Yesterday brought further signs of Scotland’s growing NHS crisis – one an injured man told it could take up to six hours for an ambulance to arrive, the second yet another plea from a health board for help from the Army.
The connection between the two is obvious: if the NHS does not have enough staff to do the job we ask them to, then people needing its help will either have to wait a long time or simply not get it.
After a rugby player dislocated his foot during a match between Edinburgh Accies and Watsonians, supporter Jonny Gray dialled 999 but the call handler suggested he should phone a taxi instead.
“His foot was hanging off, like it detached from his leg,” said Gray. “We moved him and tried our best to keep it straight but we shouldn’t have had to do that. It’s not acceptable... It makes me feel worried for the NHS.” The player’s wife drove onto the pitch and took him to hospital.
Stories like this might make some angry at the NHS, but that seems unfair given they are facing such pressure that NHS Grampian has become the third health board to ask for military help.
The response from Health Secretary Humza Yousaf wasn’t exactly encouraging. While he said the Scottish government would look “favourably” on such requests, he added: “But you can imagine, the military is getting these requests from every single health board and NHS Trust across the entire United Kingdom. So no doubt they are also stretched.”
While it is part of the Army’s role to act as an emergency supply of people skilled in a range of tasks – such as transport, logistics and, indeed, medicine – if even they are “stretched”, then this may well indicate a serious failure of planning by the government.
The UK government has drawn up a plan for the winter to ensure the NHS “does not come under unsustainable pressure”, along with a contingency plan if the situation requires greater action. Worryingly, we have yet to see signs of similar work in Scotland.
Given the Covid outbreak began in March last year, Scotland should have been much better prepared for winter 2021 than it appears to be.