Last updated:

Call for comprehensive action on NHS challenges

Peter Bennie portrait serious
BENNIE: Politicians and the public must be prepared to accept changes in their area

The leader of Scotland’s doctors has called for an honest debate on the future of health and social care services, and has warned that constitutional issues must not be allowed to knock the NHS down the list of priorities.

In his end-of-year message, BMA Scotland chair Peter Bennie adds that politicians must be prepared to accept service changes and reconfiguration for a sustainable NHS.

He also calls on the Scottish Government to do more to tackle recruitment and retention issues hitting all branches of medical practice.

‘At the BMA, we have been calling for an honest, public debate about whether or not Scotland is willing to invest the resources that the NHS needs to deliver the current range and level of services.

‘We will continue to emphasise the need for this debate with the public and politicians as discussions take place about the health and social care delivery plan which was recently published by the Scottish Government.’


Be prepared to accept change

Dr Bennie warns against shying away from service reconfiguration, saying that any change, particularly at a local level, can often seem too hard to achieve when there can be political mileage in supporting the status quo.

He asks: ‘If politicians and the public are not prepared to accept changes to the way healthcare is delivered in their area, how are any changes actually going to be achieved?’

In the year when the UK as a whole voted to leave the EU, Dr Bennie says this, although important, must not distract from the very real need to tackle the challenges facing the NHS today and for the future.

‘Much of the focus this year has been on constitutional issues surrounding the UK’s exit from the EU. BMA Scotland will continue to raise the potential severe consequences for universities and the NHS in Scotland. But we must also ensure that the overall condition of the NHS does not slip down the list of priorities.

‘Report after report on the state of the NHS in Scotland have set out the increasing scale of the challenges the health service faces.’


Breaking point

Funding is not keeping pace with demand, Dr Bennie adds, while vacancies in the medical workforce are increasing and the range and scale of pressures on the health service continue to grow.

‘Despite the body of evidence to show that urgent action is needed now, it is all too easy to become inured to the warnings, and to allow much-needed plans for action to slip,’ he says.

‘The Government’s response must not simply repeat the tired mantra that Scotland is spending more money on the NHS than ever before, and has more nurses and doctors than ever before. This completely misses the point.’

He says that the health service has been hit hard by austerity, partly because of a reduction in resources, but also because it has a big impact on poorer patients, resulting in greater demands on the NHS.

He also calls for action on medical recruitment and retention, where failings are leading to doctors who are in post being ‘at breaking point’.

‘Action is needed now to make Scotland a more attractive place to work if we are to address these vacancies which exist across consultant, GP, trainee and specialist posts,’ Dr Bennie says.

Read the end-of-year message in full

Read more from Jennifer Trueland and follow on Twitter.