Scottish government must recognise scale of task required to restore NHS to good health – Scotsman comment

In September, the Health Secretary Humza Yousaf warned the NHS in Scotland was facing its “biggest crisis”.

GPs are vital as the gatekeepers of NHS services (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
GPs are vital as the gatekeepers of NHS services (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Now he says, while there is still “significant pressure” on the health service, “we are through the worst” of the pandemic.

Something as all-embracing as Covid was always going to cause serious problems for the NHS, given the way it was handled by this country’s politicians. Healthcare staff may look enviously at the response in places like South Korea and New Zealand where infection rates have been significantly lower.

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But, that aside, the Scottish government needs to ensure the NHS is quickly restored to the highly effective service we all know it can be, so that patients with serious conditions are not left languishing on waiting lists.

Yesterday ministers announced some £82.6 million to help GP surgeries. The money, mostly the last instalment of £360 million allocated under the 2018 GP contract, will be used in practices to fund pharmacy support for repeat prescriptions and medication reviews, nursing support for routine tests and wound treatment, access to physiotherapy services, and to modernise doctors’ systems.

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The idea is to free up GPs to focus on the patients with the most serious conditions, with the British Medical Association Scotland saying the funding would make “a crucial contribution”.

Given they are the gate-keepers of the NHS and the main point of contact for the public, the standard of care from GPs is fundamental to the system. Patients who suspect but do not know there’s something wrong may give up too quickly, with fateful consequences, if they struggle to arrange an appointment, while an over-worked GP is more likely to miss something serious.

But, as Mike McKirdy, president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons Glasgow, stresses in the Scotsman today, considerable improvements to working conditions across the NHS as a whole are required to ensure experienced staff do not quit and that potential new recruits are not put off.

The Scottish government may like to think the crisis is passing, but the funding announced yesterday is only a small part of the major, systemic changes required to restore the NHS to good health. Ministers need to recognise the scale of the task if they are to tackle it. If they fail to do so, they will face the public’s wrath.

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