Added pressure in winter months
Winter is upon us and so is talk of the annual winter crisis in our NHS.
Every year NHS services experience greater strain on their resources during the winter months.
When the nights draw in, an ageing population combined with seasonal illnesses and delayed discharges bring many hospitals and GP surgeries to their knees. Nowhere will this be more pronounced than in NHS Tayside. The embattled health board is fighting on all fronts, and at the end of October announced there would be a three week shut-down for all elective surgeries during the festive period.
Lasting between December 18 and January 8, health board bosses have cited staffing shortages as one motive for cancelling all but the most important of operations.
Make no mistake, this will have a significant impact on patients
In the past 12 months a number of patients have contacted my office with tales of 20-week waiting times, despite a mandated treatment time guarantee of 12 weeks.
Backing this up were statistics in September detailing a 60% spike in the number patients not been seen within this timeframe
Ultimately, for these patients, many of whom are in aching pain every day their wait will have to go on.
I have asked the health board for the exact number of patients affected, without response so far, but I would imagine it will run into the hundreds.
For these patients Christmas and New Year will be all the worse as a result of their cancelled operations.
Earlier in October a report from public spending watchdogs, Audit Scotland, warned that NHS Tayside is facing a funding gap of almost £50m this year.
Added to this are statistics revealing a concerning building maintenance backlog and reports of rodents in hospital kitchens. The top team at NHS Tayside are working hard to turn performance around and it is right to recognise the unprecedented challenges they face, but this cannot be a free pass for poor performance.
And whilst acknowledging the problem is welcome, patients would prefer answers rather than apologies.
Audit Scotland has called for a realistic action plan to help deliver the required efficiency savings needed over the coming years.
Whilst this might balance the books, I believe more support is required from the Scottish Government to deliver clinical solutions to improve patient care. Long-standing issues with workforce planning must be sorted out. NHS Tayside like health boards across the country are struggling to recruit enough GPs and nurses and we must increase training places to help combat this.
In addition to more places we need to drop red tape for consultants looking to become GPs later in life. Fundamentally, the NHS is in a period of transition and it looks as if the SNP does not have the ideas or impetus to lead this change and I believe it’s time for a government that does.
Ms Smith can be contacted via Elizabeth.Smith@ parliament.scot, or the Control Tower, Perth Airport, Scone, PH2 6PL. Alternatively, call 01738 553 990. Only emergency surgery will be carried out at Perth Royal Infirmary between December 18 and January 8