Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 5th March 2020.

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The First Minister:

First, I pay tribute to our front-line NHS staff, which I am sure will be echoed across the chamber. We do that each and every day; however, at times such as this, the pressure and demand on them increases and we are all appreciative of the work that they do. Yesterday, I v isited NHS 24 in Clydebank, whose healthcare workers are among those who are at the sharp end of that increased demand.

We have record numbers of people working in our NHS in Scotland, who work incredibly hard and under incredible pressure; nevertheless, the numbers have been increasing. We also have more staff per head of population than other parts of the UK. That is not to diminish the pressure that our staff are under now or will be under, but that is an important foundation.

Of course, we are also looking at contingency plans to encourage and ask those who are recently retired from the national health service to come back, if that is required. We are obtaining lists of retired healthcare professionals from—for example—the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives, and we are looking to get such a list from the General Medical Council as well. Those plans are under way.

It is very important to be frank and honest with the public and to give them as much information as possible—that was a very important approach during the swine flu pandemic just over a decade ago—and to seek to reassure the public that, although this is a serious situation that is being taken seriously, there are well-established plans in place that are in the process of being implemented.

It is also very important that we continue to reassure the public that, although very big numbers are being cited right now, we are planning on the basis of worst-case scenarios; and that, whatever the numbers turn out to be, the vast majority of people will have mild symptoms. Part of our focus in seeking to reduce the number of people who are infected at any one time is to minimise as much as possible the impact on society and, in particular, on our national health service. That is the basis on which we will continue to take forward our planning work.