Remobilising and supporting the NHS is one of the top priorities for the Scottish Government and the other Governments across the UK—as I am sure that supporting their health services is for Governments across the world. We will shortly publish our NHS recovery plan, which will set out how we will continue to support patients to receive the highest quality of care and to expand NHS capacity.
The pandemic has had a significant impact on the ability of the NHS to operate normally for the past 15 months. That has consequences. I thank our NHS staff for the work that they continue to do to ensure that people who are in need of urgent care get it. They are working flat out to get care and treatment to people who saw that being delayed due to Covid.
To help staff, a range of wellbeing and mental health resources have been put in place locally. Staff tell us that they value that. Those services are supplemented by national resources, such as the national wellbeing hub, which has more than 100,000 users. We will continue to put in place the support that staff require.
I welcome the NHS recovery plan being on its way, but the problems are happening now. Consultants in accident and emergency are seeing more people with more chronic and undiagnosed conditions presenting as emergencies. They warn that medical beds are at 120 to 130 per cent capacity, which has an impact on elective surgery. The number of people waiting over a year for operations has almost doubled. Activity is below pre-pandemic levels, which is understandable, but in some areas there are simply not enough hospital beds to cope with even those admissions.
What is the First Minister’s response to staff who are worried that they do not have the capacity to treat all the patients coming through the door?
Generally, the NHS is getting much closer to pre-pandemic capacity, and many parts of the NHS are beyond that—Jackie Baillie cited the example of A and E, where attendances have gone above and beyond what they were going into the pandemic. Urgent suspicion of cancer referrals, for example, are now at 120 per cent compared to April 2020.
We are supporting the NHS. It is a difficult task—particularly for those on the front line—to ensure that the balance between Covid and non-Covid treatment is where needs to be.
The one thing that I would say—it relates to my exchange with Anas Sarwar earlier—is that one of the big challenges that we have right now is to ensure that we continue to manage Covid in a way that does not distract from the efforts of the NHS to deal with the backlog and get back to normal. Last year, when we talked about not overwhelming our NHS, at that point we had pretty much set aside the whole capacity of the NHS. Right now, the situation is different—the NHS is getting back to normal, so the margins around that are much tighter. That is why, in answer to Anas Sarwar’s question about why we cannot get back to normal in more areas, more quickly, I said that we have to take great care not to allow cases to rise in a way that generates more hospital admissions for Covid, which would set back the recovery plan.
That is all important stuff, but it is also really complex. Right now, that is a very sensitive balance. That is one of the main reasons why, difficult though it is for many sectors, we must continue to be cautious as we navigate our way through the next few weeks.