Dr Lewis Morrison, chair of BMA Scotland, asked MSP candidates to be realistic about what the NHS can deliver and to focus on staff recovery as a top priority, as the union released its election manifesto.
Among several key asks, the manifesto also calls for a national conversation between stakeholders on the long-term future of the NHS in Scotland and a move away from measuring success based on blunt targets.
Recovery for the NHS must mean recovery for staff, Dr Morrison said.
“Many people are very fragile, are tired, and are needing to recover,” he said, adding: “Looking at the next one, two or three years, if we're going to get out of this, we need a situation where all staff feel valued, they feel looked after, they feel that their welfare is a priority.”
Dr Morrison said politicians must be realistic about what the NHS can achieve after Covid-19.
“The sort of traditional promises – and we've already seen some of those in this campaign – of big increases in one thing or the other, need to be made extremely carefully in the context of the pandemic,” he said.
“That’s the first thing, a plea to politicians to not promise the earth like they normally do in pre-election mode.”
He added: “We've said for quite a long time, that the use of the NHS as a bolt grabber and a ‘political football’ has potentially negative consequences, because it fuels demand.
"We've seen some announcements already, particularly in the area of mental health… Nobody can argue that mental health services are clearly under-resourced and there are some particular pressure points there, but when announcements are made which sound good, you have to ask what is behind it.
"Is it genuinely additional resources, or are we talking about spreading existing resources even thinner? This kind of promising this and promising that, I think many of us feel that isn't that helpful.”
Dr Morrison said the BMA would like to see more “collaboration” between parties in light of the health crisis.
“The kind of oppositional politics of promising the world because the other party has promised something and so we have to promise more… we’re making a plea for something that's a bit more collaborative than that,” he said, adding: “I’m realistic, asking political parties to play nicely with each other during an election is a it of a far flung hope.
"I expect healthcare to be a really high visibility issue during this election campaign, but I'm a little bit worried, because of the more party political issues that have arisen, that some of the more divisive political issues actually become the headline rather than the issues that matter to the public.”
He added: "I don't want other personality-driven, or macro political issues to de-prioritise healthcare.”
Dr Morrison said the pandemic presents Scotland with an opportunity to “reframe” the NHS, moving away from “target culture” and focusing much more on patients.
He added that staff must be looked after, as a “healthy, functional and well workforce” will provide better care.