Scotland’s medical leaders have issued a stark warning that the NHS is now “struggling to cope” through a lack of funding and soaring demand.
The situation has become so critical that in future hospitals may have to look at scaling back treatment for many patients, the British Medical Association Scotland has said. Dr Peter Bennie, head of BMA Scotland depicts a service which is “overburdened and underfinanced” with doctors and nurses “burnt out” and argues that Scottish Government claims of record funding “completely miss the point”.
He warned: “If the gap between demand and resources is going to continue, then there is no choice but to ask what the NHS in Scotland can and can’t deliver in the future.” In his Christmas message, published today Dr Bennie warned that much-needed plans for action have been “allowed to slip” after a raft of recent reports from spending watchdogs and MSPs setting out the gravity of the situation.
“The government’s response must not simply repeat the tired mantra that Scotland is spending more money on the NHS than ever before, and has more nurses and doctors than ever before. This completely misses the point.”
The BMA said there are “significant problems” with the recruitment and retention of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals and called for action “to make Scotland a more attractive place to work”.
Funding for the health service has been “virtually stagnant” UK-wide since the onset of austerity and is not keeping pace with growing demands, Dr Bennie added.
The BMA is now calling for an “honest, public debate” about whether or not Scotland is willing to invest the resources that the NHS needs to deliver the current range and level of services.
“If the NHS does not get the resources it needs to keep pace with demand, then the only alternative is to look at the range and models of services that can realistically be delivered within the budget provided,” Dr Bennie warned.
Sweeping plans to close hospitals, A&E wards and axe beds have already been drawn up by NHS chiefs south of the Border as the service struggles to come terms with funding cuts.
The Scottish Government is also pushing ahead with plans to centralise services in regional centres of excellence. A recent move to axe baby surgery for cleft pallets in Edinburgh and move it to Glasgow is how many services are expected to be run in the future.
Surgical chiefs back such developments, arguing centres of excellence mean better outcomes for patients and Dr Bennie hit out at opposition politicians for making political capital out of the issue.
“If politicians and the public are not prepared to accept changes to the way healthcare is delivered in their area, how are any changes actually going to be achieved?” he added.
“Failing to tackle these issues will do nothing to solve the problems of an NHS that is overburdened and underfinanced and where staff, the bedrock of the service, feel burnt out and anxious about working in such a challenging operating environment.”
Health secretary Shona Robison said that the recent publication of the National Clinical Strategy provides a blueprint for what health and social care will look like in “the decades to come”, while the recent chief medical officer’s annual report called for a “new relationship” between doctors and patients and families to ensure more consistency in practice.
“This has already led to working differently and has been welcomed across all parts of the system,” she added.