The Scottish Conservatives have called the SNP’s NHS Recovery plan an ‘embarrassingly thin, flimsy pamphlet.’
They accused Humza Yousaf of recycling undelivered promises and “rewriting history” over treatment times before Covid.
Scottish Conservative analysis found a key SNP election pledge had been abandoned and most of the plan has been regurgitated from previous announcements and manifestos.
Health spokeswoman Annie Wells also highlighted key omissions over Long Covid, the lack of new A&E funding, and the absence of ideas to tackle Scotland’s record levels of alcohol and drug deaths.
Scottish Conservative Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health, Annie Wells MSP, said: “If this flimsy pamphlet is the best that Humza Yousaf can come up with, Scotland’s NHS is in real trouble.
“This delayed plan is mostly a lift from their manifesto and a regurgitation of undelivered promises from failed SNP health ministers of old.
“It’s embarrassingly thin – made for PR purposes, not for our NHS.
“The SNP have shamefully walked back a key election pledge. They’ve tried to quietly abandon a commitment to remobilise the NHS.
“There is not a single mention of Long Covid. There’s no new funding for A&E, despite waiting times hitting their worst level in six years, and nothing new to tackle alcohol and drug deaths, which have both hit record highs.
“The few good points are obscured by the litany of recycled pledges and oversights. The lack of leadership from Humza Yousaf is apparent.
“The health secretary got caught spinning misleading statistics already this summer and now he’s rewriting history, claiming that waiting times were under control before Covid when the facts tell a different story.
“This is what happens when the SNP prioritise a nationalist coalition with the Greens over an NHS recovery plan.”
The recovery plan walks back a key SNP election pledge:
On 7 April, Sturgeon said she aimed to increase treatment activity by 10 per cent within a year. She said: ‘Our overarching aim will be to raise inpatient, day-case and outpatient treatment activity by 10 per cent, compared to pre-pandemic activity, within the first year of the new Parliament and to maintain that level for the rest of the term.’ (The Scotsman, 7 April 2021, link)’.
Yet in the manifesto on the 15th April, that was slightly walked back. It included plans to ‘Support a 10% increase in inpatient, daycase, and outpatient activity to address the delays in treatment caused by the Covid-19 pandemic - including maximizing theatre usage and capacity in sites like East Lothian Community Hospital, and making use of mobile units while new facilities are built’. (SNP, Manifesto 2021, 15 April 2021, pg.20, link).
The plan has now downgraded that target to be achieved over the next five years, not the next year: ‘Our target of delivering a progressive 10% increase in elective capacity over the next five years’. (Scottish Government, NHS Recovery Plan 2021-2026, pg.23, 25 August 2021, link).
The recovery plan does not contain information on the following:
- Long COVID
- Additional funding for A&E – despite it hitting a 6 year low this week. (PHS, NHS Performs - weekly update of emergency department activity and waiting time statistics, 24 August 2021, link).
- Additional funding for drug and alcohol services – despite both services reporting record high over the summer. (NRS, Drug Deaths in Scotland 2020, 30 July 2021, link; NRS, Alcohol Deaths, 17 August 2021, link).
- No return date is provided for the return of face to face GP appointments.
(Scottish Government, NHS Recovery Plan 2021-2026, 25 August 2021, link).
The plan rewrites history about waiting times under the SNP pre-Covid:
It states: ‘Before the pandemic, waiting times for elective care were improving by virtue of the Waiting Times Improvement Plan’
1. However, the SNP’s Waiting Times Improvement Plan was a failure. When it was announced in October 2018 it included a target of 75 per cent of patients being seen within 12 weeks by October 2019. However, only 71.9 per cent had been seen by that deadline. (PHS, Stages of Treatment, Impatient or day case admission, chart 2.1, December 2019, 15 December 2020, link; Scottish Government, Healthcare waiting times: improvement plan, 23 October 2018, link).
The plan mentions staff recruitment plans, despite the SNP ignoring warnings about shortages for years.
- The Recovery Plan pledges a numbers of actions and targets for NHS staff recruitment. This includes recruiting 1,500 new clinical and non-clinical staff for National Treatment Centres, increasing the number of medical undergraduate places by 100 per annum and investing £11 million in new international recruitment campaigns. (Scottish Government, NHS Recovery Plan 2021-2026, pg.7, 25 August 2021, link).
