These staff are vaccinated and will all be tested.”

Overall, they say:

  • We are clear that the source of the outbreak was not locum or agency staff. Locum and agency NHS staff are tested for COVID-19 before taking up a work placement with us.
  • The COVID-19 vaccine helps build up your immunity to the virus, so your body will fight it off more easily if it affects you. This can reduce your risk of developing COVID-19 or, if you do get COVID-19, it can make the symptoms milder. It does not therefore necessarily stop you from developing the virus.
  • The Western Isles Hospital facility is a healthcare facility for patients across the Western Isles as required. The hospital is available to provide the necessary care and treatment for all our communities.

NHS Western Isles also made clear they will not provide additional information which could lead to the identification of individuals who are affected.

The statement, issued yesterday (Saturday January 30) on Facebook, also said: “There have been many questions (and sadly accusations) circulating since yesterday’s Scottish Government decision and announcement to move to Protection Level 4.

“The decision was taken as a result of an increase in prevalence of COVID-19 and an increase in infection rates. As everyone is aware, we have outbreaks in Barra and Stornoway and a cluster in Benbecula. These three situations are resulting in significant and continuing staffing pressures for NHS services, as a number of close contacts (who are healthcare professionals) have been required to self-isolate.

“We have taken a low threshold approach in terms of risk, which means that where there was any possibility identified that staff could have contracted the virus from other individuals, they have been asked to isolate. This is to protect our fragile island system and services as far as possible. The consequence, however, is, of course, a higher number of close contacts.

“The outbreak in Western Isles Hospital demonstrates how infectious COVID-19 is, and what we are experiencing now in the Western Isles is, unfortunately, similar to situations that have been experienced in other parts of the mainland.

“Healthcare staff are one of the groups most at risk of contracting this virus as they are caring for unwell individuals in close contact who have or may have the virus.

“Our staff are looking after those individuals who have a highly infectious virus and therefore are working in an environment where the potential for spread, despite everyone’s best efforts, exists. This has particularly been found recently as the new variant becomes the predominant strain throughout Scotland.

“All our staff have access to and wear the required and recommended PPE. Our staff working in clinical areas also have access to self-testing kits which they use twice a week. It was in fact through a self-testing kit that we identified the first positive case of COVID-19 associated with the current hospital outbreak. Our inpatients are also routinely offered regular testing.

“Through Test & Protect, we are investigating various potential possibilities for the source of the outbreak in Western Isles Hospital and also how it spread. It has been evident through all of our outbreaks that there are multiple potential sources where the virus sees and grasps its opportunity.

“Should we find any weaknesses in our system from which we can immediately learn and improve, that is again a priority for us.  If we find any issues with regard to compliance with PPE or any of our other COVID-19 arrangements, these are dealt with.”

“We would like to thank everyone who has offered well wishes to the patients and healthcare staff members who unfortunately contracted COVID-19 in the Western Isles.

“This is a difficult, stressful and worrying time for them, and indeed for us all, and the kindness shown by so many across our communities has been appreciated. We are thankful that the vast majority so far, with regard to the Stornoway and Benbecula cases, are experiencing very mild symptoms.”