Brian Keighley, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) Scotland, said politicians had to face up to some “very hard questions” as they experienced a crisis in out-of-hours care, bed-blocking in hospitals and rising workloads for GPs.
He said cancer treatments were being delayed and problems were emerging in hospital food, cleanliness and staff shortages.
Dr Keighley’s comments came at the BMA’s annual conference in Harrogate as he steps down as chairman of the organisation.
He told delegates that Scotland had been spared the huge reorganisation which had caused problems to the NHS in England.
But he added: “In Scotland, as elsewhere, what we have not avoided is a financial crisis and resource constraint that sits totally at odds with rising patient demand, an ageing population, advancing technology and burgeoning costs of pharmaceutical care.
“What we have in common with the rest of the UK is a crisis of health provision where the current philosophy seems to be to squeeze more and more from the same resources and to apply ever-increasing pressure on the workforce.”
Dr Keighley also highlighted the growing pressures faced by the NHS in areas such as A&E, GP access and staff shortages.
“What I have seen over the past five years is the continuing crisis management of the longest car crash in my memory – and it is time for our politicians to face up to some very hard questions,” he said.
“We have a crisis of out-of-hours health provision that sees huge and unacceptable queues at A&E departments.
“We see reports of geriatric provision coming under increasing criticism through inadequate care packages and increasing bed blocking and, at the same time GPs coping with a 20 per cent increase in workload.
“We see vital cancer treatments delayed because of unsustainable cost and we see cracks emerging in hospital food, cleanliness, staff shortages and vacancies within both the consultant body and GP trainees.”
Dr Keighley said no matter the outcome of the independence referendum, politicians of all parties had a responsibility to ensure the long-term viability of the NHS.
He said: “Voters must decide how much rationalisation of service they are prepared to accept, they must decide on the balance between convenience and clinical safety because there is no doubt that the current service is just not sustainable.”
In response to the speech, Scottish health secretary Alex Neil said: “Our health service undeniably faces real pressures and challenges as it adapts to meet the demands of an ageing population, and we’ll go on working with stakeholders, such as the BMA, to deliver major improvements.”
The meeting also heard of doctors concerns on the effects of rising workloads. Delegates said doctors had higher rates of suicide, drug abuse and divorce than the general population due to the pressures they faced.