Waiting Times (Conditions other than Covid-19)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 19th January 2022.

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Photo of Jamie Halcro Johnston Jamie Halcro Johnston Conservative

1. To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to reduce waiting times for patients with conditions other than Covid-19. (S6O-00626)

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

The First Minister and I launched the “NHS Recovery Plan 2021-2026” in August last year in response to pressures on national health service services that were caused by the pandemic. The plan sets out key headline ambitions and actions to be developed and delivered now and over the next 5 years. That is backed by more than £1 billion of investment over the next five years, of which £80 million has been invested in this financial year to support NHS boards to target the backlog of treatment and care.

Although it is important to stress that recovery and reducing waiting times for patients with conditions other than Covid is the immediate task, the plan is fundamentally about ensuring that the recovery process delivers long-term sustainability and alternative pathways of care that allow people to be treated more quickly and, crucially, closer to home.

Photo of Jamie Halcro Johnston Jamie Halcro Johnston Conservative

The cabinet secretary pointed to the “NHS Recovery Plan 2021-2026”, which the British Medical Association warned on its release contained “worrying gaps”, and towards which little progress was made in the months before the omicron variant emerged as a significant concern.

In many areas, the pandemic has not created new problems but has exacerbated pre-existing issues. Weekly accident and emergency figures are the worst on record and there is continued poor performance on the 62-day standard for an urgent suspicion of cancer referral to first treatment. Almost 60,000 people have been waiting for treatment or diagnostic tests for more than 12 months.

Can the cabinet secretary tell me how long it will take for the delays and backlogs to be meaningfully tackled, and does he accept that although there might be more NHS staff than there were before, demand is higher? How will the Scottish Government tackle the backlogs without piling considerable additional pressure on existing staff?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

Jamie Halcro Johnston is in genuine danger of denying the impact that Covid has had. I am not saying that there were no issues, challenges or problems pre-pandemic—of course there were. However, it would be equally ridiculous to suggest that the pandemic has not had a major impact—rather than a slight or marginal impact—on the NHS and the services that it provides.

I will not rehearse all the targets and ambitions in the recovery plan, but I note that, crucially, we intend to increase NHS capacity by at least 10 per cent to address the backlog of care. We will increase our funding to the NHS. The next financial year will see it getting a record settlement of more than £18 billion. We will continue to ensure that we have record staffing in our NHS and that the staff are the best-paid NHS staff in the United Kingdom.

As I said in my first answer, we want to ensure that there are appropriate alternative pathways that allow people to be treated as close to home as possible.

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

Getting access to primary care treatment is of fundamental importance. The health secretary will be aware of the challenges that NHS Lanarkshire faces, which are driven by demand and staffing pressures and have resulted in NHS Lanarkshire scaling back some of the services that are provided by general practitioners. I am reassured that that is being reviewed weekly, and I am reassured by the conversations that I have had with the health secretary about the situation. Can he update me on action that the Scottish Government is taking to support NHS Lanarkshire, and general practices in particular, to allow those services to return as quickly as possible?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I thank Neil Gray for raising the issue with me directly. I will host a meeting with Lanarkshire MSPs from various political parties and the health board on Monday. I spoke to Dr Andrew Buist from the BMA today on the issue. Access to GPs is crucial.

We will support staff across the NHS where we can. Neil Gray will be aware that an exemption exists that allows staff to return when they are a close contact of somebody who has tested positive. That used to require a negative polymerase chain reaction—PCR—test, but I have, based on clinical advice, removed that requirement, which should help with the staffing issue.

No single thing can help with the staffing issue, but we are doing many things. I assure the member that we have regular engagement with NHS Lanarkshire, in particular.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

Waiting times were already a significant problem before the pandemic hit. Before the pandemic, 450,000 people were waiting. Now, the number has gone up to 650,000. One of the royal colleges has told me that one significant barrier to catching up with waiting lists—certainly, for operations—is that there is simply no space in hospital settings. In addition to creating capacity, what consideration has the cabinet secretary given to utilising spare theatres, such as those at the Vale of Leven district general hospital?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

Jackie Baillie has asked a good question and made an important point. The Government is working centrally to see where we might have theatre space, where we might have nursing and clinical staff, and how we can marry the two. Some of that work has been done.

The Golden Jubilee national hospital plays a crucial role, and I talk to the health board regularly about how to maximise its capacity. However, Jackie Baillie is right that other acute care sites exist, which might have the theatre space but not quite the number of clinical staff. That work is on-going; I am happy to continue to keep Ms Baillie and other members updated on it.