Scotland's new Health Secretary Michael Matheson should rip up Humza Yousaf's flawed NHS recovery plan and start again – Susan Dalgety

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Scotland’s new Health Secretary, Michael Mathieson, has a bulging in-tray. Social care is on the verge of collapse. Nearly a third of patients in A&E have to wait more than four hours to be seen.

In Edinburgh, the picture is even worse – figures last month showed that less than half the patients waiting at the Royal Infirmary were seen within the target time. Across Scotland, thousands face serious delays in their cancer treatment – almost three in ten people have to wait more than the 62-day target for their first treatment, the worst performance on record.

There is even a problem with the decontamination service for vital medical equipment. Scotland’s NHS sterilisation unit is based in Edinburgh, and recently had to get support from Liverpool as it couldn’t cope with demand. A leaked internal NHS Lothian report shows there is a "very high" risk that the unit will be unable to meet future demands for vital equipment, which could lead to the closure of operating theatres.

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And the service that underpins our NHS – primary care – has reached breaking point. Audit Scotland’s annual report on the state of the health service, published a few weeks ago, says that the government’s plan to recruit 800 more GPs by 2027 is likely to fail. Nowhere is that more obvious than in Edinburgh and the Lothians. Within the last week, two MSPs have written to Michael Mathieson calling for a meeting to discuss the city’s GP crisis.

Lothian Conservative MSP, Miles Briggs, has asked the Health Secretary to hold a crisis summit, following news that the new medical practice planned as part of the new Liberton High School campus has been put on hold because there is no cash to build it. And the Labour MSP for Edinburgh, Daniel Johnson, has asked for a meeting after learning that the Marchmont medical practice will close in June, when its sole GP retires. He told this newspaper that the closure is the latest example of a government unable to plan for the future. “Michael Mathieson needs to take action to stave off a disaster in primary health care,” he added.

The Health Secretary, who has “NHS Recovery” in his job title, is no doubt all too aware of the pressures facing the service. He has even inherited a plan from the previous Health Secretary – now the First Minster – to guide him. The trouble is it’s not worth the glossy paper it’s written on according to Audit Scotland, as it doesn’t contain the detailed actions and robust modelling required to fix the NHS.

This is typical of the Sturgeon era where messaging was queen, but those days are – hopefully – behind us. If Mathieson is serious about fixing the NHS, he needs to rip up Yousaf’s plan and start again. He needs to be honest about the financial challenges facing the government and prioritise what he can deliver. And where better to start than Scotland’s primary care service, the bedrock of our National Health Service, and the first port of call for people when they are concerned about their health. Our NHS will not get better without a fully-functioning GP service.

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