Calling for an end to “political point scoring”, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties in Scotland and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Scotland have united to demand changes to targets, more public debate, new ways of delivering care and better collaboration between health professionals.
The joint statement called for “bold and visionary” action to face growing challenges, such as an ageing population, budget pressures and rising public expectations.
The colleges also highlighted Scotland’s “persistent health inequalities” as a further burden on the struggling health service.
The statement said: “This is the first time that the health professions have spoken with a single voice, emphasising the importance of joined-up action and the serious and urgent nature of the choices we face on the future of the NHS.”
One of the main issues addressed was the “unsustainable culture” created by targets.
The statement said: “The current approach to setting and reporting on national targets and measures, while having initially delivered some real improvements, is now creating an unsustainable culture that pervades the NHS. It is often skewing clinical priorities, wasting resources and focusing energy on too many of the wrong things.
“As a matter of urgency, there needs to be a more mature approach to how the NHS uses targets, standards and other performance measures to ensure better and sustainable outcomes across the health service.”
Theresa Fyffe, director of the RCN Scotland, said: “Tinkering around the edges and simply putting more and more money into the current system is not the answer.
“We know we cannot continue to deliver services the way we have done up to now and it is up to us, as professional leaders who share a collective aim and represent health professionals working on the frontline, to step forward and take a leading role in kickstarting the public debate that needs to take place about the future of our NHS.”
Ian Ritchie, chair of the Academy and president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, said: “The time for talking and political point scoring has passed. We need to take practical action, together, now.”
Scottish Labour health spokesperson Jenny Marra said: “The Scottish Government cannot continue to ignore the warning signs over the health service. On a range of measures, from A&E waiting times to delayed discharge and key clinical tests, it is clear our NHS is on the brink of being overwhelmed by demand, if it is not already.
“Today expert institutions are speaking out, in the case of the Royal Colleges in an unprecedented manner, which only highlights the depth of concern about the condition of the Scottish NHS.”
The paper was hailed as a “significant first step” by Dr Peter Bennie, chair of BMA Scotland.
He said: “There is no doubt that the service is struggling to cope with rising demand and the complex health needs of the aging population will further add to the pressure.
“At the same time, the rising workload is placing greater pressure on staff who are working hard just to maintain services at their current levels. It is vital that change is informed by those who work in the service.”
Health Secretary Shona Robison insisted significant progress had been made by slashing waiting times, reducing hospital superbugs and working towards integrating health and social care.