Backing frontline health staff

Green MSP Alison Johnstone, praises the outstanding work of frontline health workers.

I attended the Scottish Health Awards last week, which left me in no doubt as to the passion of those working in the NHS. The awards honoured Scotland’s dedicated and caring NHS workers and highlighted those individuals who have gone the extra mile to provide truly outstanding patient care.

They also serve as a timely reminder, if one were needed, that behind the headlines about missed waiting times targets and construction failures, there is a wonderful cohort of staff who are getting on with the day job, delivering excellent patient care and propping up clearly struggling health and care services. This should be applauded now more than ever as, given the growing strain on the NHS and social care, “going the extra mile” is becoming an increasingly bigger ask.

How best then, to continue to honour those who take such good care of us every day? By urgently improving working conditions and addressing staffing issues.

Last month’s Audit Scotland reported on the state of the NHS in Scotland and its message was loud and clear: reform is urgently needed. Reform hasn’t been forthcoming, however. Funding is still disproportionately directed to secondary care, for example.

The Scottish Greens are clear that, if care is to move into the community, then resources must follow. We have long been vocal about the fact that, even though 90 per cent of patient contacts are with primary care, general practice receives just 7.75 per cent of the NHS Scotland budget.

We also believe that the focus must be shifted to prevention if we are to lessen the strain on the NHS and give people the best chance at a healthy life. Those who are on the frontline in communities, such as GPs, are well-placed to tackle health inequalities and deliver preventative healthcare, but these professions are facing considerable staffing problems.

Likewise, physiotherapists, pharmacists and nurses have all warned that there aren’t enough numbers to allow the shift to care in the community and that there doesn’t seem to be any coherent plan to rectify this. We need proper workforce planning and a review of the funding being allotted to primary care if health and social care integration is to be achievable and sustainable.

These changes must also take place to relieve the strain on our health workers. The Royal College of Nursing has warned that nurses are being asked to work longer and harder – staying on beyond their shifts, even when they’ve already worked 12 hours, and the British Medical Association has stated that heavy workloads, long shifts and unpredictable hours are increasingly affecting doctors’ physical and mental health. Improving workforce numbers and moving to a preventative healthcare model will go some way to alleviating this pressure, and not before time.

The Audit Scotland report showed that patient safety and experience of hospital care continue to improve, and this is again testament to our wonderful health care professionals and must be celebrated.

However, relying on them to prop up our struggling NHS while workloads increase and working conditions worsen is a pretty poor way to repay them, I’d say.