Yousaf under fire over ‘calamitous state’ of NHS as Labour sets out reforms

Dame Jackie Baillie said the First Minister continues to ‘desperately’ blame the Covid pandemic for issues within the health service.

Yousaf under fire over ‘calamitous state’ of NHS as Labour sets out reforms Getty Images

Humza Yousaf has been accused of “desperately” blaming the Covid pandemic for the “calamitous state” of the health service, as Labour set out plans it hopes will “transform the NHS to ensure it is fit for future generations”.

Party health spokeswoman Dame Jackie Baillie hit out at the Scottish Government as she spoke about her party’s plans to reform healthcare across the country.

Labour proposes to cut the number of territorial health boards in Scotland from 14 to three, with Dame Jackie claiming the current arrangement is “excessive” and “inefficient”.

Her party wants to have an NHS recovery plan focused on preventative healthcare, while Dame Jackie also pledged Labour will create a national clinical council that puts “clinicians at the top table where they can use their skills, expertise and knowledge to inform decision-making”.

Dame Jackie highlighted Labour’s proposals in a blog post for the think tank Reform Scotland, in which she stressed the NHS recovery from the pandemic “must be seen as a first step of generational reform”.

It was published ahead of a Labour-led debate on the health service in Holyrood.

Dame Jackie conceded the changes “alone will not fix the NHS”, but that they are “critical steps in a journey of transformation”.

Dame Jackie Baillie raised her concerns in a blog post (Jane Barlow/PA).PA Media

Speaking about the current situation, she said: “Patients don’t need to be convinced of the calamitous state of services, they can see it every day in their own communities. Whether it’s the long waits in A&E or hanging on the phone desperate for an appointment at their GP surgery as they struggle to get through.

“At the same time, NHS staff on the front line are bearing the brunt of decisions beyond their control.

“Doctors, nurses, and indeed all staff, do not want to work in an NHS where they see patients being let down. Healthcare workers are burnt out and exhausted; many have already been lost to early retirement, whilst others are on the brink of handing in their notice.”

With the SNP having been in power at Holyrood since 2007, Dame Jackie insisted the First Minister and his party “must take responsibility for the mess that has unfolded on their watch”.

But she added: “Unfortunately – and rather desperately, in my view – Humza Yousaf stands in the Parliament chamber each week and peddles the myth that the pandemic is the sole cause of the NHS’s woes. This is simply untrue.”

She said while it would be “churlish” not to accept coronavirus had a “devastating impact” on NHS services, there had been problems “before anyone had even heard of Covid”.

She added: “The facts speak for themselves. This SNP Government has not met its 62-day performance target for starting cancer treatment across Scotland since 2012, and the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services target for 90% of children and young people to start treatment within 18 weeks of referral has never been met.”

Instead, she said the Covid pandemic had been “the lightning conductor which exposed a system already under pressure”.

First Minister Humza Yousaf has been accused of ‘peddling the myth that the pandemic is the sole cause of the NHS’s woes’ (Andrew Milligan/PA).PA Media

Doctors’ leaders at the British Medical Association Scotland, meanwhile, said they had “long warned” of the need for NHS reform – as they claimed its founding principles are now being “threatened”.

BMA Scotland chairman Dr Iain Kennedy said: “We have sleepwalked into our current situation by continually ignoring the warning signs that Scotland’s NHS is desperately struggling to meet growing demand.

“We are now seeing the founding principle of the NHS, namely that it should be free at the point of need, threatened.

“This is the inevitable consequence of years of ducking the hard decisions and refusing to have a realistic and open conversation about what is possible for the NHS to provide within current resources.

“As doctors we see the implications of an underfunded, understaffed system on a daily basis. We are forced to apologise to patients and inform them of the long waits they are likely to face for treatment.

“While this is primarily bad for patients it also takes its toll on staff who know – through no fault of their own – that they aren’t able to provide the best possible care for their patients.

“We are experiencing the repercussions of long, enduring moral distress and burnout amongst doctors and other NHS staff, who are retiring early, leaving the NHS or simply choosing not to enter into the healthcare professions.”

He repeated calls for an “honest and open discussion” about the future of the NHS in a national conversation.

He added: “The value of a healthcare system free at the point of need is priceless, there isn’t anyone who hasn’t been helped or supported by the NHS, from the cradle to the grave and everything in between.

“But now we need to look at how we can continue to support the NHS, to make it sustainable for the future and not let it become a memory.”

Health Secretary Neil Gray said: “We are already taking forward a range of immediate and longer term reform to our NHS and the Health Secretary will set out his vision for further reform of the NHS in the coming weeks. The fundamentals of Scotland’s NHS will not change – we remain committed to free access to healthcare.

“The 2024-25 Scottish budget provides over £19.5 billion for health and social care. Although challenges and difficult decisions remain, this has given our NHS a real terms uplift in the face of UK Government austerity.

“We welcome the most recent NHS workforce statistical release which highlights that NHS staffing levels are at a record high with 186,347 staff employed as at December 2023.

“Since 2006, NHS staffing levels have increased by 26.4% and have seen 12 years of consecutive growth. In addition, whilst having record high numbers of medical and dental Consultants and Nursing and Midwifery staff, the vacancy rates for these job families have decreased over the last quarter.”

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