National Health Service (Workforce)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 31st October 2019.

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Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

2. In 2013, the Scottish Government published its 2020 workforce vision for the national health service. It undertook to make the health service

“a great place to work”.

Does the First Minister believe that her Government is keeping its commitment to all NHS staff?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

The NHS is an incredibly difficult place for staff to work in. I think that that has always been the case, but, as we see demand in our NHS rising, it is even more the case now. I was struck by Audit Scotland’s report last week, which recognises that the NHS is seeing and treating more patients than ever before. I have nothing but respect and gratitude for everyone who works in our NHS. This Government stands by them and will continue to support them.

Under this Government, staffing levels in our NHS are up by more than 13,000 whole-time equivalent staff, which is a more than 10 per cent increase. We pay many of our NHS staff better than they are paid elsewhere in the United Kingdom. We will continue to support our NHS staff. Every one of them has the right to expect nothing less.

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

The First Minister mentioned last week’s Audit Scotland report. Last week, when publishing her report, the Auditor General said:

“The NHS in Scotland is running too hot, with intense pressure on staff”.

Over the past year, professional bodies and trade unions have raised concerns that the NHS workforce is under growing pressure and faces staff burn-out. In view of that, Scottish Labour made freedom of information requests, which revealed that last year in Scotland, 3.5 million working hours in the NHS were lost to sickness absence—caused by stress or anxiety or for mental health-related reasons. That is a quarter of all sickness hours lost and a rise of more than 50 per cent in four years. Those workers are being let down. What does the First Minister intend to do about it?

The First Minister:

We will continue to support those who work in the NHS. Sickness absence levels in the NHS fluctuate, but they have remained relatively stable in recent years. Of course, as I said in my original answer, more people work in our NHS now than did when this Government took office. The Audit Scotland report also confirmed that, over the past 10 years, the health budget has increased in real terms by 6 per cent . Most of that increase has been in the past five years. In tough times for our NHS—in that regard, the Scottish NHS is not unique—we will continue to support our front-line staff in the essential work that they do.

I mentioned the increase in the NHS budget. Let us cast our minds back to the most recent Scottish election and Labour’s spending proposal for the NHS. If Labour had been elected and had implemented that proposal, our NHS, in this financial year, would be £758 million worse off than it is now. That is the equivalent of 19,000 nurses. This Government will stand by our NHS staff. I am not sure that Labour would have done the same.

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

The sickness absence figures that I mentioned do not look like the Government standing by NHS staff. NHS workers are the heart of our health service and they are being badly let down. In the end, patients suffer, too: the treatment time guarantee has been breached more than 230,000 times; last year, delayed discharges from hospital were up by 6 per cent; and 20,000 more people were left waiting in accident and emergency for more than four hours—that is up by 17 per cent.

T he Scottish National Party has been running Scotland’s health service for more than 12 years. Today, the human cost for patients and NHS staff is plain to see.

That health crisis has blown up on the First Minister’s watch. It is her responsibility. What does Scotland’s national health service need: another decade of the cuts that were prescribed by her blueprint for independence or the £70 billion of investment in our public services that would result from the election of a Labour Government?

The First Minister:

Under this Government, there have been real-terms increases in NHS spending. As I said a couple of answers ago, there has been a rise in the number of people who work in our national health service. As in many countries, demand on the Scottish health service is rising. However, as last week’s Audit Scotland report said, in 2018-19, the number of people who were seen on time increased for

“seven of the eight standards”.

That means that the waiting times targets were met for more people in 2018-19 than in 2017-18. Therefore, the work that we are doing is leading to the improvements that we need to see in our national health service.

I go back to the point that I made earlier. Richard Leonard talks about the election of a Labour Government. In a few weeks, people in Scotland will have the opportunity to choose how to vote, and I look forward to them making that choice. However, if Scotland had elected a Labour Government in 2016, the fact of the matter is—it is a fact, because Richard Leonard cannot deny it—that this year, the NHS would have been more than £750 million poorer and would not have been able to afford to employ thousands of nurses. That is what would have happened if a Labour Government had been elected. It is only because there is an SNP Government in Scotland today that the NHS in Scotland is the best performing anywhere in the UK.

The Presiding Officer:

We have a few constituency supplementaries, the first of which is from Liz Smith.