THE coronavirus crisis poses an enormous challenge for our health service but, thanks to the hard work of those on the NHS frontline, we are getting ready.

To support our key workers we’ve been keeping some school and childcare facilities open for people, such as NHS staff, who absolutely need it.

I can confirm local authorities will continue to keep facilities open over the Easter holidays as well to ensure that children are safe and looked after while their parents are doing critical jobs. That depends on some school teachers, nursery teachers, janitors and support staff giving up their holidays to make sure NHS and other key workers can stay at work – for which we’re all grateful.

Working with governments across the four nations of the UK, we have taken rapid action to increase the capacity of the NHS to deal with Covid-19 cases.

We are moving as swiftly as we can to quadruple our intensive care capacity across the country.

Three thousand beds have been freed up across our hospital estate for use by Covid-19 patients and extra ventilators have already arrived.

We have also managed to convert, on an interim basis, more than 200 operating theatre anaesthetic machines into intensive care ventilators to give us extra capacity.

By the end of this week we will have trebled ventilation capacity to more than 560 – and that will grow further still in the weeks ahead.

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In Scotland we have developed a unique Hub and Assessment centre pathway for Covid-19 patients.

This allows safe face-to-face consultation between a clinician and members of the public referred to them by their local hub while ensuring that GPs are freed up to continue to deliver non-Covid-19 healthcare to those who need it.

There are now more than 40 Assessment Centres across Scotland with Health Boards continuing to plan for up to 50. We have also taken the decision as part of our contingency planning to secure the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow as the site for a temporary hospital.

With the support of the army and Balfour Beatty as the main contractor, work has now begun on building the new facility.

The temporary hospital, NHS Louisa Jordan, will have an initial capacity of 300 beds but with the capacity to expand to 1000 patients if needed. The temporary hospital should be available for use in two weeks.

Our social care staff continue to do an incredible job under tough conditions and I’m sure I speak for everyone in extending my thanks for their hard work.

We have released additional financial support to GPs that will allow them to continue to provide this critical service, including over the Easter weekend.

The safety of our health and social care workforce is a priority. We monitor our supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) daily and, against growing demand, our stock supply remains adequate at this time – with additional orders continuously placed.

The National:

We have introduced a number of additional steps to ensure the swift delivery of PPE to those who need it. We now have four delivery and distribution routes covering hospital, primary and secondary care, social care and the ambulance service.

Health and social care staff are on the frontline of our response and it is vital that they know whether they, or someone they live with, has the virus or if they are healthy and able to return to work.

We welcome the new UK Government programme with industry, charities and universities to increase testing capacity for health workers and we are working closely with the UK Government to support implementation, including from a site in Glasgow, so that the new tests can be introduced as quickly as possible in Scotland.

In the next few weeks we expect to increase the volume of key workers who can benefit.

We are working to rapidly increase our NHS laboratory capacity in Scotland. This has now increased to around 1900 test capacity daily and will continue to increase to around 3400 at the end of April.

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There have been some claims that NHS England is leading on procurement for Covid-19 tests for Scotland – this is simply untrue. The Scottish Government and NHS Scotland will continue to procure all the necessary kits and equipment to rapidly extend our testing capacity within Scotland while taking part in four country initiatives with the rest of the UK which may further add to that capacity. But these are in addition to, not instead of, building our own capacity.

The health professional regulator with emergency registration powers has written to experienced professionals who left their registers in good standing in the past three years so that we can encourage them to return to the workforce.

Those with health conditions which place people at the highest risk from Covid-19 have been asked to stringently self-isolate for 12 weeks. It is estimated that there are 150,000–200,000 people in these groups and letters are being issued to them to advise them of the steps that they should take to keep themselves safe.

We are taking unprecedented steps. Steps that just weeks ago we could not have imagined to be possible.

All of this is only possible because of the incredible dedication and hard work of our health and social care staff and the commitment of the people of Scotland to stay home to save lives.

I want to record my gratitude for all those NHS, healthcare workers and unpaid carers who are working in exceptionally challenging circumstances for the good of the people of Scotland. We are in their debt.

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