Scotland’s health secretary has announced £600m will be used to shore up the NHS over the winter months, but hinted that it will not “mitigate every single challenge”.
Humza Yousaf said the Scottish Government would provide £8m from the current year’s budget to recruit 1,000 new staff, including 750 nurses, midwives and allied health professionals from overseas.
A further £124m will be given to health and social care partnerships to expand the capacity of care at home initiatives, £45m to support recruitment and planning in the Scottish Ambulance Service and extension of the Social Care Staff Support Fund to the end of March.
Announcing the move in Holyrood on Tuesday, Yousaf said the Scottish Government was committed to easing pressures caused by the pandemic, but added: “As winter arrives, those pressures will undoubtedly have a detrimental impact on already stretched services, but we will do what we can to mitigate the worst effects of these.”
He added: “The coming months will be a test for our health and social care systems and indeed the incredible workforce therein.
“I wish I could stand here and tell you and tell the chamber that we would be able to mitigate every single challenge this winter will throw at us – however, recovery is a process and I have always been up front in saying that this recovery journey we are on will take years, not weeks or indeed a few months.
“I hope our winter plans set out the measures we will take to bolster the workforce, to reduce demand by treating people at home or as close to home as possible during this difficult period.”
The health secretary thanked health and social care staff for “all their unbelievable efforts” during the pandemic, adding: “There can be no recovery if we do not take care of your wellbeing – which is this Government’s top priority.”
Yousaf’s statement comes as figures published on Tuesday showed August had the worst A&E waiting times on record, with almost 5,000 people across Scotland waiting longer than 12 hours to be seen and subsequently discharged or admitted.
Almost 900 operations were cancelled by hospitals in August and the number of people in hospital who were well enough to be discharged jumped by 20% compared with last year, according to official statistics.
Scottish Conservative MSP Tess White said staff had “been badly let down by this SNP-Green Government”.
She added: “The system isn’t just stretched, it’s overstretched.
“Few people, apart from the SNP benches, will be reassured by the Cabinet Secretary’s statement today.”
Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said that since the health secretary took up his post last year, “things have got worse and there is little recognition of the scope of the challenge in this new plan”.
“Nurses are balloting for strike action, there are 7,500 vacancies across the NHS – a staggering increase of 169% since the SNP came to power,” she said.
“Staff tell me that patients are at risk because wards are short-staffed – one nurse to 30 patients in some wards and now we have as many as 50% of junior doctors thinking about leaving.”
Baillie described staff as the “backbone” of the NHS, asking what action the health secretary was taking.
Yousaf said Labour’s deputy leader was “doing a disservice to the health service if she doesn’t recognise some of the recovery that has been made”.
The health secretary added he was looking to get back “around the table” with the Royal College of Nursing to hash out an improved pay offer and referred to the plans to increase staffing levels in the NHS as a “key central plank” of the winter strategy.