By Christine Lavelle
HOSPITAL staff across central Scotland will be on high alert next month as Pope Benedict XVI visits the country.
Fears over the Pontiff’s health have led to every hospital on or near the route he will take between Edinburgh and Glasgow being asked to get ready.
When the Pope makes any visit overseas it is common for one hospital to be designated to him in the event of an emergency, and in Glasgow it is not unusual for this to happen when any high profile VIP visits.
But – it is highly unusual that all hospitals along the route are being placed on alert.
The issue was brought up at a recent meeting, which stated that no risks will be taken when it comes to the heath of Pope Benedict XVI.
The Vatican has been trying to play down fears over the 83-year-old’s health for over a year, but now officials say they are not prepared to have just one designated hospital in case emergency vehicles cannot get him there in time.
Staff members who have been briefed on the visit believe there is also some concern within the Vatican that congestion on the Kingston Bridge could lead to the Pope’s life being put at risk.
Benedict takes medication for a heart condiditon after suffering a mild stroke in 1991, and a year later he suffered hemorrhaging after he fell and cut his head on a radiator – also believed to have been caused by a stroke.
In December, traditional Christmas midnight Mass was held two hours earlier than scheduled because he was tired out.
And last year he slipped in his bedroom, leading to a broken wrist.
David Gibson, an American religious journalist based in Rome, said: “Concern about Benedict’s health is increasingly a topic of discussion in the Vatican, given his advancing age but also growing worries about the toll that widening revelations of sexual abuse by clergy are taking on his constitution.”
Father David O’Connell, president of the Catholic University of America in Washington, expressed worries over the Pope’s health after meeting him in March.
He said: “He looked like he’s aged since the last time I saw him, when he visited the Catholic University in 2008.
“And some of his colleagues said to me they thought the Pope was feeling the burden of this deeply and personally.”
The visit to the UK will be the Pope’s fourth overseas trip this year, and three-hour gaps have been scheduled each day to allow him to rest between meetings and outdoor Masses in Glasgow, London and Birmingham.