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Depending on how you look at it, there was potentially some good news for Scotland in the results of the latest BMA poll of the profession.
The survey, released at the BMA annual representative meeting in Brighton, shows that doctors in Scotland are marginally less negative in their views on the state of the NHS than those in the rest of the UK.
But before we break out the tartan bunting and start cheering, it’s worth noting that doctors in Scotland who responded weren’t exactly brimming with joy.
It is still deeply worrying that two thirds think that inadequate resources are having an impact on patient care (66 per cent against a UK average of 78 per cent), and that 71 per cent of Scottish doctors think services have worsened in the last year, just 5 per cent less than the UK average.
One of the most striking findings was that almost nine in 10 doctors in Scotland think that without a significant budget increase, the country’s health service will no longer be able to offer comprehensive care within a decade.
These were points that were picked up eloquently by the outgoing BMA Scottish council chair Peter Bennie in his ARM speech on Tuesday. We must aim for something better than the ‘very low bar’ of simply being better than England, he said, stressing that the results show the ‘stark reality of a profession pushed to the brink’.
He said: ‘Perhaps we have not quite reached the dire working conditions and morale seen in England, but we are clinging by our fingertips from sliding down a similar path.’
The fact of the matter is that many of the issues facing the health service do not recognise borders, whether we are talking within the UK, Europe or the world. As doctors know only too well, demographic change, new treatments that can be mind-bendingly amazing, but are jaw-droppingly expensive, and changing public expectations are placing strain on health and social care services internationally.
That’s not to say that there aren’t differences between the English and Scottish systems. As Dr Bennie rightly pointed out, the NHS in Scotland isn’t exposed to the privatisation and competition agenda that still rules south of the border, and there are positive developments such as the new Scotland-only GP contract.
But, in his four years as chair of BMA Scottish council, he has observed with dismay the rising demands and pressures on doctors, which are only exacerbated by medical vacancies and a real-terms hit on NHS pay.
So what’s to be done? Perhaps if Scotland does get an additional £2bn as a consequence of last week’s announcement of £20bn for the NHS in England, and, crucially, spends it on health, it might make a bit of a difference.
Or perhaps more radical measures are needed. Another poll (paywall), this time in The Sunday Times, suggests that a narrow majority of Scots would be willing to pay more in tax to improve the health service, with just 29 per cent outright opposed. Maybe it’s time to give this some serious consideration.
BMA News Scotland correspondent Jennifer Trueland
Great article. Thanks https://www.bma.org.uk