Covid Scotland: Politicians need to be more honest about what the NHS can do in the years ahead – Dr Lewis Morrison

This has been my fourth, and final, festive period as the chair of BMA Scotland. As each year has passed there are parts of my wishlist for the following year that I could recite in my sleep.

“A better next year” about sums it up – and, from my perspective, a huge hope that my successor finds themselves with a far shorter to-do list.

I have genuine concerns for our NHS and the welfare of its staff right now. Indeed, if my successor is in the same position of fearing for the future of our healthcare workforce this time next year, then I believe as a country we will have failed our NHS and the people who work in it.

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There is still a lot of uncertainty and anxiety about just how much the Omicron Covid variant will affect the public – and healthcare staff – but in many ways the pressures NHS staff find themselves under are not because of Covid, but so many other things, many of which were there before the pandemic.

Christmas, New Year and their aftermath are always extra busy times for the NHS, and its staff as ever will do their best for patients however difficult the clinical pressures and staffing situation is, so to some extent this is “just another difficult winter” – but what’s different this time is we are another full year into a pandemic which isn’t over yet.

A couple of weeks ago a colleague wrote some heartfelt words about their first Christmas shift and the efforts that were made to ensure patients felt cared for over the festive period away from their families.

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It didn’t feel quite the same across our wards this year: staff are genuinely exhausted but are still covering extra shifts for colleagues who are unwell or self-isolating, and sometimes in unfamiliar ward.

Scotland needs to look after its NHS staff and make them want to stay in their jobs (Picture: Peter Byrne/PA)

Patients and families had to once again endure visiting restrictions. Not knowing how many colleagues you will have when you turn up to work makes channelling the Christmas spirit pretty difficult.

That uncertainty and the weeks to come when it may get worse yet are hard things to bear on top of the events of the last two years, and especially at this time of year.

But looking forward to the year ahead and a hopefully better one, I’ll return to my wishlist and the things that cannot wait until this pandemic is fully over: an explicit plan for not just filling all the vacancies we have in the NHS but what we actually need to provide the healthcare the people of Scotland deserve.

And we need a more honest approach from all politicians to what the NHS can realistically deliver in the recovery years ahead. But most importantly we must look after those who right now are demonstrating the most extraordinary commitment to a career in healthcare and make them want to stay in those jobs.

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That’s the best and biggest thank you we can give everyone in the NHS who has done such an amazing job not just over this Christmas, but for the last two years and more.

Dr Lewis Morrison, chair of BMA Scotland

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