FAMILIES are washing their own relatives and bringing in blankets to help over-stretched nurses amid a surge in flu cases, it has been claimed.

One patient told the Herald’s sister paper, the Evening Times, that relatives were coming in specifically to help bathe family members at the Langlands unit at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, which treats elderly patients, “because the nurses are rushed off their feet”.

It comes as the latest figures show flu rates have quadrupled in Scotland compared to last year and this week the virus claimed the life of 18-year-old Bethany Walker from Applecross in the Scottish Highlands.

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One patient said: “Relatives are coming in to help some of them get washed in the bathrooms and then going home again.

“The relatives have come in to do it and then they are going home. I don’t have any female relatives so the nurses are washing me. The nurses are rushed off their feet.”

Elsewhere in the city, patients are said to have been forced to ask relatives to bring in blankets because of a shortage at a unit in Glasgow Royal Infirmary, which admits A&E patients.

Another patient said: “I’m in hospital and they don’t have any covers as there is a shortage. They only have sheets.

“I said can I have a sheet to cover me as I was cold. I had to ask my son to buy one and a wee lady across from me has brought her own too. It’s because of the flu.”

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde stressed that the personal care of patients was “as important as clinical care” and said some families prefer to do it themselves. With regard to the blankets, a spokeswoman said no issues had been raised with facilities department, but she added: “It may have been a local issue that was resolved through our normal linen policy.”

Politicians described the claims as “absolutely shocking” and blamed chronic under-resourcing of the NHS rather than a winter crisis.

Officials stressed that the mortality rate was relatively low and patients who had died were likely to have had underlying health conditions.

Gregor Smith, Scotland’s deputy chief medical officer, stressed earlier this week that the current flu vaccine is “a good match” for the predominant strain in Scotland, a variety of influenza A (H3N2). People with a long-term medical condition, a weakened immune system, who are pregnant or over 65, are strongly encouraged to take up the vaccine.

Mr Smith also stressed that the predominant strain currently circulating in Scotland is not the same strain prevalent in Australia between May and September last year.

A spokeswoman for NHSGGC said: “The personal care and comfort of our patients is as important as the clinical care and this is factored into the everyday duties of our staff.

“There are times when people might prefer to do it themselves, but there is never an expectation that family members get involved in their relative’s care.”

Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health, Anas Sarwar, said: “We’ve heard of office staff having to clean beds, or feed patients and now families are having to do the very basics, even supplying blankets.

“This is not just the result of a winter crisis – the BMA has made that clear. It’s the result of chronic under-resourcing by the SNP which has led to a workforce crisis”

The British Medical Association warned this week that situation should not be dismissed as “the inevitable increase in pressure that winter brings”.

Adam Tomkins, Scottish Conservative MSP for Glasgow, said: “These are deeply concerning revelations which show just how stretched our NHS has become.”