Scottish NHS staff ‘clinging by fingertips’ warn medical leaders

While most NHS staff in Scotland have been offered 9% pay rise over three years, doctors' leaders are warning that the NHS won't be able to offer 'comprehensive care' for Scots within a decade. Picture: Greg Macvean
While most NHS staff in Scotland have been offered 9% pay rise over three years, doctors' leaders are warning that the NHS won't be able to offer 'comprehensive care' for Scots within a decade. Picture: Greg Macvean
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Scotland’s medical leaders have warned that patient safety is now at risk over the chronic lack of resources in the NHS – and the situation has “worsened” in the past year.

The decline is so stark that the NHS won’t be able to offer “comprehensive care” for Scots within a decade, according to a survey of 1,000 doctors by the British Medical Association in Scotland.

Staffing levels are inadequate to provide quality care in Scotland’s hospitals with the profession “stretched to the edge”, BMA Scotland chair Dr Peter Bennie will say in his final speech to the BMA’s annual representative meeting in Brighton today.

He steps down this autumn.

The latest warning comes as the bulk of NHS staff in Scotland have been offered a 9 per cent pay rise, spread across three years.

READ MORE: Scottish Government to give NHS staff nine per cent pay rise

Major trade unions, including Unison and the bodies representing nurses and midwives, welcomed the offer as “the best that could be expected in the current climate”.

However, the GMB union said it would not recommend members accept the offer as it is “not a credible prescription for tackling a decade of austerity on staff”.

READ MORE: Leader comment: A pay rise is not a panacea for NHS’ ills

Doctors in Scotland are slightly less negative in their views of the NHS than those south of the Border, the findings suggest.

But the health service in Scotland is experiencing the same problems as elsewhere in the UK and must aim higher than the “very low bar” of simply being better than England, according to Dr Bennie.

“The survey results in Scotland demonstrate the stark reality of a profession pushed to the brink,” he will tell delegates.

“We are stretched to the limit of what we are capable of. Perhaps we have not quite reached the dire working conditions and morale seen in England, but we are clinging by our fingertips from sliding down a similar path.”

Demands and pressures on doctors have been rising in recent years, he will say, while vacancy levels have also increased.

“It is just not sustainable, for our NHS or for our profession,” Dr Bennie will add.

“We know from the survey that two-thirds of Scottish doctors who responded think resources are inadequate and this is significantly affecting the quality and safety of care, while 71 per cent feel that overall NHS services have worsened in the last year. Nine out of ten Scottish doctors say staffing is simply not adequate to provide quality patient care.

“This is simply not good enough, either for patients or doctors. We all want to provide the very best care we can, but we are being prevented from doing so by an under resourced and under staffed system. The plans for additional investment in England’s NHS announced in recent days, and the expectation of further resources for Scotland, may give us an opportunity to stop that gap growing further.”

The waiting and treatment time targets which lead to a “culture of blame and political pressure” must also end, he adds, with a focus on patient outcomes. It comes after a weekend poll suggested Scots would be ready to pay more in tax if the cash went to the NHS.

Just 3 per cent of medics said they thought NHS resources in Scotland were adequate for patient care, the BMA survey found, the remainder saying they are inadequate and slightly (31 per cent) or significantly (66 per cent) affected the quality of patient care. Nine out of ten (89 per cent) said that staffing levels were not adequate, while a similar level (88 per cent) agreed that without a substantial increase in funding the NHS in Scotland will no longer be able to offer “comprehensive care” within a decade.

But health secretary Shona Robison insisted that the Scottish Government has a “strong commitment” to the NHS.

“Our NHS faces the welcome challenge of meeting the changing needs of the people of Scotland, with people living longer and driving rising demand. Our investment has taken NHS funding to record high levels, and we continue to push the UK government to deliver a net benefit to Scotland’s budget following their recent NHS funding announcement. We will continue to work alongside NHS staff to improve services and provide the high level of care patients expect.”

Tory health spokesman Miles Briggs said: “It’s no surprise to see doctors speak out over the state of Scotland’s NHS. They’ve put up with more than a decade of SNP mismanagement, and worked exceptionally hard to keep problems at bay.”

The survey prompted fresh calls for Ms Robison to go.

Labour’s health spokesman Anas Sarwar said: “It is increasingly clear that SNP health secretary Shona Robison is out of her depth and out of time, with the SNP government presiding over a recruitment crisis in our health service.”

Lib Dem Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Struggling services such as GPs and mental health clearly need a cash injection, fresh ideas and for Nicola Sturgeon to change her health team.”