More than £67 million is being spent in 2013-14 to increase capacity in operating theatres and bring in more than 400 new medical staff after a surge in patients needing care in the past year.
Three have been significant cuts in NHS staff in recent years, as well as growing concerns about full hospital wards and bed shortages affecting patient care.
Last year, the NHS in Scotland saw large increases in demand for its services. Between 2011-12 and 2012-13, the number of day cases – with patients having their treatment and being discharged without an overnight stay – increased by 4,000 to 456,300.
At the same time, the number of routine inpatient cases increased by more than 6,000 to 452,500. And outpatient appointments went up by almost 7,000 to 1,490,100.
Demand for services is expected to increase further as Scots live longer, but not always in good health.
But with many hospitals already running close to capacity, and concerns about elderly patients being shunted around wards to deal with bed shortages, fears have surfaced about how the NHS will cope with the rising pressures placed upon it.
The Scottish Government has now announced investment to boost capacity and treat more patients than ever before.
The £67m total is made up of cash from increases to board budgets announced last year as well as from efficiency savings made by individual health boards in other areas of their service.
Health Secretary Alex Neil said: “In recent years there has been a sharp increase in the use of the NHS, due to our ageing population.
“Statistics now show that the NHS is treating more patients than ever. Every year our NHS deals with almost 1.5 million new outpatients, and that has increased by almost 7,000 in the last year alone.
“We know how important it is for patients to be treated quickly. Waiting times are lower than ever before and we want to keep it that way.”
One of the biggest investments to boost staff is by NHS Lothian, with £9.8m to recruit 230 consultants, nurses and other clinical staff. It comes after the board was found to be manipulating waiting lists to hit targets as it struggled with patient numbers.
NHS Grampian is using £10m to put four new operating theatres in place, with an additional £8m to recruit more doctors and nurses.
NHS Lanarkshire is using £8.7m to recruit 54 staff, while NHS Ayrshire and Arran is investing £9.7m to bring in more doctors and nurses and increase capacity in orthopaedics and cardiology departments.
Norman Provan, the Royal College of Nursing’s associate director of employment relations, welcomed the fact that boards recognised the need to increase their workforce following the previous cuts. While nursing numbers have increased more recently, there are still around 1,400 fewer nurses now compared with September 2009.
But Provan added: “We need to be sure that the nursing workforce is sustainable and able to deliver high-quality care for every patient into the future.
“We therefore need significant continuous investment to help ease the overwhelming pressure services and staff are under.”
Another concern raised over the plans was how extra posts for doctors would be filled with some boards already struggling to fill vacancies.
A spokeswoman for the British Medical Association Scotland said: “While an increased number of consultants in the NHS would be welcomed, we are concerned that there isalready problems recruiting consultants to existing posts around the country.”
Scottish Labour’s health spokesman Neil Findlay said: “Investment is welcome, but in real terms NHS budgets are being cut and staff are under increased pressure to deliver services with less resources.”
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw added: “While the SNP continues to pursue priorities such as free prescriptions, critical pressures will only grow in front-line healthcare.
“This money, while welcome, will be needed all over again if we do not focus on meeting the key challenges facing our hospitals.”