MUCH has been said and written about the unacceptable A&E waiting times at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and other hospitals across the Lothians.
But, for many people, their main experience of the NHS is when they visit their local GP, where the crisis facing the health service is now at breaking point.
Doctors’ leaders have warned that hundreds of millions of pounds have been cut from funding for local GP practices. As a direct result, people are struggling to make appointments to see their doctor.
In Musselburgh, Wallyford and Whitecraig, residents have described major difficulties making appointments, with different systems in place at different practices. Some people have reported waiting up to three weeks just to see a GP.
In West Lothian, GP provision at Stoneyburn health centre has ended because of a failure to recruit doctors. Local residents now have to travel elsewhere for check-ups.
My colleague Neil Findlay is campaigning to reverse the situation and has written to Health Secretary Shona Robison about it, while in the south of the city MSP Daniel Johnson is also fighting to save local services. But the SNP Government isn’t listening.
In 2017, Scotland’s overall GP vacancy rate was 5.6 per cent, up from 1.7 per cent in 2013. That’s 160 fewer GP posts filled, not to mention more than 2,500 nursing posts. And it’s not as if the Government wasn’t warned.
The Royal College of General Practitioners has been pointing out for years that the GP workforce is in crisis. But the Government has catastrophically mismanaged NHS workforce planning. Patients are today paying the price for decisions taken by a Health Secretary called Nicola Sturgeon six years ago.
The shortage of doctors and nurses is bad enough, but our population is growing and people are living longer with multiple conditions, so we need to increase the number of medical professionals just so that services can stand still.
By 2021, it’s estimated that Scotland will be short of 856 GPs. So what has the SNP Government done to tackle this crisis? Last week, Shona Robison announced plans to fund 85 new GP training places. Yes, just 85.
This is yet another sticking plaster solution by an SNP Government which continues to put Nationalism before our National Health Service. Many of these problems facing the NHS have worsened under Ms Shona Robison’s watch and she has lost credibility with staff and patients. It’s time for her to resign.
Patients in the Lothians urgently need a government which would get a grip on the workforce crisis. That’s why my Labour colleague Anas Sarwar has already set up a workforce commission to address the shortage of staff, and regularly meets with professionals to discuss the best way forward.
The commission is considering the appropriate number of training places, how to attract and retain students and examining how to improve staff morale. But we also need a much more fundamental think about GP services and our expectations of them. In more rural parts of Scotland, advanced nurse practioneers take a lot of the work that most people queue up to see their GPS for, including prescribing drugs. Do we really need to see a doctor every time? Also, what about expanding and liberalising the minor ailment service. Imagine being able to go to any chemist anywhere in the country and being able to access the low-level prescription drugs you need outwith the GPs hours of 8am to 5pm. It would save GP time and make your life easier. So many aspects of our daily lives have evolved with technological advances to reflect our changing routines and habits, I’m not convinced our GP surgeries are one of them.
I cherish our NHS – Labour’s greatest achievement in office. It’s easy to say we should never take it from granted, it’s far harder to ensure it’s fighting fit for the future.