By Bill Heaney

The Scottish Government must focus on transforming health and social care services to address the growing cost of the NHS and its recovery from Covid-19.

Improving the NHS will be very difficult for Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP government against the competing demands of the pandemic and an increasing number of other policy initiatives, including plans for a National Care Service.

The health service in Scotland is on an emergency footing and remains under severe pressure.

Scottish Labour health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said:   “This scathing report is a damning indictment on almost a decade and a half of SNP mismanagement of our NHS and care sectors.  This is just about the most damning Audit Scotland report in the NHS since devolution.

“The report is explicitly clear – the SNP government has entirely failed to support the NHS properly for years and as a result the whole system is under exceptional pressure.

Liberal Alex Cole-Hamilton; Labour’s Jackie Baillie; First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Health Secretary Humza Yousaf — the NHS in Scotland is dying on its feet.

“The failure of Humza Yousaf’s so-called NHS recovery plan is plain for all to see as one in eight Scots languish on waiting lists, staff are exhausted and the NHS remains on emergency footing. 

“Only robust planning will do to get our NHS back on track, but Humza Yousaf’s eyes are not on the ball.

“Scottish Labour has repeatedly called on the SNP to back our proposals for an NHS catch-up plan to reduce waiting times and a rise to care workers pay to £15 an hour.

“It is clear only Scottish Labour has the plan and the ambition to get our NHS back on track and to deliver a National Care Service worthy of the name.”

The audit report states that there is a growing backlog of patients waiting much longer for treatment because of the response needed to Covid-19.

That has made workforce planning and delivering on ambitious recruitment plans all the more important.

But the Scottish Government has historically struggled to recruit enough people with the right skills.

The NHS’s ability to plan remains hindered by a lack of robust and reliable data, including workforce, primary care, community, social care, and health inequalities data. Meanwhile the pandemic has increased the fiscal pressures on the NHS, which remains financially unsustainable.

This is despite the Scottish Government allocating £2.9 billion for pandemic-related costs in 2020/21 and committing more funding in 2021/22 and beyond.

Stephen Boyle, Auditor General for Scotland, said: “Reforming the NHS is key to the Scottish Government’s pandemic recovery plan and needs to remain a priority. Putting Covid costs to one side, health spending is rising every year, meaning less money for other public services.

“There’s now a clear opportunity to do things differently by building on the innovation and collaboration we’ve seen across the NHS in the last few years.

“For that to happen, our leaders must take the public with them and involve them in the shift from care
being delivered in hospitals to much closer to people’s homes. But better-informed policy decisions and services won’t be possible without better collection and use of data.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP today said “patients and staff desperately need new hope” after Audit Scotland reported on the precarious state of the health service and highlighted serious gaps and oversights in the Scottish Government’s recovery plans.

The NHS in Scotland 2021 report revealed that:

  • The backlog of patients waiting for treatment is still getting worse.
  • The success of the recovery plan hinges on recruiting and retaining staff but that they have “shouldered a heavy burden”, their wellbeing has suffered, mental health-related absences have soared and there are huge numbers of vacancies.
  • The Scottish Government “does not yet have an overall strategy for monitoring the wider health impact of Covid-19”.
  • “The NHS’s ability to plan remains hindered by a lack of robust and reliable data”, including in workforce planning, primary care, community care and social care.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said:  “The NHS and its staff are on the verge of burnout. They have been let down by fifteen years’ worth of botched workforce and pandemic planning by the SNP Government which gave them no option but to work flat out.

“There is still no realistic plan to deal with the old problems made worse, from delayed discharges to record staff vacancies and waiting lists lasting years. It is putting lives at risk.

“This report shows why the SNP/Green Government was wrong to vote down our plans for a Burnout Prevention Strategy to protect staff. It must also now back Scottish Liberal Democrat proposals for a Health and Social Care Staff Assembly that puts their expertise and experience at the very heart of the crisis response.

“At this rate, the NHS recovery plan will need upgraded to a resuscitation plan. Patients and staff desperately need new hope and deserve better than ministers who seem determined to turn their attentions towards independence.”

A spokesperson for Carers of West Dunbartonshire Board of Trustees said: “As a result of the pandemic, many people have seen vital support services reduced, not least unpaid carers, many of whom have been particularly negatively impacted. We need to ensure that carers are not disadvantaged and are supported to recover. Unpaid carers can contact Carers of West Dunbartonshire on 0141 941 1550 or visit us at www.carerswd.org for help and support.”

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