Over the past 18 months I have raised issue after issue with NHS Fife on behalf of constituents who have not received the care and support that is expected from our National Health Service. I have also been made aware of many concerns from staff within the NHS who are working long hours, often in difficult circumstances and under immense pressure.
I have found NHS management willing to listen and take on board concerns being raised and there have been many changes made over this period within the leadership of the organisation. And yet the issues and pressures continue so much so that I am convinced there must be a comprehensive review of the NHS in Scotland and what is needed to make sure we can face the challenges of the 21st century.
Across this constituency and indeed Scotland it has become common practice for people to queue outside medical centres early in the morning to try and get an appointment with thousands of people experiencing difficulties in being able to access a GP. Recent research shows that around 2 million patients in Scotland are served by under-staffed and under-resourced practices and worryingly the age profile of GPs shows a huge number will retire in the next decade yet there are not enough doctors being trained.
In Fife, like many parts of the country, there is a massive problem with the recruitment of doctors and consultants. I had believed that Fife was making progress in recruiting consultants until I asked the Health Secretary in a Parliamentary Question how many unfilled consultant posts we had and she told me currently 53 posts remained unfilled. The NHS is spending millions of pounds trying to plug the gap by buying in locums and engaging private companies to fly in consultants at the weekends to see patients, all of which keeps the waiting times down but fails to deliver a proper service for patients and will not address the long-term crisis building up.
And as we move towards winter the issue of delayed discharge, or bed blocking as it is known, is growing. Older people are being let down and not getting access to the health and social care they require if they are to be supported to stay in their homes in their communities.
I offer a pessimistic assessment of where things are at in our NHS but sadly I am only scratching the surface and that is why I have previously called for a review of NHS Fife and now I am pushing for a review of Scotland’s NHS, focusing on the staffing needs of the future and the other big challenges facing Scotland’s NHS – health inequalities and the ageing population – and how these can be effectively tackled.
These are pressures that will face any government regardless of its political colour but the present government has been in power in Scotland for over 8 years and is not facing up to these challenges meaning things are getting worse. The Institute of Fiscal Studies has looked at the most recent numbers up to 2015-16 and found that, on the data available, Scottish health spending rose by roughly one per cent between 2009-10 and the current financial year, while English health spending rose by six per cent in real terms. So we also need to look at the choices being made about how our taxes are being spent. No matter the constitutional changes taking place in our country there will always be tough choices when it comes to public spending and so the question remains, should we priorities health and social care? I say yes.