NHS Fife is postponing non-urgent services in a "vital step" to protect emergency and cancer care in the coming weeks.

The health board has announced in the last few minutes that all non-urgent surgical procedures and outpatient appointments have been postponed, in response to the additional pressures that the new Omicron Covid variant is likely to cause.

Patients affected will be contacted directly to advise of the postponement and those who are not contacted should attend their appointment as arranged.

Emergency procedures, trauma and cancer procedures will continue.

Health services are under considerable strain NHS Fife has said, but throughout 2021 it has continued with much of its outpatient and non-urgent surgical programme to reduce the number of patients waiting for treatment.

A rise in cases could lead to a sharp rise in hospitalisations and potentially impact the availability of the workforce and urgent care in turn. 

NHS Fife Chief Executive, Carol Potter, said:“Since being declared a variant of concern by the World Health Organisation in late November, we have been preparing our services for the likelihood of a significant rise in the numbers of patients requiring inpatient care due to the effects of Covid-19.

“With omicron circulating widely across the UK, and proving to be even more transmissible than previous variants, we need to act now and retract all non-essential activity to ensure our services are suitably prepared to respond to this new and evolving threat. This will involve us pausing non-urgent surgery along with non-urgent outpatient appointments. Cancer, trauma and emergency care, including diagnostics, will continue as before.

“This is not a decision we have taken lightly, and we recognise the impact this may have on those who have already waited a considerable time to be seen. Unfortunately, we are still very much learning about this new variant and until we have a fuller understanding of its likely impact, we need to prepare our healthcare for a worst-case scenario, and this means taking the necessary action to protect emergency care.”

Visiting restrictions will continue to belimited to one individual.

NHS Fife Medical Director, Dr Christopher McKenna, is urging everyone eligible for a first, second or booster dose to book an appointment at a nearby clinic.

Dr McKenna said:“While there are many unknowns about the new omicron variant, there is clear evidence that getting fully vaccinated remains the best means of reducing your risk of serious illness from the effects of the virus.

“It is easy, particularly if you are young, to assume that you are not at risk of becoming seriously ill due to the virus, however, right here in Fife we have seen young people who are otherwise well requiring care in our ICU. Indeed, very many of those who have required care in our hospitals due to the effects of Covid could have very likely avoided this by taking up the offer of vaccination when it was first offered.

“In response to the spread of this new variant we have made literally tens of thousands of extra vaccination appointments available between now and early January and I would urge anyone who is eligible, whether they require a first, second or a booster dose, to take up that offer and book an appointment as soon as possible.”

Vaccination appointments can be booked in a few clicks by visiting: vacs.nhs.scot. There are also a number of drop-in clinics available across the Kingdom where no appointment is necessary. Details of all upcoming drop-in clinics are available on the NHS Fife website, at: www.nhsfife.org/dropinclinics.