However, the SNP government were warned about staffing problems for years before the pandemic hit. In 2016, an Audit Scotland report found ‘a lack of long-term workforce planning’ within health boards. Then in 2017, the BMA accused the Scottish Government of ignoring a ‘critical’ shortage of doctors, with chairman of BMA Scotland, saying ‘The Scottish Government repeatedly says that there are more doctors than ever before, but this is simply ignoring a major risk to the health service, and it is demoralising and frustrating for doctors to hear time and time again’. And then in 2019, another Audit Scotland report said the SNP would struggle to meet its commitment to recruit an extra 800 GP. (Audit Scotland, NHS in Scotland in 2016, 27 October 2016, link; The Telegraph, 27 June 2017, link; BBC News, 29 August 2019, link).
A number of the pledges in the Recovery Plan were already announced in the SNP’s April Manifesto:
The plan mentions increasing NHS capacity by 10 per cent.
The Manifesto states: ‘Support a 10% increase in inpatient, daycase, and outpatient activity to address the delays in treatment caused by the Covid-19 pandemic’.
The Recovery Plan states: ‘This Recovery Plan sets out how we will take forward or aim of increasing NHS capacity by at least 10%... For outpatients we will increase capacity for outpatients by 10% compared to pre-pandemic activity levels’. (SNP, Manifesto 2021, 15 April 2021, pg.20, link; Scottish Government, NHS Recovery Plan 2021-2026, pg.4 &5, 25 August 2021, link).
The plan pledges 10 per cent of the NHS budget to mental health.
The Manifesto states: ‘10% of our frontline NHS budget will be invested in mental health services.
The Recovery Plan states: ‘at least 10% of frontline health spending will be dedicated to mental health (SNP, Manifesto 2021, 15 April 2021, pg.22, link; Scottish Government, NHS Recovery Plan 2021-2026, pg.17, 25 August 2021, link).
The plan mentions recruiting 1,500 NHS staff.
The Manifesto states: ‘recruitment of staff for our national elective and diagnostic treatment centres, with at least 1,500 more frontline staff for these facilities by 2025.
The Recovery Plan states: ‘Recruit 1,500 new clinical and non-clinical staff for National Treatment Centres by 2026 (SNP, Manifesto 2021, 15 April 2021, pg.20, link; Scottish Government, NHS Recovery Plan 2021-2026, pg.7, 25 August 2021, link).
The plan mentions recruiting 1,000 additional community link workers.
The Manifesto states: ‘ensure every GP practice in the country has access to a dedicated mental wellbeing link worker, creating a network of 1,000 additional dedicated staff who can help grow community mental health resilience and help direct social prescribing’.
The Recovery Plan states : ‘Provide 1,000 additional staff in Primary care mental health, giving every GP practice access to a link worker (SNP, Manifesto 2021, 15 April 2021, pg.22, link); Scottish Government, NHS Recovery Plan 2021-2026, pg.7, 25 August 2021, link).
The plan mentions investing £20 million in the Detecting Cancer Early Programme.
The Manifesto states: ‘investing a further £20 million to expand our Detect Cancer Early programme’.
The Recovery Plan: ‘We will have invested £20 million in, and continue to support the Detect Cancer Early (DCE) Programme’ (SNP, Manifesto 2021, 15 April 2021, pg.20, link; Scottish Government, NHS Recovery Plan 2021-2026, pg.15, 25 August 2021, link).
The recovery plan contains previously announced pledges that are years old:
- The SNP say they are on track to deliver ‘800 new mental health workers by 2022’, which was pledged in 2017 and has not been met. The SNP government’s 2017 mental health strategy already said they planned to increase ‘the mental health workforce by 800 additional mental health workers in our hospitals, GP surgeries, prisons and police stations.’ The SNP’s programme for government in 2019 said ‘We have already committed to providing 800 additional mental health professionals in key settings such as Accident and Emergency, GP practices, custody and prisons by 2021-22.’ As of January 2021, over three and a half years after first making the pledge, they had only recruited 599.64 WTE positions. (Scottish Government, Mental health workers: quarterly performance reports, 15 March 2021, link; Scottish Government, Mental Health Strategy 2017-2027, 30 March 2017, p.3, link; (Scottish Government, NHS Recovery Plan 2021-2026, 25 August 2021, link).
- The SNP say they are on track to deliver ‘Increase the GP workforce by 800 by 2026, which was announced in 2017. The SNP government announced that they would increase the number of GPs in Scotland by at least 800 by 2027. Then Health Secretary Shona Robison told GPs at a BMA conference that the move would ensure long term sustainability of GP practice ((Scottish Government, NHS Recovery Plan 2021-2026, 25 August 2021, link; Scottish Government, 1 December 2017, link).