A NUMBER of non-urgent operations are to be postponed over the next few weeks to help reduce the pressure at Forth Valley Royal Hospital.

NHS Forth Valley confirmed on Friday, January 7, it is taking action to maintain critical health services by postponing a number of non-urgent operations and is freeing up staff to address shortages.

The move comes in response to a significant increase in Covid-19 infections, which resulted in high rates of staff absences, adding to existing pressures.

It is the first time planned operations are being postponed since non-urgent services were restarted in August 2020.

Cathie Cowan, chief executive at NHS Forth Valley, said: “Increasing capacity and Covid related staffing pressures are placing additional strain on already over-stretched local health and care services and we expect these pressures to intensify over the next few weeks.

“We have therefore taken the difficult decision to postpone some non-urgent operations in order to maintain critical health services.

“This will free up staff to support areas experiencing significant staffing shortages and increase the number of inpatient beds available to ensure patients who are seriously unwell can continue to receive the vital care they need.”

She explained staff worked hard in a bid to avoid taking the action, but it is necessary to protect critical services.

The temporary measure will help protect vital emergency, cancer care and other critical health services as it will free up staff to support essential health services and provide cover for areas experiencing significant staff shortages due to Covid-19.

The move also frees up capacity to deal with an anticipated increase in the number of patients who may be admitted with coronavirus related illnesses.

The chief executive added: “I know that this decision will be very disappointing and I would like to apologise to local patients who have had their operation postponed.

“Everything possible will be done to reschedule the operations affected as quickly as possible and we also plan to review capacity on a weekly basis so that we can restart activity sooner if it is possible to do so.”

The health board explained how services have come under increasing pressure over the last few months.

This is due to a high number of patients requiring inpatient care for both non-Covid and Covid related health conditions while social care and care home services are also facing significant staffing pressures.

The rapid spread of the Omicron variant has also led to record numbers of infections.

Residents can help relieve pressure on services by not attending the emergency department if they have a minor injury or illness.

Call NHS24 on 111 first for advice, where a telephone or video consultation can be arranged along with priority appointments for the Minor Injuries Unit or Urgent Care Centre for patients who need to be seen.

Pharmacies are also able to provide advice and treatment while GP services remain open.