Covid Scotland: All the key points revealed from the NHS recovery plan

It was promised within the first 100 days of the new SNP government, and it appeared just as the final day deadline was looming.

A recovery plan for Scotland’s NHS which is trying to get back on its feet after the double whammy of dealing with the Covid crisis – and continuing to do so – while racking up a backlog of cancelled operations, procedures, screenings, dental appointments, eye check ups and a host of other medical necesseties, sounds like just what the doctor ordered.

And health secretary Humza Yousaf believes the document published Wednesday morning, with a headline spend figure of £1bn over the next five years, is the right prescription.

So what is in the plan, and what is not?

Humza Yousaf believes his recovery plan is the right prescription for a post-pandemic NHS.Humza Yousaf believes his recovery plan is the right prescription for a post-pandemic NHS.
Humza Yousaf believes his recovery plan is the right prescription for a post-pandemic NHS.
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According to Mr Yousaf, the plan will increase the NHS’s capacity by 10 per cent “as quickly as possible” to address the backlog in care and meet ongoing healthcare needs.

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It will increase the number of in-patient procedures being carried out by 55,000 over the five years of the parliamentary term – the only problem being the government hasn’t been able to quantify just how big the backlog actually is. While 55,000 sounds like a large number, it could prove to be a drop in a post-pandemic ocean.

There is a lot of emphasis on nine new National Treatment Centres (NCTs) to be opened to manage this rise in procedures, yet they will all not be up and running until 2026, the majority of them opening in 2025.

However, by the time the last one opens in Cumbernauld, the network should be delivering at least 40,000 additional elective surgeries and procedures per year. Capacity for CT and MRI scans, outpatient appointments, day surgery and short-stay theatre procedures in orthopaedics, ophthalmology and general surgery will also rise.

It’s fair to say the nation’s health is riding on these NCTs being able to cope with the onslaught.

The plan also aims to increase the number of out-patient procedures and appointments by 10 per cent while diagnostic services will receive a boost of £29m this year to offer an increase of 78,000 appointments in just one year –with that total rising to 90,000 by the end of the parliament.

Further, at least 10 per cent of frontline health spending will be dedicated to mental health services, with at least one per cent of that directed specifically to services for children and young people. Will that be enough to deal with the number of kids waiting for CAMHS appointments which tripled in 2020? Around 320 new staff will be hired over the next five years to at least attempt to do so.

The government has also committed to keeping up the mental health support put in place during the pandemic for NHS staff – a well workforce will be needed to ensure all those new appointments can be met.

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There are also plans to increase all staffing levels at NCTs by 1500, to have 1000 more staff in primary care mental health, while medical undergraduate places will rise by 100 per year.

The restoration of face-to-face GP consultations is to be given priority – though community pharmacists will become the “first port of call” for unscheduled care, to keep GPs free of "unnecessary and out of hours appointments.”

Dentists are to be given new guidance to get more NHS patients into their chairs, while eye care services are being reformed with £2m being invested in a range of new services.

But there was no announcement on the Edinburgh Eye Pavilion beyond a “replacement” being worked on.

The most startling omission in the plan, however, was Long Covid and the implications that will continue to have on the NHS.

And while cancer organisations were hugely concerned at the numbers of diagnoses missed and surgeries cancelled through Covid, they have welcomed the additional £40m to be spent to meet treatment waiting times. Though as Cancer Research’s Andy Glyde says is “what’s important now is the detail of how this recovery plan will be delivered.”

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