Scotland's NHS Recovery Plan: More work may be required to save 'our most precious institution' – Scotsman comment

As Health Secretary Humza Yousaf states in the Scottish Government’s £1 billion NHS Recovery Plan, the health service is “our most precious institution”.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf rightly says the NHS is Scotland's 'most precious institution' (Picture: John Devlin)
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf rightly says the NHS is Scotland's 'most precious institution' (Picture: John Devlin)

Many held the same view before the Covid outbreak began and any who did not have been given plenty of reasons to change their minds by the way health service staff put their lives on the line to save ours.

But, as we emerge from this most extraordinary crisis, it is clear the NHS is struggling and not simply because of the extra workload created by the arrival of a deadly virus.

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It was already beset by serious problems – particularly around recruitment, a situation made worse by the barriers newly installed by Brexit – before the pandemic, so the need to ‘build back better’ is especially important.

Responding to the NHS Recovery Plan, Dr Lewis Morrison, chair of BMA Scotland, warned “the NHS is struggling and close to failing in places” with a “huge vacancy crisis affecting many parts of the profession”.

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He said new staff were “desperately” needed, but also stressed the importance of staff retention, with a lack of work-life balance and “years of pay erosion” persuading many to quit their jobs, retire or become part-time.

It was the same story from Julie Lamberth, of the Royal College of Nursing Scotland, who spoke of daily reports of staff shortages affecting patient care and described the Scottish government’s workforce planning as “woefully poor”.

This is simply not good enough. It describes a downward spiral in which staff leave, but are not replaced, increasing the workload of those who remain and pushing more of them towards the exit.

The outcome of the public inquiry into Covid, thankfully if belatedly announced by the Scottish government, should help. One of its key tasks has to be to work out how to better prepare the NHS to cope with any future pandemics.

But more fundamental and radical reform may yet be required. A vital task is to transform the NHS into a place where the caring profession are given the time to care properly for patients, rather than being continually rushed off their feet, so vacancies are snapped up.

Scotland recognises how precious the NHS is and SNP ministers say they agree. They now need to act like they mean it.

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