Nicola Sturgeon has chaired a Scottish Government resilience meeting to discuss the “unprecedented pressure” on the NHS – as her Government was challenged to bring in the army to help.
Scottish Labour insisted that military assistance was needed, particularly, to ensure that ambulance services and accident and emergency departments “do not buckle under pressure”.
Ministers had previously called in the army to help during the coronavirus crisis, with soldiers being brought in to drive ambulances in 2021 – with Labour calling for similar action now.
Party health spokesperson Jackie Baillie challenged both First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her health secretary Humza Yousaf to act, telling them: “The time has come to end the dither and to act.”
Sturgeon pledged the Scottish Government would “leave no stone unturned” when examining measures that could relieve pressure on the NHS.
She spoke out after she and Yousaf took part in Friday’s Scottish Government resilience committee, along with deputy first minister John Swinney, senior figures from NHS boards, the Scottish Ambulance Service and others.
Yousaf will update MSPs at Holyrood on the work being carried out “at the earliest opportunity”.
Meanwhile, the First Minister said: “It is clear that health and social care is currently experiencing a period of intense and, indeed, unprecedented pressure.
“Staff are working exceptionally hard and have been doing so throughout the Christmas and New Year period.
“This comes after nearly three years of pandemic-related demands on the system, and we are all incredibly grateful to them for their efforts.”
Sturgeon continued: “I am clear that the Scottish Government must, and will, do everything it can to support our health and care service throughout the next few weeks.
“We remain in daily contact with health boards and there is already a huge amount of work being done, but we will leave no stone unturned to explore and implement any additional measures that could be taken to help alleviate pressures.
“With that in mind, we will continue to work with all partners to implement actions that can help ensure the workforce is supported to deliver the high standards of care that we want everyone to receive.”
She said this would include action to “reduce unnecessary attendances at A&E” aimed at helping people get care in “more appropriate settings”.
Her comments came after the latest waiting time figures for A&E departments showed a record 1,925 Scots spent 12 hours or more there in the week leading up to Christmas.
The First Minister concluded by thanking all those “working incredibly hard across the whole health and care system during this period of exceptional pressure”.
Baillie, however, insisted: “Scotland is now in the midst of the worst NHS winter crisis in living memory – for which this SNP Government is solely responsible.”
She added: “For months, Scottish Labour warned of potential winter NHS chaos and offered solutions that would support staff and patients – but Humza Yousaf and Nicola Sturgeon stuck their fingers in their ears and simply ignored everyone, including clinicians.
“The result of SNP inaction and incompetence is the lives of thousands of Scots being put in danger on a weekly basis.”
As well as asking for the army to be called in, Labour wants the Scottish Government to ensure that “promised increases” in investment for NHS24 delivers “quicker response times and better quality support for patients instead of long waits on the phone”.
It also insists that A&E departments must be “properly staffed so that patients can be triaged and have tests carried out in a timely manner” and for action to tackle delayed discharge – where patients who are medically well enough to leave hospital have to remain while they wait for care packages to be put in place.