We’re working hard to protect our NHS

We all treasure our NHS. I know we all want the absolute best for every single one of the staff who devote their careers to caring for others.

And equally, I know that we demand the highest quality care from our health service.

But we need to accept that our NHS is going through a period of change as we prepare to meet the demands of an ageing population and provide more state-of-the-art, which is more responsive to the changing needs of the people of Scotland.

That is why I am confident we are taking the right actions to secure the long term future of our NHS and ensure it goes on delivering high quality care for generations to come.

But as we make these changes it is important to remember that our NHS has come a long way since this Government came to power.

Waiting times are at historically low levels. Waits for hip and knee operations have more than halved over the last ten years, while waiting times for cataract operations are more than 40 per cent shorter. And that is in the context of seeing and treating substantially more people.

Our NHS workforce has increased by 8.2 per cent under this government – almost 2,300 more nurses and midwives. Agency nursing and midwifery costs have reduced by 13 per cent since 2007.

This week’s Audit Scotland NHS Overview report confirms the Scottish Government has increased the frontline, resource spending on our NHS. We have met our pledge to pass on every single penny of health resource consequentials from the UK Government since 2010/11. Indeed in 2015/16 we went further and invested an additional £54 million, which brings the increase in the resource budget to 5.8% in real terms since 2010/11. Frontline health spending has increased every year and now stands at above £12 billion for the first time and funding per head is higher than in the rest of the UK.

But of course we must change our NHS to meet the demands of the future as more of us live longer lives. That is why we are taking a comprehensive range of actions across all areas of our health service.

We are bringing together health and social care for the first time to ensure that services are more joined up and centred around the patient than they have ever been.

We are investing some £100 million over three years to tackle delayed discharge, which will mean patients can get home more quickly and don’t get stuck in hospital beds when they don’t need to be there.

We are going to spend £200 million to increase the number of planned operations for procedures such as replacing hip and knee joints. We have real success dealing with those operations in the specialist facilities at the Golden Jubilee in Glasgow, so we are going to extend this approach across the country – building capacity and delivering these vital operations closer to homes and communities the length and breadth of Scotland. This will be vital as we live longer lives and demand for these types of operations goes up.

We are working with doctors to update the way GP surgeries work – bringing in teams of healthcare professionals (such as physios and pharmacists) who can work effectively with our GPs in our communities.

That work is already underway, supported by our £60 million fund, which will provide a strong foundation for better recruiting, training and support for GPs across the country.

Of course there is more to do – we don’t doubt that. I absolutely acknowledge we need to up the pace of change. I accept the points they make and we will push forward with renewed vigour on the range of actions being taken.

We are also happy to listen to constructive ideas for the future, no matter where they come from. This is why we are asking for views on how we make our NHS ready – not just for 2020, but beyond.

These are the actions of a Government which is willing to stand up and protect our NHS and prepare it for the future. That way we can ensure it stays the treasured institution it is today.