Scottish Government unveils billion pound NHS recovery plan
The Scottish Government is to spend an extra billion pounds on the NHS in a bid to tackle the backlog caused by COVID.
Ministers have published their long-awaited recovery plan for the health service, which details a number of reforms across primary and
acute care with the ambition of increasing capacity by at least 10 per cent as quickly as possible.
Prior to the pandemic, Scotland’s NHS carried out approximately 270,000 inpatient/day cases per year, and approximately 1.4 million outpatient appointments. The government say they aim “to increase NHS capacity substantially beyond these levels.”
Many routine appointments were paused in March 2020 as doctors and nurses were redeployed and hospitals geared up to fight the pandemic.
With hundreds of beds being filled by COVID patients, and a number of sick Scots delaying seeking treatment because they felt the need to “protect the NHS,” the growing backlog of operations, procedures and check-ups is now eye-watering.
As part of the £1bn investment, £29m will be spent targeting diagnostic backlogs, providing 78,000 additional procedures in 2021/22 rising to 90,000 per year from 2025/26.
There’s also an increase in funding for National Treatment Centres (NTCs) to allow another 40,000 elective surgeries and procedures per year, while investment in primary care investment will be raised by 25 per cent.
£23m will be spent on redesigning urgent care to allow rapid access to a senior clinician via a telephone or video consultation where possible.
Another £130 million will go towards the government’s National Cancer Plan and Detect Cancer Early Programme, while at least 10 per cent of frontline health spending will be dedicated to mental health, and recruiting 320 additional Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) workers
One of the plan’s priorities is to focus on NHS staff, demoralised and exhausted after the last 18 months.
A recent poll by Unison found that more than half of nursing staff in the Scottish NHS have considered leaving their job in the past year and almost a third thought about quitting “very often”.
Only 10 per cent felt the Scottish Government valued their skills and just over a third said they would recommend nursing as a career to their friends and family. A survey carried out by the BMA last year found similar feeling among doctors.
As part of the plan an additional £8m will be spent on supporting the mental health and wellbeing of clinicians, while £11m will go towards new national and international recruitment campaigns to attract an additional 1,500 staff over the next five years for NTCs, 1,000 mental health link workers in communities, and 800 more GPs.
Launching the plan, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “This plan will drive the recovery of our NHS, not just to its pre-pandemic level but beyond.
“As we maintain our resilience against COVID-19 and other pressures, the Scottish Government is providing targeted investment to increase capacity, reform the system and ultimately get everyone the treatment they need as quickly as possible.
“Tackling the backlog of care is essential and will be a priority. But we want to go further than that and deliver an NHS that is innovative, sustainable and stronger than ever before.”
Tory health spokeswoman, Annie Wells, said the government had produced a plan "regurgitated from previous announcements and manifestos".
The MSP said: “If this flimsy pamphlet is the best that Humza Yousaf can come up with, Scotland’s NHS is in real trouble.
She added: "The SNP have shamefully walked back a key election pledge. They've tried to quietly abandon a commitment to remobilise the NHS.
"There is not a single mention of Long Covid. There's no new funding for A&E, despite waiting times hitting their worst level in six years, and nothing new to tackle alcohol and drug deaths, which have both hit record highs.
"The few good points are obscured by the litany of recycled pledges and oversights."
Labour's Jackie Baillie said the recovery plan was "as underwhelming as it was overdue".
She said: “Today’s SNP NHS recovery plan is as underwhelming as it is overdue.
“Frankly, this plan does not even begin to chart a path to the full re-mobilisation of our NHS. And targets promised before the election have disappeared from the plan.
“Most disappointing of all is that the SNP has entirely failed to comprehend the size of the NHS backlog.
“In this plan the majority of the new National Treatment Centres will not be opened until the second half of the parliament.
“This is simply not good enough.
“Our NHS is facing a real crisis due to the SNP’s catastrophic failure to re-mobilise our NHS.
“Services are being cut, A&E is in crisis, and hospitals are at breaking point.
“What frontline NHS workers and the people of Scotland need is urgent action from the SNP, not PR stunts and half-baked plans.”
Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton described the commitments in the plan as “wafer-thin”.
He said: “The government is chancing on money, redesign and technology to dig them out of a hole.
“This is clear in the plan’s focus on suppressing demand and shifting patients online. Doctors have told us that isn’t without its risks. Patients shouldn’t be discouraged from treatment.
“It has been a decade since Nicola Sturgeon gave patients a legal guarantee that people would be treated within 12 weeks. It was breached 300,000 times pre-pandemic. Today that law didn’t even get a mention. Patients need new hope.”
Julie Lamberth, from the Royal College of Nursing praised the plan for recognising staff burnout throughout the service, but said there needed to be more detail on how this would be addressed.
She added: “Members are telling us daily that staff shortages are impacting on patient care and their wellbeing. Action on staffing levels is urgently needed to ensure patient safety across our NHS.
“To date the Scottish Government’s workforce planning has been woefully poor and resulted in us entering the pandemic with thousands of nursing and midwifery vacancies.
"A commitment to national and international recruitment does not address the need to retain our existing experienced nursing workforce or ensure the capacity and skills are available to support those starting out in nursing.
“As a safety critical profession, nursing has been undervalued and under-resourced for too long.
"The pandemic has compounded years of working under the pressure of staff shortages and with pay that has failed to keep pace with the cost of living.
"The Scottish government must do more to ensure Scotland has the nursing workforce it needs to deliver safe and effective patient care and that starts with fair pay.”