The British Medical Association (BMA) has claimed that pressure on the NHS is causing “real harm” to patients and staff after the health secretary said the sector was facing an “unprecedented crisis”.
Recent figures have shown that a record 1,925 Scots spent 12 hours or over in A&E in the week leading up to Christmas Day and the largest number of hospital beds are being occupied by those well enough to be discharged – an average of 1,898 beds a day in October.
In recent days, NHS Borders has halted routine operations due to “extreme pressures” across the health service, while some GP practices in NHS Lanarkshire are operating extra hours to alleviate the pressure in hospitals.
The Scottish Government’s health secretary Humza Yousaf said that high levels of respiratory viruses including Covid, flu and Strep A have contributed towards the pressure, despite planning in place for winter.
On Friday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon 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.
Sturgeon pledged the Scottish Government would “leave no stone unturned” when examining measures that could relieve pressure on the NHS.
Speaking to STV News he said: “I have been upfront to say that even with mitigation in place if we get hit, as we have been with high levels of Covid, flu, Strep A, other respiratory viruses then this is still going to be the most challenging winter the NHS has ever faced.
“We’ve planned as best we possibly could and continue to take action to help our NHS and social care.”
He added that he would do everything to “make sure no stone is left unturned” to support the NHS and social care services, in particular to ensure those who are clinically safe to be discharged are.
Yousaf added: “I’m very grateful to not just doctors and nurses, but everybody that works in our NHS and social care services, I don’t doubt this winter and these last few years have been the most difficult of their entire career so I’m very grateful for all that they do and I can promise them that we will do everything we can to alleviate these pressures and support them in terms of their pay and terms and conditions.
“We have put forward a record high pay deal not replicated anywhere else across the UK, but I know this continues to be a very difficult time for our staff who are providing an exceptional level of care in the face of unprecedented pressure.”
Chair of BMA Scotland’s Junior Doctors Committee, Dr Chris Smith told STV News: “Although this is an unprecedented crisis and we are seeing NHS services especially in emergency care collapse around us, I don’t think it was an unpredictable crisis, I think for years we have been going into the harshest winter we have ever seen.
“This could have been planned for politically and the fact it hasn’t is having real harm on patients and real harm on staff as well.”
He added that staff members working in the NHS all “have an exit plan”.
He said: “I think if you speak to anyone they have an exit plan, everybody has a way out and everybody is thinking about that.
“I believe in a free and public NHS but when we see the standard of care we give affected to this level, it’s really difficult.”
Dr Smith has called for a national conversation about the state of the NHS going forward and said it requires a “long term plan” and investment into services.
Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane has called for the health secretary to be sacked amid the pressures.
“Humza Yousaf said to me a year ago that he’s been planning for this winter a year ago. Now if this is his state of his planning, the fact that he’s not enough staff, record waiting times, basically failed in any way to mitigate anything, then I’m not sure he is capable of doing anything in the short term,” the MSP told STV News.
He added: “I’m not sure he is capable of creating a plan that’s going to help. Which leads us to the fact that if Nicola Sturgeon is not going to trust him, if patients don’t trust him, if staff and doctors don’t trust him then it’s time that he was sacked or did the right thing and resigned.”