ROUTINE operations have been cancelled by mistake in Scotland's largest health board amid fears over bed shortages and an influx of Covid admissions.

Doctors at Glasgow Royal Infirmary (GRI) were told to call off all non-urgent elective surgery “for at least two weeks”, leaving some patients - whose procedures had already been delayed by the pandemic - in tears.

The health board now insists this was a “miscommunication”.

However, the situation at GRI was escalated to “critical” this week, meaning there are not enough beds for the number of patients waiting to be admitted.

The hospital, one of the oldest in the city, is vulnerable to Covid outbreaks because of its open wards and has been forced to close several to new admissions as a result, exacerbating bed shortages.

An NHS source said: “It’s a huge worry that we’re in this state now. And it’s also about the messaging: we’re phoning patients who are understandably incredibly upset, telling them that their operation is now cancelled.

“Some of these patients have had operations cancelled several times. They were cancelled in the first wave and are only just getting through.

"But they’re hearing on the national news that the NHS is business as usual.”

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Contingency plans are said to be inadequate to maintain elective care as Covid increases.

There are now 177 patients in hospital with the virus in the GGC region, compared to 87 a week ago.

The source added: “The patients you’re admitting now might need intensive care in 10 days to two weeks if they deteriorate.

"If you have 50 patients in the hospital right now, you might predict that 10 of them will need intensive care, and by then you’re ICU could be saturated.”

In an email to staff on Tuesday, Mark Dale, the interim general manager for surgery, states that “we have now received confirmation that all non-urgent elective surgery at the GRI should be cancelled from today for at least two weeks, and no further patients booked beyond this”.

Planned cancer operations would be prioritised along with day case procedures.

A memo from Colin McKay, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s chief of medicine, also states that non-urgent elective surgery at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital was to be suspended from October 8, with additional communications indicating that the blanket ban would also cover Inverclyde Royal and Royal Alexandra hospitals.

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However, medics have been left baffled after a spokeswoman for NHS GGC said there “has been no instruction to cancel our elective surgery programme for a period of two weeks”.

She added: “We are aware of miscommunications from staff and we will be issuing a further notice today to reiterate our commitment to delivering both scheduled and unscheduled care.”

She added that decisions on whether to cancel operations would be made on a case-by-case basis.

It comes as bars and restaurants across the Central Belt, including Glasgow and Edinburgh, prepare to close tonight for 16 days.

Scottish Government advisors said the temporary closure of hospitality “will reset the trajectory of the virus in Scotland and reduces the risk of cases in the Central Belt overwhelming the NHS”.

Around 100,000 planned operations have already been put on hold in the five months after lockdown, with figures this week showing that NHS GGC was still performing less than half the elective operations it normally would by August.

Scottish Conservative Health Spokesman Donald Cameron said it was "hugely alarming" that some patients had now had procedures cancelled for a second time.

“Patients waiting for procedures may even be in pain, and they can’t become the forgotten victims of this crisis,” he said.

Scottish Labour MSP Monica Lennon said: “We shouldn’t be in the position where the NHS can only respond to Covid-19 and little else.”

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It comes as a further five Covid deaths were recorded in Scotland and 1,027 new cases detected - the second day in a row that it has topped 1000.

Professor Michael Griffin, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, said "a great deal of the backlog" in relation to cancer surgery has been cleared, but warned about the impact of a second wave on diagnosis rates.

He added: “My biggest concern is that if screening and diagnostic services do not resume at a significantly increased rate, and we do not find additional capacity to accommodate this and sustain it through a potential second wave, the number of patients with undiagnosed cancer will continue to increase.

"This will impact on surgical waiting lists, and for some, it will all come too late.”

Professor Griffin said private hospitals and the Nightingale facilities should be used for tests such as CT scans, ultrasounds and endoscopies, in order to get diagnostic services back up and running at a substantial rate.

He said: “It is crucial that our hospitals are set up so that cancer services and surgery can take place in facilities that are completely separate from acute care.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Earlier this year, we placed Scotland’s NHS on an emergency footing in order to tackle the pandemic – this included scaling back all non-urgent elective procedures.

"At the same time it was made clear to NHS boards that urgent, maternity and vital cancer services should remain as usual.

"The number of planned operations has increased since July, demonstrating our commitment to resuming services as quickly and safely as possible, while patients who need urgent care, including cancer treatment, continue to be prioritised.

“In announcing temporary measures to stop the spread of the virus on 7 October, the First Minister was clear that health boards should continue with the remobilisation of health services.”