The grimly ironic betrayal of NHS staff – leader comment

As politics is dominated by Brexit, independence and ‘high politics’, the NHS is being pushed towards ‘breaking point’

The well-being of NHS staff is suffering as staff vacancies are left unfilled
The well-being of NHS staff is suffering as staff vacancies are left unfilled

Heard just above the sound and fury generated by a Queen’s Speech dismissed by the Opposition as a pre-election stunt, the UK’s performance of Brexit-deal hokey-cokey and the ongoing debate over a second Scottish independence referendum, down to the detail of the wording of the question, comes a small, plaintive voice.

It is a voice that once boomed loudly across the public forum, commanding our attention and bringing pressure to bear on those in power, but which has been reduced to a faint echo as we have become increasingly enraptured by matters constitutional.

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A survey of NHS consultants in Scotland has found that a lack of doctors is putting patients at risk and pushing the health service to “breaking point”.

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The situation is now so dire that, according to Professor Jackie Taylor, president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, the “well-being of doctors is suffering because of the increased workforce pressures that we face”.

The health service has always lent on the good nature of its staff to a degree, but if their health is now beginning to suffer, then it’s clear there is a serious problem. And it’s not just serious for the staff concerned but the country as a whole. How can an NHS close the “breaking point” possibly do the job we have asked it to do?

Radical change

As the Scotsman has said before, our politicians may need to consider radical changes to ensure the health service is able to cope. An ageing population, increasing cases of lifestyle-related diseases like diabetes, and wonderful, but often expensive, advances in modern medicine have all put unprecedented pressure on NHS finances.

It is a simple fact that if we are not prepared to increase those finances from the public purse, then other means of finance need to be found – raising the prospect of measures like a fee for GP appointments – or the service will have to be reduced.

These are hugely important questions that society must face. If we choose not to because we are obsessed with Brexit, independence and other forms of ‘high’ politics, then the health service will eventually hit that “breaking point”. Will we finally notice then?

Putting NHS staff, many of whom have chosen a difficult career for altruistic reasons, under so much pressure that they become ill is a grimly ironic betrayal on our part. And it is one we may live to regret.