ONE of Scotland’s most senior doctors has warned the growing problems in the NHS as it heads into a brutal winter now go wider and deeper than the pandemic.

Professor Michael Griffin, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, said the country was suffering from “a real workforce problem in the NHS and in social care” that was now creating a “vicious circle” impacting all parts of the health service.

On Thursday, after The Herald revealed 65-year-old Gerard Brown, from Glasgow, had died after waiting 40 hours for paramedics, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced she had called in the army to help deal with the exceptional pressures on the ambulance service.

She told MSPs the situation had “largely been caused by Covid pressure” and that a raft of problems across the NHS were driven by “unprecedented demand… caused largely by the impact of the pandemic”.

HeraldScotland: xxxx

READ MORE: Anger as Glasgow father-of-three dies after 40-hour wait for ambulance

However, Prof Griffin told Radio Scotland: “It’s not just due to Covid,” adding the pandemic was responsible for “probably 30-40 per cent of the issues that we’re seeing”.

He said increasing numbers of Covid cases and infected patients in hospitals were adding to the “very, very complex problem” facing the health service, including the pressure on paramedics.

He said: “It [Covid] has a significant contribution, but there are other multiple factors involved and it’s quite a complex situation.

“We have staff absences from illness, recruitment and isolation, such that we’re not able to staff certain areas. There’s a real problem with getting patients out of hospitals at the moment and into social care, because there is a care home workforce crisis which is causing issues and bed blocking.”

On reports of people enduring distressing waits for ambulances, Prof Griffin said: “If the hospital beds are all full, it’s extremely difficult for the ambulance drivers to get their patients into hospital, on to trolleys, into A&E and into beds if they need admission.

“It is a bit of a vicious circle.”

READ MORE: Why it's wrong to blame Scotland's ambulance crisis on Covid cases alone

He said “huge backlogs” in the NHS will take years to address.

He welcomed the Scottish Government’s recovery plan and planned diagnostic hubs as “really good steps forward”, but added: “They’re not going to be any good to us in the short-term unless we can staff them and, at the moment, we are very much short of nursing staff to be able to staff them.

“It’s all very well having surgeons and having anaesthetists, but if we don’t have the extended surgical team and the crucial nursing staff and other healthcare workers, we can’t actually do our jobs.”

On Thursday, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar urged Ms Sturgeon not to “use the pandemic as cover for your Government’s failure” on ambulance waits.

Besides The Herald revealing Mr Brown’s death, the Daily Record reported this week that 86-year-old Lillian Briggs, from Edinburgh, had to wait eight hours in agony on her kitchen floor for an ambulance after falling and breaking her hip.

Scottish Ambulance Service chief executive Pauline Howie told the BBC: “These waits are appalling and they are not something we aspire to as an ambulance service.

“The vast majority of patients, for immediately life-threatening patients, will receive a response under 10 minutes, and for other emergency patients, under 40 minutes.”

The chief executive confirmed the service would apologise directly to the families of Ms Briggs and Mr Brown and share the findings of its reviews into the circumstances.

She said: “We’re currently experiencing an unprecedented period of significant and sustained demand on our services. That’s a result of increasing Covid-19 cases and also increasing non-Covid demand through illnesses and injuries.

“We’ve seen increased turnaround times at hospitals and staff absences due to isolating and these factors are all causing these unacceptable delays for patients.”

Asked what the winter held for ambulance teams, she said: “It’s going to be extremely challenging, there’s no doubt about it. That’s why we’re looking at a whole range of measures to see what else we can possibly do ahead of winter to put in place capacity, not just in the ambulance service but across the whole health and care system.”

The army has been asked to mobilise about 100 soldiers to drive ambulances and provide logistical support to paramedics.

READ MORE: Sturgeon: Military support for ambulance service called in amid 'unacceptable' waiting times

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie welcomed the use of the military, but said it showed the NHS and ambulance service were already in crisis “all before the winter starts”.

She said ministers had “taken their eye off the ball” and failed to respond to delays that were reported in June, and efforts should now be made to bring back recently-retired staff and increase capacity.

Tory MSP Dr Sandesh Gulhane said the Government needed more than “rhetoric and money” to deal with the current crisis.

He said: “I would invest in getting the NHS flowing because that’s the only way we can get pressure off the GPs. Pop-up wards are going to be very difficult to do because there might be patients just waiting for 20 hours in a pop-up ward, but we need to increase our capacity in A&E.”

One suggestion has been to reopen the NHS Louisa Jordan at the SEC in Glasgow. The temporary facility, which closed in March, carried out outpatient and diagnostic appointments, hosted training and accepted blood donations.

Dr John Montgomery told BBC Scotland’s The Nine on Thursday: “Closing it because of the forthcoming COP26 [climate summit] may be one of the worst decisions we have made.”

The latest data showed 30 new Covid-linked deaths in Scotland, with 5,529 people testing positive for the virus in the last 48 hours.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said it was “a reminder of how much grief this virus continues to cause. Sympathies with all affected.”

The latest ONS infection survey found 1 in 45 people in Scotland had Covid last week, the highest rate of the home nations.