The NHS in Scotland is “not financially sustainable” and its performance continues to decline, the public health spending watchdog has announced in a damning report.
A new Audit Scotland review found that health boards were struggling to break even and showed no part of the country had met all of the key national targets for the service. NHS Lothian had failed to meet any of the eight key indicators, which include waiting times for outpatient and inpatient appointments.
Auditor General Caroline Gardner said “decisive action” was now needed from ministers to secure the future of the “vital and valued service”.
She added: “The performance of the NHS continues to decline, while demands on the service from Scotland’s ageing population are growing. The solutions lie in changing how healthcare is accessed and delivered, but progress is too slow.”
Dr Lewis Morrison the chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) in Scotland, said the stark warning from Audit Scotland could “not be any blunter”. But he added this would “come as no surprise to frontline doctors who have faced the consequences of inadequate funding year after year”.
Dr Morrison said: “Funding in the NHS is simply not keeping pace with demand and that has pushed NHS services across the country into the parlous position this report details. Meanwhile medical vacancies are adding significantly to the difficulties we face and not enough is being done to attract or retain doctors working in Scotland. The report is clear that workforce planning is still inadequate and the Scottish Government need to tackle this urgently.”
The report prompted widespread criticism of the Scottish Government with Labour’s Monica Lennon saying: “After more than a decade of SNP complacency our NHS is in crisis”.
Conservative health spokesperson Miles Briggs claimed the NHS was facing an unprecedented challenge with boards across the country “staring into a black hole of more than £130 million”.
He added: “For a government which has been in charge for more than 11 years, this should make shameful reading for the SNP.”
They spoke out after the Audit Scotland report warned: “NHS boards are struggling to break even, relying increasingly on Scottish Government loans and one-off savings”, and the “declining performance against national standards indicates the stress NHS boards are under”.
The only target met nationally in 2017-18 was for patients referred for drug and alcohol treatment to be seen within three weeks, with only three of Scotland’s regional health boards meeting the target for patients beginning cancer treatment within 62 days of being referred.
The Scottish Government invested £13.1 billion in NHS services last year, but Audit Scotland said when inflation was taken into account there was a 0.2 per cent real terms drop in cash. Health boards made “unprecedented” savings of £449.1m, but many relied heavily on one-off savings for this.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said the government was already taking forward Audit Scotland’s recommendations.
She added: “While our NHS faces challenges, common with health systems across the world, we are implementing a new waiting times improvement plan to direct £850m of investment over the next three years to deliver substantial and sustainable improvements to performance, and significantly improve the experience of patients waiting to be seen.”