Associate feature: Time to have the mature, honest conversation about our NHS
There can have been few more important times for us to consider the health of the nation.
Whereas we can often reflect in this annual edition of Holyrood on how important our NHS is for us as a country and as individuals, the last few months have underlined that fact in dramatic and tragic terms.
First and foremost, Covid has taken many of our loved ones far too soon and our thoughts are with those people who have lost family and friends to this cruel disease.
Just as the pandemic has touched or indeed transformed the way we all live our lives, equally it has changed the way our health service runs virtually overnight.
For the first part of the outbreak, our complete focus had to be on the day to day running of care and how we could simply keep our head above water.
Reflecting on that period, there will of course be lessons to learn. It is right that the Scottish Government is committed to a public inquiry and I am sure that will help guide how we respond to such pandemics in the future.
But fundamentally I want to say that the NHS – and most importantly the people who work within it – has responded magnificently. Of course, at the BMA we want to pay particular tribute to the doctors who went above and beyond, adopted new working patterns and led the response while bearing the worry of the threat to their own safety and the risk to their families that Covid posed.
I have thanked Scotland’s doctors many times before, just as the people of Scotland showed their gratitude on doorsteps across Scotland every Thursday night, but I make no apology for thanking them again.
While perhaps we need to await the public enquiry before we begin to learn the big strategic lessons, there are perhaps some smaller – but still important things that we can take from the last few months.
For example, increased support for the wellbeing of staff has been noticeable in many places across Scotland. Whether that was through dedicated rest and recovery rooms, or the removal of all parking charges, they are moves that perhaps seem small in the grand scheme of things but make a real difference to people on the ground. We must not lose these steps forward as the NHS grapples with the task of operating in a world where perhaps the virus is at lower levels in the community, yet still demands full caution in terms of seeing and treating patients.
Another noticeable development has seen the public debate on our NHS characterised by a lot more honesty and plain, clear speaking from politicians and health leaders alike. I believe that the public responded to that, appreciated it and repaid it by keeping their side of the bargain during lockdown. That honesty and sense of a new partnership needs to continue.
Indeed, I think we should take it a step further and use the opportunity of recovering from Covid – accepting its threat is still very real – to reset our whole approach to the NHS. Let’s talk less about targets, and more about patients. Let’s finally end the toxic blame culture that striving to meet undeliverable targets creates.
And yes, let’s make the future of our NHS less about who wins the next election and more about what’s best in the long term. I think now is the time to have the mature, honest conversation with the people of Scotland about our NHS that is long overdue. If that happens, it might just be that we can grasp some kind of silver lining from what has been an incredibly challenging time for us all.
This piece was sponsored by BMA Scotland