The Herald

SNP priorities on health all wrong, says leading doctor

Ministers chastised by BMA chief over demand exceeding resources in NHS


A LEADING doctor has called for a frank debate about what the health service is capable of delivering as the gap between funding and demand widens.

Dr Peter Bennie, chairman of the British Medical Associatio­n (BMA) in Scotland, chided ministers for a “tired mantra” of investing record amounts on the health service, pointing out that a lower proportion of GDP was spent on healthcare in the UK compared to most similar EU nations.

He said the Scottish Government “completely misses the point” by repeatedly emphasisin­g the record number of doctors and nurses employed by the NHS in Scotland amid a surge in longterm medical vacancies, and urged ministers not to allow the NHS to “slip down the list of priorities” amid the distractio­n of Brexit negotiatio­ns next year.

Dr Bennie, a Glasgow-based consultant psychiatri­st, said the public and politician­s had to choose between increasing investment to maintain existing services in the face of an ageing population or rethink the scope of the NHS.

He said: “As Scotland’s population profile gets older and has increasing health needs, the speed with which increasing demand is outstrippi­ng available resources is rapidly growing. Without sufficient resources, providing healthcare in the same way as we do now is becoming unsustaina­ble.

“Funding is not keeping pace with the demands on the health service. It has been virtually stagnant across the UK since the onset of austerity – which is hitting the health of the public, especially the poorest in society, resulting in even greater demands on the NHS.”

In his annual post-Christmas statement, Dr Bennie said the UK spent a lower proportion of its GDP on healthcare than most comparable EU countries and the gap had been growing in recent years.

He continued: “If the NHS does not get the resources it needs to keep pace with demand, then the only alternativ­e is to look at the range and models of services that can realistica­lly be delivered within the budget provided.

“If the gap between demand and resources is going to continue, then there is no choice but to ask what the NHS in Scotland can and can’t deliver in the future.

“Any change, particular­ly at a local level, can often seem too hard to achieve, especially when there can be political mileage to be made in supporting the status quo.

“At the BMA, we have been calling for an honest, public debate about whether or not Scotland is willing to invest the resources the NHS needs to deliver the current range and level of services.”

Dr Bennie has previously called for greater cooperatio­n across the health service in Scotland, warning against the “competitio­n and commercial­isation” model being pursued in England.

He said the health and social care workforce plan, due to be published early next year, offered “a big opportunit­y” to tackle the “major problems with recruitmen­t and retention” and staff shortages in remote and rural areas.

Donald Cameron, Scottish Conservati­ves’ shadow health secretary, said: “This is yet another startling attack on the SNP’s handling of the NHS, and it is time it started to listen.

“For too long the SNP has failed to prioritise our health service, and as a result standards have dropped with almost all national targets missed last year.”

Anas Sarwar, Labour’s health spokesman, said: “It is painfully clear the SNP’s failure to properly plan the workforce has left our NHS staff over-worked, under-valued and under-resourced. This has left our NHS struggling to cope with demand.”

Scottish Liberal Democrats’ leader Willie Rennie said Dr Bennie was right to highlight the enormous challenges the service was facing.

He continued: “The huge demand for services and the changing nature of that demand means the NHS is facing an unpreceden­ted challenge.

“Primary care and mental health services especially need a major boost as, if we get those services right, we can take BARGAIN hunters in Scotland’s main shopping thoroughfa­res braved snow and rain to pick up post-Christmas deals as the sales got under way.

Princes Street in Edinburgh was among a number of places that saw shoppers out early to hunt through the reductions on offer.

However, a report by Barclaycar­d suggested under a quarter of people in the UK, 23 per cent, were shopping in the sales, down from nearly a third (32 per cent) last year. The figures suggest the incentive to buy in the sales has weakened following widespread discountin­g, including the so-called “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” sales.

Meanwhile, the GMB union said the rise in “cyber-sales” highlighte­d the need for better conditions in the major distributi­on depots of online retailers.

the pressure off the rest of the NHS.”

Health Secretary Shona Robison said: “We agree with the BMA on the need for a mature plan as a result of the changing nature of healthcare delivery due to the challenges of increasing demand and improving life expectancy.

“That’s why the last few months have seen the publicatio­n of three crucial building blocks for the transforma­tional change required. The National Clinical Strategy is a blueprint for what health and social care will look like in the decades to come.

“The chief medical officer’s annual report focusing on realistic medicine calls for a new relationsh­ip between doctors and patients and families built on mutual trust and shared decision making. The report describes reducing unwarrante­d variation in practice and outcomes that will in turn reduce harm and waste. This has already led to working differentl­y and has been welcomed across the system.

“This week we published a National Delivery Plan. This plan has actions for boards, government and stakeholde­rs and we look forward to the BMA being a full part of discussion­s about implementa­tion.”

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