The SNP government has said the NHS in Scotland is “safe in its hands”, after the coalition government warned that further sweeping reforms are needed south of the Border.
Jeremy Hunt, the UK Health Secretary, outlined new plans to overhaul – among other things – the way doctors work to provide more out-of-hours cover.
Mr Hunt called for a return to the traditional role of the family doctor in a weekend interview, encompassing out-of-hours care, and a seven-day operation in which patients can expect the same care at the weekend as they get during the week.
“I think [the NHS] is sustainable in the medium term if we are prepared to take some difficult decisions about how we deliver healthcare.” Mr Hunt said.
Medical chiefs say the remarks show that the recent wholesale re-organisation has “failed” in England and branded the changes “privatisation.”
The NHS in Scotland has faced criticism amid claims that consultants are not conducting weekend rounds in some of the country’s intensive care wards. It has also been claimed health boards in Scotland are not staffing accident and emergency wards with consultants 16 hours a day, seen as necessary to ensure high-quality patient care.
The NHS is devolved to the Scottish Government north of the Border and the SNP administration insists that patient safety is not being put at risk.
A spokesman for Scottish Government health secretary Alex Neil hit out at the approach being pursued in England.
“Scotland’s NHS is safe in the hands of this Scottish Government, in contrast to the creeping privatisation of the health service south of the Border,” he said.
“We have protected NHS funding, and are investing in recruiting more consultants and nurses.”
But Mr Hunt insisted that the NHS could only be sustainable in the long-term with “proper out-of-hospital care”.
The Tory minister said: “I think we need to rediscover and strengthen the doctor-patient relationship and that sense of accountability and responsibility for the most vulnerable people on GPs’ lists.”
Dr Mark Porter, chairman of the British Medical Association council, said ministers must spell out how they intend to fund a 24/7 service when “unprecedented cuts” are being imposed on the health service.
“For two years, the biggest top-down reorganisation of the NHS has been forced on reluctant doctors and patients, entrenching competition and private provision as a way of answering the problems faced by health care,” he said.
“Now they are admitting that these changes have failed to meet challenges we face in the face of unprecedented pressures.
“This underlines the need for politicians to do what they have all promised to do and step away from trying to direct the health service.”