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by Tom Freeman
10 November 2017
‘No collective failure’ to plan for NHS workforce, says health chief

‘No collective failure’ to plan for NHS workforce, says health chief

Paul Gray - Scottish Parliament

NHS Scotland chief executive Paul Gray has denied there is collective failure in workforce issues in health and social care.

Speaking to MSPs of the Public Audit Committee, the Scottish Government’s director general of health and social care refuted claims the NHS is too short-term in its financial planning.

Gray was called to give evidence to the committee after spending watchdog Audit Scotland warned health boards were too focused on short-term planning to meet rising demand.


NHS Lothian chief executive Tim Davidson, who is also now a regional implementation lead for the East of Scotland, had told the committee prospects were “bleak” due to “short-termism”.

Davidson had also said there had been a "collective failure" to plan for a sustainable workforce.

Gray told MSPs he has a “more positive outlook of life” and that “with £13bn we should be able to do something very good indeed for Scotland".

He said effective planning was ongoing.

“We are looking to improve, I am not disputing that there are things that can be improved, but we are improving on the basis of work we have already done,” he said.

“We are moving from a board-based approach to a properly nationally-based approach.”

High vacancy rates across NHS Scotland were “because of changes in context, changes in demand, changes in the way that we do things".

He added: “I don’t agree there has been some collective failure to plan for anything. We have 156,000 staff in the health service, we have them organised to deliver and we didn’t get that from nowhere.”

But Conservative MSP Bill Bowman accused Gray of being “passive” while health boards struggled to cope, and SNP MSP Colin Beattie said: “I’m struggling to see anything other than jam tomorrow."

A national workforce plan was due earlier this year but instead it is being split into three, with the first part published in June. Audit Scotland and the Royal College of Nursing said the document lacked detail, Gray said the parts two and three were in development.

The new GP contract, which will change the way family doctors are financed in Scotland, is due to be unveiled next week.

And a review of the targets for waiting times by former chief medical officer Sir Harry Burns will be published soon, according to Gray.

But he warned changes needed to the health and social care system will not be popular with voters.

"We will do things people won't like," Gray said, adding “the prospect of change is hard".

After the meeting the acting convener of the Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee, Jackie Baillie MSP, said: “Last week, we heard an NHS Chief Executive say there was 'no plan' for what the health and social care workforce might look like in the future.

 “But today the boss of NHS Scotland said nobody has failed to plan and he was optimistic about the future.

“Everyone agrees that the NHS needs to have a long-term plan in place to deliver the right number of skilled staff to meet immediate and future demand. The NHS in Scotland will not function to full effect without one.

 “Our Committee will continue to examine these challenges when we hear evidence on Audit Scotland's NHS Overview report next week.”

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