Holyrood under fire for dealing with Scotland’s NHS staff crisis at ‘snail’s pace’

Ministers have been accused of tackling urgent staff shortages in Scotland’s NHS at a “snail’s pace” after an official action plan to tackle the issue was delayed for a second time.

The speed at which the NHS staff shortages crisis is being dealt with has been criticised.

The Scottish Government had originally intended to publish its integrated health and social care workforce plan before Christmas, but the date was pushed back until January.

Now ministers have confirmed that the policy – which is designed to address problems including staff shortages and high vacancy rates – will only be published at an undefined point “this year”.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Lewis Morrison, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) in Scotland, said the matter should be treated with “urgency”, as gaps in NHS staff rotas were making it harder to deliver good care to patients.

The delay to the workforce plan comes after the nation’s public spending watchdog warned that the NHS was facing “significant workforce challenges” and that proper planning was “overdue”.

The Auditor General’s report on the health service in October last year said that staff turnover and sickness absence in the NHS were both on the rise, while vacancy rates remained high.

Almost a third (60 per cent) of consultant vacancies had been open for at least six months, while 27 per cent of filled GP vacancies took more than six months to fill, it ­added.

Mr Morrison said it was “important” that ministers took the time to get the plan right, but warned there was no more time to lose.

“Unfortunately the state of staffing in Scotland’s healthcare services, as evidenced by our survey of members as well as official vacancy rates, emphasises the urgency now required in addressing this,” he said.

“We know those vacancies are making it harder and ­harder to deliver the best patient care in an overstretched system.”

The Scottish Liberal Democrats criticised the delay, calling for Health Secretary Jeane Freeman to publish an annual report on NHS workforce planning and allow it to be debated by MSPs.

The Lib Dems’ health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “The NHS is facing serious challenges in recruiting staff at every level, but frustratingly the government’s work to remedy this is proceeding at a snail’s pace.

“It did nothing to avert the current staffing crisis in the first place. Now the deadline for this latest instalment has been pushed and pushed and pushed, just like the plans that came before it. Staff are tired of waiting.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Work is under way to develop a comprehensive plan to help address some of the recruitment and retention challenges faced by our health and care sector.

“We have already published workforce plans covering the NHS, Primary Care and Social Care. We intend to publish our integrated health and social care workforce plan this year, as the Health Secretary made clear when she updated parliament in November.”