DELAYED discharges, staff shortages, A&E waits, and GP vacancies placed immense pressure on our NHS in 2015. Lengthening waiting lists, increased spending on private hospitals, lack of access to care, and the threat of closure of cleft surgery in Edinburgh featured frequently in my inbox over 2015.
Now, in the first week 2016 we learn that the number of cancelled operations grew by 50 per cent at the end of the year.
While NHS Lothian staff, doctors and nurses are working flat out, more than two thirds say they are not able to do their job properly due to staff shortages.
Pressure on the NHS has been an increasing concern over the course of this parliament. Established in the 1940s we need to act now to make sure our NHS is ready for the 2040s. In the next 25 years infirmity will overtake disease as the biggest challenge in our health service.
We’ve got an aging, growing population which is already stretching services and the issue isn’t going away.
Scottish Labour wants an NHS focused on preventative health, tackling problems before they lead to people needing expensive drugs and surgery. But that needs real long-term thinking about our health needs and not sticking plasters to fix crisis after crisis.
Tackling obesity, alcohol consumption and providing real care will save money for years to come. Paying a Living Wage to carers would make the profession more attractive and rewarding, would help clear the backlogs in A&E and tackle delayed discharge. We simply don’t have enough resources going into care services for older people. That’s bad news for the health of older people stuck in hospitals, when they should be able to return home or move into care. But it’s also bad news because it diverts resources within hospitals, reducing efficiency and adding pressure on hard-working staff.
NHS Lothian urgently needs staff levels and a budget which matches demand if it is going to survive into the future. But care services provided by the council need to be properly funded too.
It’s suggested that part of the increase in cancellations is due to patients cancelling. We need to understand why and what can be done to reduce that trend. As services are increasingly centralised what impact is this having on patients accessing the help they need? We need increased capacity in GP services, investment in preventative health and care.
We’re a week into 2016. NHS Lothian needs a New Year’s resolution to change for the future.
• Sarah Boyack is Labour MSP for Lothian and Shadow Cabinet Member for Environmental Justice