Lizzy Buchan: NHS warnings must not be ignored

Warnings by Audit Scotland over the NHS should be heeded. Picture: John Devlin
Warnings by Audit Scotland over the NHS should be heeded. Picture: John Devlin
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WARNING over the state of NHS must not be ignored, writes Lizzy Buchan

Audit Scotland’s latest report on the state of the health service certainly makes for sobering reading.

The detailed publication lists tightening budgets, higher demand for services, demanding targets and growing staff vacancies as key issues with a neutral tone which makes it difficult to ignore despite many louder voices.

Admittedly many of these issues have been becoming clear in recent months, but the presentation of the full picture should give everyone pause for thought.

The NHS always seems to become a political football, particularly when a report lays out grave truths that can be used to illustrate different points of view.

For example, it is true that there are record numbers of staff working within the health service and that the Scottish Government has invested £60 million in supporting general practice to recruit and retain more family doctors.

But it is also true that vacancies are soaring and expensive agency staff are being called in to plug the gaps. So who is right here?

Critics of the system are often accused of using the NHS as a hammer with which to bash the SNP.

Scotland is not the only UK nation whose health service is facing hard times and the blame for these deep-rooted issues cannot be laid solely at the SNP’s door.

It does create a political problem for Nicola Sturgeon, who has asked the public to judge her on her record ahead of the Holyrood elections in May.

But perhaps it is time to stop pointing the finger and get on with the business of sorting it all out.

We need to get a grip on staffing levels, as more doctors and nurses would help to tackle missed targets, high mortality rates and almost any other issue the NHS faces.

These are the people who actually know how the NHS works, and what is best for patients, so surely they would be better placed to figure out how to make efficiency savings – whatever that term really means.

Efforts are being made to address warnings of a 900 GP shortfall by 2020 from the Royal College of GPs, but we need to move faster otherwise they may not succeed.

Doctors leaders have renewed calls for a rethink of performance targets, which auditors said caused serious concern for all health boards as they struggled to meet the standards and stay within their budgets.

Staff have regularly told me that they feel unable to do their jobs to the standard they would like because of the unnecessary bureaucracy, which cannot be making Scotland an attractive place to work.

Scotland’s geography makes also delivering healthcare across rural areas an ongoing challenge, particularly with fewer family doctors.

As junior doctors threaten a strike in England over changes to their contract, perhaps now might be the time to consider how Scotland could attract some of these talented young medics.

It is widely accepted that the ageing population is piling on the pressure and demand is skyrocketing across many different parts of the health service.

But deeper pockets will not solve the problem, and there is no pot of money squirreled away to save us.

Health needs to become an urgent priority for ministers, as the watchdog said it is clear not enough is being done to achieve the Scottish Government’s 2020 Vision in time.

The SNP may not have created all of these problems, but if they do not act urgently in the wake of these recommendations then they really will have to shoulder the blame.