NHS treating fewer patients than pre-Covid as services 'struggle to recover'

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has outlined that measured hospital activity 'fell rapidly' during the pandemic.

Scotland’s newest health secretary has been told that the NHS is treating fewer patients than it did pre-Covid, despite health spending and staffing levels rising.

In Neil Gray’s first day in office, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) published researching outlining that measured hospital activity “fell rapidly” during the pandemic and has “still failed to recover fully”.

The think tank described this fall in NHS hospital productivity as being “particularly concerning given the challenging fiscal situation the Scottish Government continues to face”.

A new report looking at health and the Scottish budget said the number of patients on the NHS elective waiting list in Scotland had grown by 87% since the start of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the number of patients who wait 18 weeks or less for hospital treatment, and the number of those in accident and emergency who are dealt with inside the four-hour target time has “fallen substantially since the start of the pandemic”.

It found that over April to June last year “the Scottish NHS treated 8% fewer elective day-case patients, handled 8% fewer emergency admissions and 8% fewer outpatient appointments and treated 21% fewer elective inpatient admissions than pre-pandemic”.

However, staffing levels had “increased substantially” since the start of the pandemic, it said, saying by July to September 2023 NHS Scotland employed 11% more consultants, 16% more junior doctors and 8% more nurses than it did prior to Covid.

Spending on health meanwhile was said to have “grown considerably”, going from £1,659 per person in 1999-2000, when the Scottish Parliament was established, to £3,073 per person in 2022-23.

Speaking as the Conservatives set out their plans for the health service, Douglas Ross said there is still “serious questions” for Humza Yousaf to answer on the issue.

Among the plans set out by the Conservatives is a plan to recruit 1,000 more GPs across Scotland.

Dr. Sandesh Gulhane, party spokesperson for health, said: “Humza Yousaf wrote a flimsy recovery plan that Michael Matheson didn’t follow or didn’t expand upon. I’m happy for Neil Gray to use every policy within what we’re proposing”

Labour’s Jackie Baillie added: “We’ve seen services that are under such pressure, staff need support that just aren’t getting it. SNP ministers are distracted by the sleaze and scandal of their own making.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We recognise some people are waiting too long and remain committed to reducing waits for planned and emergency care.

“We will continue to work with NHS boards and stakeholders to enhance patient care through redesign and transformation, including alternatives to hospital care where appropriate.

“The draft budget provides increased investment for health and social care, including over half a billion pounds more for frontline NHS boards. However, we know that to make progress we need to not just invest in services but also reform the way they are delivered.”

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