‘Scotland must keep same number of hospital beds’

SCOTLAND must maintain the same number of hospital beds to cope with the demands of an ageing population, the health secretary has told NHS workers.
Alex Neil: 'We will not be privatising the health service in Scotland'. Picture: Julie BullAlex Neil: 'We will not be privatising the health service in Scotland'. Picture: Julie Bull
Alex Neil: 'We will not be privatising the health service in Scotland'. Picture: Julie Bull

Alex Neil, speaking to delegates at the Unison conference in Glasgow yesterday, said that with the numbers of over-75s set to double in the next 20 years, Scotland would need to keep the same numbers of beds, doctors and nurses just to stand still.

The number of hospital beds in Scotland has fallen in recent years. There have also been cuts to nursing and midwivery staff.

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Last night, opposition politicians said more action was needed to deal with the demographic “time bomb” rather than just pledging to maintain the status quo. Mr Neil said the NHS was facing budgetary challenges, but it had been able to increase money going to boards.

However, he said the high rate of inflation in the NHS made it difficult, as well as capital and revenue budgets being slashed by Westminster.

Mr Neil said that another big challenge was the increasing and ageing population, which placed greater demands on the NHS.

He said that as well as the number of people aged 75 and over doubling in the next 20 years, a fifth of girls born in Scotland now will also live to be 100.

“So even if we are able through better treatment at home to reduce by 50 per cent the level of hospitalisation of our elderly population, we are still going to need the same number of beds, the same number of hospitals, the same number of doctors and nurses just to stand still because this population is doubling.”

However, figures have shown that bed numbers in Scotland have continued to fall. In the financial year ending March 2003, there were an average of 17,903 staffed beds in Scottish hospitals. But by March last year this had dropped to 16,503. The most recent figures for the end of December 2012 showed average bed numbers of 16,085.

Scottish Labour’s Jackie Baillie said: “The NHS in Scotland is at breaking point as it is. What we don’t need is more of the same and the status quo.

“With all the pressures that the NHS and councils will face, we need new thinking and a new approach. This is sadly lacking from Alex Neil and the SNP.

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“It’s time for the SNP to stop the spin and be honest about the pressures within the health service and with social services. Without that honesty, we’ll never be able to find the solutions we need to deal with the demographic time bomb we’re facing.”

Addressing the Unison conference, Mr Neil said another challenge was health inequalities, using the example of male life expectancy being 55 in poor communities at one end of Glasgow’s subway and 75 in more prosperous areas.

In a highly political speech, enthusiastically received by delegates, Mr Neil offered to “franchise out” himself and Alex Salmond to run England and Wales, saying they would do a better job than David Cameron, George Osborne and Nick Clegg.

And he pledged not to follow Westminster in their restructuring of the NHS which included more involvement of the private sector.

“We will not be privatising by the back door, front door, side door or any other door. We will not be privatising the health service in Scotland,” he said.

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