Scotland's NHS 'cannot survive' in current state, expert warns

Dr Iain Kennedy believes the NHS in Scotland is in crisis. Credit: PA Images

The chairman of the British Medical Association in Scotland says the NHS is "broken" and cannot survive in its current state.

Dr Iain Kennedy believes there needs to be a national discussion about the future of the health service, and more has to be done to really combat issues within it rather than focussing on "quick fixes".

He said: "We face crises across workload, workforce, working conditions, pay and pensions – all of these are hitting efforts to retain doctors, which we are already short of across both primary and secondary care.

"Hospitals have too many vacancies – indeed the current vacancy rate for consultants alone is 14.32% – and GP practices are falling over, with the Scottish Government not even close to being on target to deliver their promised 800 additional GPs by 2027.

"All the statistics tell us that it’s a desperate state of affairs. Things are as bad, or worse, than they have ever been. Winter is a meaningless term now – this entire year has been winter.

"But looking beyond the statistics, looking at the people behind the statistics, the picture being painted is even more grim and concerning.

"The experiences my colleagues have shared speak louder than anything I could say, and anything any official stats could imply."

Dr Kennedy added he's proud to work as part of the NHS in Scotland but is struggling to be positive about its future.

He said: "I desperately want to be optimistic and forward looking, to set out some hope for the future – for the medical profession that I am so proud to be a part of, and the Scottish health service that I am equally proud to work in.

"But it’s not easy to find that indication of a brighter future – especially after reading the, frankly, harrowing comments from some of my NHS colleagues about what they are experiencing day in, day out.

"No one working in the health service would give me any credibility if I gave an upbeat description of the way our NHS will, or can, get better and how the working conditions of those caring for the people of Scotland will miraculously improve."

He's already called on both the UK and Scottish governments to sort out the pressures facing hospitals throughout the country.

"The government can make a decision to improve pay for NHS workers," he said.

"And the UK Government can finally once and for all sort out the pension taxation issues that penalise senior doctors across primary and secondary care and force them to cut hours or face massive and unexpected bills.

"These two things will make a difference in staff retention – junior doctors will feel more valued and be more likely to stay in the NHS instead of looking to move abroad where they will be paid more and have a better work life balance.

"Senior doctors will be less likely to reduce their hours and more likely to work waiting list initiatives if they know they won’t receive a huge tax bill for doing so.

"We are beyond crisis point now – urgent action is needed to save our NHS and that simply must focus on investing in the workforce.

"Looking beyond that, of course we need to finally get a proper long-term workforce plan in place.

"But even more fundamentally we need, as a whole society, to grasp the nettle, face up to hard truths that have been brushed under the carpet for too long, and have a proper grown up, depoliticised national conversation about the future of the NHS in Scotland."

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To know...