We are working with all health boards with specific targeted actions to reduce hospital waiting times. That includes the investment of additional resources. Some £60 million will directly support elective care. That will be progressed in the context of the framework for clinical prioritisation that I published in November 2020.
There is also additional investment to increase diagnostic capacity, with three computed tomography scanners, ensuring access across all regions. We have developed Scotland’s first ever early cancer diagnostics centres, with three pilots due to come on stream by summer. There is also, as Mr Kelly knows, the continued expansion of our elective centres: NHS Golden Jubilee hospital’s phase 1 expansion, which supports eye care and orthopaedics, is complete and patients are now being treated.
I make the additional point that, as we remobilise our national health service, we must recognise that for more than 15 months many of its staff have worked tirelessly—as they are still doing—in pressured conditions that have taken a physical and emotional toll on them. As we plan the recovery of the service, we must understand that its staff are our greatest single resource and that we must allow time for them to recover so that they can continue to do the important work that we need them to do and that we ask of them.
I thank the cabinet secretary for her answer and wish her well for the future.
I draw her attention to an article in this morning’s edition of
The Times in which Chloe Scott, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon, highlights the unprecedented levels of lengthy waiting times for surgical operations. Even a 20 per cent increase in those would mean that it would take four years to clear the backlog. This is a really serious situation. What action is being taken to reduce such waiting times so that people waiting for surgery such as hip or knee replacements will not have to wait for four years to get relief from their pain?
Mr Kelly is quite right to say that this is a really serious issue. Inevitably, it has been considerably exacerbated by the past 15 months, during which the NHS has had to pivot. During the first wave of the pandemic, the NHS largely paused all but urgent and emergency treatment and some cancer treatments in order to deal with Covid. In the second wave we have begun to remobilise. Over the summer, we and our NHS staff did useful work to enable us to begin to catch up, but that was inevitably reduced when the second wave hit.
In addition to the work on cancer treatment waiting times, which Ms Gougeon highlighted earlier, work is under way specifically to examine those for elective procedures. When this session of portfolio question time finishes I will go straight into a meeting with the current chief operating officer of NHS Scotland, John Connaghan, to look in detail at actions in addition to those that I have just set out.
Should this Government be returned after the election—as I very much hope that it will be—I trust that it will be able to set out a comprehensive remobilisation plan. Officials’ work on that is well under way. All our NHS boards have produced their own immediate plans, which we are bringing together to consider how we might progress in order that people should not have to wait for as long as Mr Kelly has suggested, which would not be acceptable. At the same time, we must ensure that our NHS staff, who have worked so very hard and to whom we owe significant thanks, are given time to take the annual leave that they have postponed and to have the rest and recuperation that they will need in order to progress the work that we want to undertake.
Presiding Officer, I ask whether you could allow me a moment’s flexibility to say a few things, since—unless there is another supplementary for me to answer—I think that these will be the final words that I say in the chamber. I would like to make a couple of points and to thank a number of people.
I have been very privileged to be here. I have been especially privileged to have held two ministerial offices. If my voice is now shaking, it is because, unusually, members are all being very nice to me, for which I am very grateful to them. [
.] I have learned a great deal, certainly from my work in establishing the social security service, and undoubtedly also from working with the health service. I am honoured to have been the health secretary and to have played my part in working with those in our health service.
In particular, I thank my constituents in Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley—undoubtedly the most beautiful constituency in the whole of Scotland, with the most talented people. I hope that Elena Whitham will follow me in representing it. My thanks go to them for electing me in the first place and also to my constituency team, without whom none of this would have been possible. My thanks go, too, to our civil servants and advisers, who—despite sometimes being maligned, albeit unintentionally—do a fantastic job, and to our team of clinical advisers, who I think are second to none.
Finally, there is a group of people who are rarely mentioned, but without whom cabinet secretaries and ministers would flounder, and that is our private office staff. I have been fortunate to have two quite remarkable private offices, to whom I owe a great deal of thanks.
Lastly, Presiding Officer, I offer my very best wishes to you in your retirement, after many years of outstanding service to the Parliament and to the people of Scotland.