A national conversation on the future of the NHS must be a priority for the incoming First Minister BMA Scotland said today in response to a damning report from Audit Scotland.
The report highlights the ongoing problems with workforce recruitment and retention, stating the Scottish government is unlikely to meet its target of an additional 800 GPs by 2027 among other recruitment issues. More transparency is needed to reveal the true extent of the workforce crisis and patient waiting times.
Simon Barker, deputy chair of the BMA’s Scottish Council said the Scottish government must act “with a sense of urgency.”
He added: “It is clear from today’s Audit Scotland report on the state of our NHS that the health service should be at the very top of the new FM’s agenda when they come into office.
“It paints a bleak picture – one the BMA and others have been warning of for some time. The financial sustainability of the NHS in Scotland is ‘concerning’ – it has been since pre-Covid and things do not look to be getting any better with a predicted funding gap of £221.8 million across our health boards by the end of the year. Demand is outstripping capacity and the NHS simply cannot deliver what it is asked to under its current limitations, so there must be action if we want to ensure it is put on a sustainable footing for generations to come and stays true to the fundamental value of remaining free at the point of delivery.
“We have said time and time again, without the funding, without the adequate staffing levels, we simply cannot meet the expectations and demands of the Scottish Government’s recovery plan – let alone what we simply ask of the NHS day in, day out. An apparent refusal on the Scottish government’s part to truly reflect how challenging it has been for NHS boards to recover is both frustrating and demoralising for staff who continue to do everything they can for their patients with extremely limited resources.
“The same frustrations are held by our patients who are not always being given clear information from the Scottish government about how long they may need to wait for planned care – leaving staff bearing the brunt of trying to manage expectations. This target driven culture must end and there must be more transparency on the delivery of services and waiting times.
“Additionally, I back Audit Scotland’s repeated call for the Scottish government and NHS boards to improve the availability, quality, and use of workforce data to ensure workforce planning – which is currently abysmal – is based on accurate projections of need. BMA Scotland has highlighted that the actual consultant vacancies in Scotland appear to be much higher than the official government figures claim.
“In fact, our most recent FOI request revealed there are 937 whole time equivalent consultant vacancies – 14.32% of the entire senior doctor workforce. The Scottish government claimed the vacancy rate was 6.2% based on figures that exclude certain types of vacancy. This just reinforces the crucial point that Audit Scotland makes – that staffing and lack of it is the biggest risk to the long-term recovery of the NHS. The report's warnings about failure to meet targets on GP recruitment only back that up further and reflect the experiences of primary care colleagues across Scotland.
“With all of this in mind BMA Scotland reinforces its call for a national conversation on the NHS – indeed today’s report echoes our view that the Scottish government should ‘urgently implement a programme of engagement with the public to enable an open discussion about the challenges facing the health sector in Scotland and help inform future priorities and how the delivery of services will change. It should make clear to the public what can realistically be achieved and involve them in the difficult choices that may have to be made.’
“This must be met with a sense of urgency – the NHS in Scotland has reached its tipping point. The entire system is in crisis, from primary care to secondary care to social care – the Scottish government must act before it is too late.”