Leader: Our NHS is in urgent need of treatment

Barely a day goes by without it becoming more apparent that Scotland’s NHS is in a critical condition.

Today we learn that more than 340,000 calls to NHS 24 were abandoned before the caller was able to speak to an operator in the first nine months of this year. One caller had to wait almost three hours to get through.

To see a GP in person it is now common to have to call surgeries as soon as they open in a kind of lottery to secure an appointment the same day, rather than have to wait weeks.

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Hospital waiting times continue to worsen, with more than 3,300 Scots left waiting longer than the 62-day standard to begin cancer treatment in the past year.

Staff on an NHS hospital ward. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

A report earlier this month by Public Health Scotland showed some 7,650 Scots still waiting after two years for inpatient or daycase procedures.

Yesterday, Jillian Evans, head of health intelligence at NHS Grampian, warned of a staffing crisis and called for a “long-term plan” for the service’s workforce.

Dr Evans said a reluctance to join the health profession could arise from ongoing “uncertainties” around pay and the decision of some to leave the sector.

Last week, it emerged that one in ten dentists in Scotland have stopped carrying out NHS treatments since the onset of the pandemic because the service is so underfunded. Reports of people resorting to DIY dentistry in desperate bids to relieve pain are becoming more frequent.

All this stems from failures in government. Last week, Labour’s health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie branded Humza Yousaf “the worst health secretary since devolution”.

It is a harsh assessment but one with which it is hard to disagree in the face of such overwhelming evidence.

As winter approaches, Mr Yousaf must set out an effective course of treatment for Scotland's ailing NHS.

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In his defence, Mr Yousaf is right to point out the major impact of coronavirus on the health service. His plans to recruit new staff and invest in social care are welcome – but the results may come far too late to make a difference this winter.

And it is simply not good enough to gesture towards England and say: “At least things are not as bad here as they are down there.”