Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of dithering over axing Covid self-isolation rules that are keeping hundreds of NHS staff off work as operations were cancelled across Scotland’s capital.
The First Minister said she was considering whether to make staff who have had both vaccine doses exempt from having to self-isolate for 10 days if they are a close contact of a positive case.
But NHS Lothian became the latest health board to announce some operations were being postponed because of the pressure caused by a surge in Covid patients and staff being forced to self-isolate.
The board, which serves Edinburgh, said the procedures were being postponed so medics could focus on the most-urgent cases and patients.
Residents were also urged to consider visiting pharmacies, minor injury departments and GPs rather than going to A&E.
Scotland’s infection rate is now higher than England’s
Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said that health boards could not wait for a parliamentary statement that Ms Sturgeon is due to make next Tuesday as a further delay "could see essential services keel over".
He said there was "nothing" in a televised briefing Ms Sturgeon gave on Thursday that helped tackle the crisis and questioned what "more of a warning" she required than hospitals running out of capacity.
Three other health boards have previously announced they were cancelling operations following a surge in Covid patients and staff being forced to self-isolate.
Elective operations at Raigmore Hospital, the largest in the Highlands, have been axed and NHS Lanarkshire has cancelled non-emergency operations and diagnostic tests at University Hospital Wishaw.
NHS Grampian also said it had no option but to cancel operations at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin, which are at full capacity.
NHS workers absent due to Covid double in past month
The number of NHS workers absent because of the virus has more than doubled in the past month to 2,760, with staff away on summer holidays worsening the crisis.
Jillian Evans, the head of health intelligence at NHS Grampian, said it would "make sense" for under-pressure boards to postpone some operations in an organised manner rather than at the last minute.
But Prof Jackie Taylor, president of Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow, suggested the Scottish Government could examine "at a more proportionate policy for double vaccinated people".
She said staff identified as contacts could take a PCR test and, if it was negative, return to work while taking daily lateral flow tests.
On Tuesday, Sajid Javid, the UK Health Secretary, said fully-vaccinated people and children will not have to self-isolate if a close contact tests positive from August 16 in England.
Ms Sturgeon confirmed on Thursday her Government was reviewing the policy, which has also caused havoc in schools, and an announcement will be made shortly.
"We are considering it in general terms but we are also considering it in relation to particular occupations and workplaces where having large numbers of people self-isolate potentially raises questions of retainment of services," she said.
Dr Gregor Smith, Scotland’s chief medical officer, said Public Health Scotland along with other UK agencies were gathering evidence regarding a potential change to self-isolation rules for healthcare staff.
But Mr Rennie said: "I am dismayed we didn’t get an announcement today about self-isolation because no change and waiting longer to take decisions could see essential services keel over, from operating theatres to GP surgeries, pharmacies and bin collections.
"There is a critical impact right now and they need an urgent response from the First Minister."
Jacquie Campbell, chief officer of acute services for NHS Lothian, said: "We are seeing a rise in the number of patients admitted to hospital and in the numbers of staff who are required to self-isolate.
"As a result, we have to focus our capacity on the most urgent cases, which means that unfortunately we have had to postpone some planned procedures.
"We apologise to all of those patients who have been affected and would reassure them that their appointment will be rearranged as soon as possible."