Key NHS recruitment targets 'unlikely to be met', warn Audit Scotland

Political opponents say the report is a 'damning verdict' of health secretary Humza Yousaf’s NHS recovery strategy.

Scotland’s key NHS recruitment targets are “unlikely to be met”, Audit Scotland has warned.

The public spending watchdog issued the warning and urged ministers to be transparent about the country’s Covid recovery plan.

Political critics have branded the report a “damning verdict” of health secretary Humza Yousaf’s NHS recovery strategy.

Audit Scotland also said Yousaf’s strategy lacks “detailed actions” to allow progress to be accurately measured.

The recovery includes ambitious recruitment targets, including hiring 800 new GPs by 2027, but the report said that aim is “not on track” and poses a “risk” to the recovery of primary care.

The watchdog’s report said the GP workforce increased by just 113 between 2017 and 2022.

It was also noted that targets to recruit 1,000 additional mental health staff are “at risk” due to cuts of £65m from primary care and £35m from mental health services.

The report highlights concern as the care backlog continues to increase, with more people added to waiting lists than are being removed, while operations sit at 25% below pre-pandemic levels.

Yousaf, who is currently running in the race to replace Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister, said “record investment” has been delivered to combat the challenges facing the health service.

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Scotland’s auditor general Stephen Boyle said: “NHS staff remain under severe pressure and the Scottish Government is facing tough choices.

“Money is tight but investment is needed in recovery. That means ministers have to prioritise which NHS aims can realistically be delivered. And they need to be more transparent about the progress they’re making.

“The Scottish Government has set out big challenges facing the NHS. But it also needs to clearly explain to the public what those challenges mean for the level of service they can expect, including waiting times.”

Sandesh Gulhane, the Scottish Conservative health spokesman and a GP, branded the report “scathing” and said it shows the scale of the NHS crisis.

He said: “Not only is his (Yousaf’s) flimsy NHS recovery plan inadequate, but there is trademark SNP lack of transparency about his strategy.

“That is leaving suffering patients and my burnt-out colleagues on the frontline in the dark about what progress – if any – is being made on reducing the huge treatment backlogs.

“The brutal reality is that Humza Yousaf is a record-breaking Health Secretary for all the wrong reasons – the worst one our NHS has ever had to endure.

“Yet astonishingly he now thinks he is a suitable candidate to be first minister.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Today’s report makes for a damning verdict of the failing NHS recovery plan and Humza Yousaf’s time as health secretary.

“Record waiting times are getting worse and worse and every corner of the health service is in trouble, and now we learn that the staff needed to ease the pressure aren’t going to arrive.”

Yousaf said it reaffirms the “challenges and successes” of the country’s Covid recovery.

Responding to the report he said: “We have never hidden the scale of the task and recovery will not take weeks or months, but years.

“That recovery, outlined in our £1bn plan, is backed by record investment and has delivered real success, including the Covid-19 vaccination drive and a significant reduction in the number of two-year outpatients waits.

“We are determined to build on this and will report on progress annually, ensuring updates are as specific as practicable.”