Doctors’ leaders have warned that politicians risk losing sight of the “unprecedented” challenges facing the NHS in Scotland.
Dr Peter Bennie, chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) in Scotland, outlined the organisation’s concerns over areas such as funding, vacancies and recruitment and called for a New Year commitment to developing and delivering a “clear plan” for the future.
In the Lothians, the NHS faces having to make massive funding cuts and has suffered ongoing problems recruiting GPs and specialists.
A report from Audit Scotland in October said NHS Lothian was underfunded by £13 million. Calling today for a public debate on funding the NHS, Dr Bennie warned: “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.”
In his Christmas message, Dr Bennie said: “Our NHS is highly valued, accessible to all, free at the point of use, and takes care of the nation’s health needs from cradle to grave.
“Yet the challenges facing it today are unprecedented, raising complex questions about how we can sustain our health service for future generations.”
He claimed the NHS is currently “struggling to cope” and pointed to various reports which he said set out the growing challenges facing the NHS.
And he said that funding was not keeping pace with the demands on the health service and said it has been “virtually stagnant” across the UK since the onset of austerity.
“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,” he warned.
“At the BMA, we have been calling for an honest, public debate about whether or not Scotland is willing to invest the resources that the NHS needs to deliver the current range and level of services.
“We will continue to emphasise the need for this debate with the public and politicians as discussions take place about the health and social care delivery plan which was recently published by the Scottish Government. If politicians and the public are not prepared to accept changes to the way healthcare is delivered in their area, how are any changes actually going to be achieved?
“Let’s make a commitment for the New Year to set our sights firmly on finally developing and delivering a clear plan for an appropriately designed and resourced NHS in Scotland.”
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 because of the challenges of increasing demand and improving life expectancy.
“That’s why the last few months has seen the publication of three crucial building blocks for the transformational change required.”