24/7 NHS plan not achievable, Scots surgeons warn

Doctors say a work-life balance must be achieved. Picture: AFP/Getty
Doctors say a work-life balance must be achieved. Picture: AFP/Getty
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SCOTTISH surgeons have warned that 24/7 NHS care would not be possible within the current health service as angry medics led a backlash against government plans to offer English patients a seven-day service.

David Cameron has outlined plans to extend access to key NHS services 24/7, aiming to increase treatment in the evenings and at weekends, as well as speeding up the flow of patients through the heath service.

A survey by the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd) found that 75 per cent of its members did not believe 24/7 consultant-led NHS services were achievable.

Ian Ritchie, RCSEd president, said the plans would require an increase in staff and generalist capacity across the surgical workforce.

He said: “Patients rightly expect the same standards of care at night and weekends as they would receive during normal working hours. We support this, and know that our membership is strongly in favour of round the clock services.

“However, they also have concerns about the feasibility of such reforms and only a limited number feel there is sufficient capacity at the appropriate grade under the current service model.

“Therefore it is imperative that services and rotas are designed so that consultant-led care is possible throughout the week.”

Clinicians would also need access to diagnostic services, such as scans and tests, at nights and weekends.

Mr Ritchie added: “However we must also recognise that NHS staff are entitled to a work-life balance, and that family responsibilities and other commitments mean that not all consultants will be able to work evenings and weekends at every stage of their career.”

Only a quarter of respondents felt their employer had sufficient surgical capacity to meet with increased demand.

Richard McGregor, chair of the College’s Trainees’ Committee, said: “Simply asking doctors to work more hours will not solve the problem, and may introduce new problems relating to the health and wellbeing of the workforce which would ultimately negatively impact patient safety.

“Proper investment in infrastructure and capacity throughout the NHS, however, will support all healthcare professionals to deliver the services that our patients need and deserve.”

Scotland’s NHS already operates round-the-clock care across a range of services, insisted Public Health Minister Maureen Watt.

She said: “Our Seven Day Services taskforce is exploring new models and improvements to out-of-hours services, at weekends and evenings, to ensure high standards of care and support more effective discharging of patients.

“We’re working with bodies representing health professionals to take this work forward in a collaborative way.

“We’re committed to enhancing local services and empowering all members of the healthcare team.”