Calls for NHS staff to be valued more as Covid recovery plan laid out

Opposition MSPs and unions have called for Scotland’s “exhausted” healthcare workers to be valued more, as health secretary Humza Yousaf laid out plans for post-pandemic recovery.

The SNP’s National Care Service will be up and running within five years, Mr Yousaf told MSPs on Tuesday, adding that consultation will begin in the first 100 days of this government’s term in office.

The health secretary also pledged a 10 per cent increase in activity for inpatient and outpatient cases, as well as a women’s health plan, including plans to reimburse women who paid for the removal of mesh implants.

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Opposition MSPs called for the plans to go further, with Conservative health spokesperson Annie Wells warning the NHS backlog is at risk of “spiralling out of control”.

Humza Yousaf Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care arrives for the statement at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, on the next stage of lockdown easing. Picture date: Tuesday June 1, 2021.

“If urgent action is not taken we could be heading for a full blown healthcare crisis,” she said.

Labour’s health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said issues in the health service were not caused by the pandemic, and that a remobilisation would only be possible if staff were valued.

"They are the backbone of the NHS and without them we have nothing,” she said.

Scottish Greens’ Gillian McKay paid tribute to the health and social care staff who cared for her own mother and grandfather before their deaths.

“I am forever in their debt and I will fight for the working conditions they and all of their colleagues deserve,” she said.

It comes as the Scottish Government reported record high levels of NHS staffing, with 150,000 full-time equivalent staff members in March – an increase of almost 9,000 on last year.

Mr Yousaf said the increased numbers “underline the Scottish Government's investment in our NHS as we prioritise the country's recovery from Covid-19”.

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However, unions said the figures do not show the “full picture”.

“Another announcement of an increase in numbers doesn’t begin to show the whole picture of real vacancy rates, or indeed the number of doctors and all the other staff needed to meet rising demand,” said Dr Graeme Eunson, chair of the BMA’s Scottish Consultants Committee.

He added: “Let there be no doubt that in the current position NHS staff are under immense pressure, having been stretched to their limits over the past year, and a solid, cohesive workforce plan focusing on both recruitment and retention is urgently required to address the issues facing Scotland’s NHS. But while vacancy figures continue to be side lined, or not fully counted it will be impossible to do that.

"Telling NHS staff who are exhausted and working in units with multiple vacancies that NHS staffing has reached a ‘record high’ fails to recognise the pressures they are under and is itself demoralising.”

Julie Lamberth, chair of the Royal College of Nursing Scotland board, said: “As Parliament debates the plans for recovery of our health services, the Royal College of Nursing is clear that these plans must tackle head on the fundamental issues of an under-resourced and undervalued nursing workforce.

"Nursing staff are exhausted and worn down. The challenges of the past 15 months have compounded years of working under the pressure of staff shortages and with pay that has failed to keep pace with the cost of living.”

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