SURGEONS say they are still not being routinely tested for Covid despite soaring virus rates.

The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd), which represents 15,000 members across the UK, has expressed concerns over the recent rise in hospital-acquired coronavirus cases.

A number of cancer patients on an oncology ward at Edinburgh's Western General died following a Covid outbreak, and three wards at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee which treat gastroenterology, respiratory, and orthopaedics patients had to shut this week after a "small number" of infections.

The Herald also revealed that a number of patients, believed to have been treated for liver disease, had died at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow after contracting the virus, with cases also detected in haematology.

READ MORE: Patients die after catching Covid at superhospital 

Surgeons told the College they are concerned about cases transmitting between staff members due to a lack of infrastructure to enable social distancing and inadequate testing of staff.

One in five clinicians said no measures have been implemented to allow social distancing in non-patient areas in their hospital.

The findings are based on a survey of RCSEd members working across 117 different Trusts and Health Boards in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The poll was carried out between October 8 and 22, with 237 surgeons responding.

Almost a third (32 per cent) said they feel unable to safely socially distance from their colleagues in non-patient areas where full personal protective equipment (PPE) is not worn, such as canteens and staff rooms.

Only 26% of those surveyed said measures had been implemented across all non-patient areas, and 72% said they are still participating in face to face meetings.

Testing of hospital staff was also highlighted as a major concern, with the survey revealing that 87% of surgeons are not being tested regularly, and 63% of those surveyed said they believe the level of staff testing within their hospital is unsatisfactory.

Professor Michael Griffin, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, said: “We are on the verge of another crisis point for preservation of elective work, so it is more important than ever that adequate infrastructure is in place to minimise the spread of Covid within hospitals.

“For over six months we have been talking about the importance of ‘Covid-free’ or ‘low risk’ hubs, in order to allow crucial operations to take place in designated hospital areas with a minimal risk of the viral transmission.

“However, for these safe spaces to exist, social distancing measures must be in place across all areas, and regular testing of staff must be carried out – but it seems there are many hospitals across the UK in which these steps are still not being taken.

"As a result, we will continue to see an increase in nosocomial [hospital-acquired] infections and a considerable number of staff absent from the workplace, leaving the NHS without the vital support it needs from its healthcare workers.

“We must not allow ourselves to be in the position where almost all diagnostic tests and surgery are forced to stop once again because of Covid, or there will be a huge rise in avoidable deaths.”

READ MORE: Banning public events 'single most effective' measure to curb Covid 

It comes as NHS Greater Glasgow and Glasgow urged the public to follow guidelines on facemasks, hand-washing and avoiding crowded spaces amid a surge in admissions.

The health board says it is currently treating more than 500 Covid patients, compared to fewer than 100 at the start of the month.

It has implemented red, amber and green patient pathways to "minimise the spread of the virus" between Covid and non-Covid areas and enable emergency, trauma and cancer surgery to continue.

But in a statement yesterday the health board said "pressures have increased substantially across hospital sites".

The public were urged to use A&E for emergencies only and to attend hospital appointments alone, if possible.

Dr Scott Davidson, deputy medical director for acute services, said: “During this time we are maintaining a programme of elective surgery but this also means that we are currently looking after more patients than ever before, so while the numbers of Covid-19 patients may not yet have reached March’s peak levels, there is as much pressure on our staff across services.

“We would like to remind the public of the current policies in relation to using health services, as minimising unnecessary footfall plays a huge role in preventing the spread of the virus.”

READ MORE: NHS Lanarkshire warns its hospitals are at 90% capacity 

On Thursday, NHS Lanarkshire - where Covid prevalence is the highest in Scotland - reported that its hospitals are treating more Covid patients now than at the peak during the first wave.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Since July, healthcare staff in specialist oncology wards, long term care of the elderly wards and long stay old age psychiatry and learning disability wards have been offered weekly tests.

“Healthcare workers are also offered testing if they are working on non-Covid wards where there is an unexpected cluster.

"Local Infection Prevention and Control Teams (IPCTs) are also advised to consider testing staff when a single unexpected case of Covid-19 is identified in a ward.

“It is important to remember that testing provides a single point in time assessment of whether a person has the virus – it does not mean they will not go on to develop the virus.

"That’s why testing is only one measure of protection against Covid, alongside a strong emphasis on robust infection prevention and control measures, including the use of PPE, the extended use of face masks, physical distancing and good hygiene.”