Gavin Brown: Overworked NHS staff are short-changed

Health staff are feeling the strain at work. Picture: Getty
Health staff are feeling the strain at work. Picture: Getty
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On Monday, the Evening News reported that NHS Lothian staff tell management on a more-than-daily basis that there simply aren’t enough 
employees to do the job required.

In the last five years, more than 2600 complaints have been made of this nature. Of course, this won’t always mean patient safety is directly at risk, but when you are talking about hundreds of complaints a year, it’s clear there is a very definite problem. All complaints must be taken seriously but when health workers themselves are formally raising this about the environment in which they operate every day, it’s time to sit up and take notice.

If patient safety hasn’t immediately been put at risk, the wellbeing and condition of the doctors, nurses, surgeons and everyone else on the health board’s books has been

Some years ago, NHS Lothian – under pressure from the Scottish Government to make savings – announced it was going to have to shed 2000 workers. Many of these would be in administrative roles, but as senior medics pointed out at the time, those are often the people who keep the show on the road. The result of these decisions has been a spike in complaints from staff.

And if patient safety hasn’t immediately been put at risk, the wellbeing and condition of the doctors, nurses, surgeons and everyone else on the health board’s books has been. Long term, that is bound to have a negative effect for patients.

Sickness levels – something NHS Lothian has worked hard to manage – could again increase, meaning health boards will have to spend more money on agency and bank nurses to fill the gap.

It doesn’t have to be like this. In England, billions extra has been spent on health by the UK government. When that happens, a slice of that automatically comes north via the Barnett formula.

But the SNP has made a deliberate decision not to pass all of that on to Scotland’s health budget. Its MSPs claim to have protected the health budget in its entirety but this is not true. They have protected only part of the health budget, namely the revenue budget. If all of the health consequentials from the UK government had been spent on health, we would be in a stronger position.

The Conservatives have pledged to spend £8bn more on health, and as a result Scotland will see an extra 
£800 million of that over the next few years. That will go some way to easing the enormous pressure in Scotland’s hospitals. However, the SNP needs to tell us if it will now protect the entire health budget, instead of just some of it.

However, it’s clear we will need more than just finances. It’s time for the Scottish Government to pay serious attention to the NHS staff who are working so hard every day under increasingly trying circumstances. If we don’t start listening to the people on the front line who know best, there will be a very heavy price to pay in future.

Gavin Brown is Lothians MSP for the Scottish Conservatives.