Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 22nd December 2020.

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The First Minister:

We were already reviewing the indicators—I think that I set that out in my statement last week—and we will continue that process over the Christmas period. Obviously, we will come back to Parliament with the outcome of that. We were taking the opportunity to review not just the indicators but also the content of each level. As I have said today, the new development makes it all the more urgent that we look at the content of level 4 restrictions and whether the current restrictions are sufficient.

On health board capacity and decisions on elective treatment, we want as much elective treatment to continue and to get as much of that back to normal as possible. That is a priority, and we discussed the issue at the Cabinet meeting earlier today. However, that depends on our ability to suppress the virus. To put it bluntly, the more patients require hospital and intensive care treatment for Covid, the more staff will be required to support that. Of course, the greater the levels of infection, the more hospital and NHS staff generally are likely to be off sick—like the rest of the population, they are more likely to be taking time off sick—and the less able the NHS will be to do normal business.

We are supporting the NHS to get the balance right as far as possible. I cannot guarantee that no NHS board or hospital will postpone elective treatment, but we are trying to support the NHS through this as much as possible, to reduce this year’s backlog and to prevent its rising any further.

I make a plea to everyone. All of us can help the NHS right now. During the early part of the pandemic, we all acted in a way that protected the NHS. The NHS needs us to do that again. It needs us all, in our personal behaviour, to do everything that we can to suppress the virus. That is what we can all do to keep our NHS safe.