NHS CRISIS: Time for Humza Yousaf to spell out credible NHS winter recovery plan

By Bill Heaney

The Scottish Conservatives are demanding that Humza Yousaf uses tomorrow’s hastily-arranged ministerial statement on health to outline a credible plan to get Scotland’s NHS through the winter – because his current one is palpably failing.

The SNP Government today belatedly responded to a festive period dominated by record-bad A&E stats, health board pleas for staff to cancel leave and apocalyptic warnings from senior medics by shoehorning in a statement on the NHS to tomorrow’s parliamentary timetable.

Astonishingly, the one-hour slot requested by SNP business managers does not replace their long-scheduled debate on independence, which retains a slot of one hour and 40 minutes.

Shadow health secretary Sandesh Gulhane – whose calls for parliament to be recalled last week in light of the NHS crisis were ignored by the SNP – is calling on the beleaguered health secretary to ditch his “woefully inadequate” plans and adopt a credible blueprint for recovery.

Dr Gulhane, who worked several locum GP shifts over the Christmas holidays, is urging Humza Yousaf to finally adopt the measures in the Real Winter Recovery Plan for our NHS, published by the Scottish Conservatives last month.

The paper outlines policies that would ease the pressure on our health service now.

These include: introducing new crisis waiting times and an NHS care app to let patients see live hospital waiting times; Super Saturday treatment slots to clear backlogs; a network of mobile testing and drive-through facilities; a full electronic repeat prescription system; ‘prehab’ for those awaiting treatment. 

Shadow health secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane MSP said: “After weeks of radio silence from SNP ministers, they have finally bowed to pressure from myself and others to respond to the escalating crisis they’re presiding over in Scotland’s NHS. But this is too little, too late.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf and Tory health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane. Pictures by Bill Heaney

“It was a shocking dereliction of duty that Humza Yousaf and Nicola Sturgeon were missing in action despite siren warnings from leading medics, health boards begging staff to abandon holidays to help them cope with demand, and the publication of the worst-ever A&E waiting times.

“But it’s no good them, belatedly, just talking the talk – with hastily-arranged press conferences and long-overdue ministerial statements – the health secretary must walk the walk too.

“Worried patients and over-stretched staff don’t need to hear more platitudes; they need fresh measures to ease the huge pressures on our NHS, because Humza Yousaf’s winter plan – like his flimsy Covid recovery plan – has failed miserably.

“The Scottish Conservatives published a series of sensible, practical measures that could make a difference to our NHS now yet, to date, the SNP Government have not adopted any of them.

“That has to change. Humza Yousaf must accept his lack of preparation and woefully inadequate plans for the winter crisis have been brutally exposed, and implement the policies we published last month.

“It’s shameful – and very telling – that despite having grudgingly agreed to deliver a ministerial statement on the NHS crisis, the SNP have freed up just an hour of the parliamentary timetable for it. They also refused to drop their self-serving debate on independence, which will run for one hour and 40 minutes.

“Even at the height of arguably the worst crisis in our NHS’s history, the constitution still trumps everything for Nicola Sturgeon. It confirms again her shockingly skewed priorities.”

Labour’s spokesperson Jackie Baillie, Dumbarton constituency MSP, pictured right, said: “Staff are exhausted, services are at breaking point and patients are dying.

But the First Minister used her briefing on the state of the NHS to spend more time making excuses than setting out solutions.

“Faced with the most difficult winter in NHS history, the SNP are deflecting blame and rehashing the same old promises they have been making for years.

“By Nicola Sturgeon’s own admission, hospitals are full and the healthcare system is buckling under the pressure.

“Since 2020, I have been calling for unused wards at the Vale of Leven Hospital to be used to help alleviate problems surrounding capacity. Humza Yousaf himself said, almost a year ago, that he would look into this but nothing has changed.

“The changes which were suggested this morning will barely scratch the surface of this deadly crisis and fail to grapple with the major structural problems clinicians are raising.

“Instead of quietly sidelining her own Health Secretary, Nicola Sturgeon needs to sack Humza Yousaf and appoint someone up to the job.

“We need action now to support health and social care workers, drive down waiting lists, invest in social care, and tackle delayed discharge for good.”

Responding to the First Minister’s NHS briefing, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton, left,  said: “Over a year ago the Scottish Government announced a package of measures that they said would help the health service recover. Health experts and opposition parties warned that it wasn’t enough and true to form since then almost every measure of performance has got worse.

“Watching Nicola Sturgeon duck and dive to avoid taking an iota of responsibility, it is clear that she has learned very little from the past year. That’s a grim omen for patients and staff.

“The fact that the First Minister felt she needed to lead this briefing, not her beleaguered Health Secretary, suggests that deep down she knows he is out of his depth. His statement to Parliament tomorrow is his last chance to win back the trust of patients and staff.

“I don’t want to just say ‘I told you so’, I want to offer solutions. The Scottish Government should offer a new pay deal to end the threat of industrial action, finally deliver a burnout strategy to tackle staff fleeing the service, institute a staff assembly to put the experience of those on the front lines at the heart of rebuilding the NHS and finally invest in the hosts of new training places that will be necessary for a real recovery plan”.

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