Does the NHS have the resources to do
Across the country the SNP has listened to the concerns of patients
and staff and we have produced simple but effective proposals
to give you, as patients, and thousands of dedicated NHS workers,
a health service we can all depend on.
Labour has got many things wrong with the health service.
But if we focus on the core problems, we can put it right.
Your vote for the SNP on May 1st will mean we can start building
a health service that is responsive, delivers locally and
looks after its staff.
That means paying nurses properly to ensure that our hospitals
have sufficient staff to care for patients and to bring down
waiting times. It means determining bed numbers according
to needs of patients and communities, rather than by the demands
of a PFI — privatisation project balance sheet. It means
targeting investment to front-line services rather than back-room
bureaucracy. Our health service could and should match the
best in Europe.
Tackling patient waiting times
Quality treatment, when you need it. That’s what we
all want from the National Health Service. Scotland’s
NHS staff give their utmost and deliver high standards of
care. But constraints in the system mean that too many patients
still wait far too long for treatment. Our focus will be on
bringing waiting times down.
It is the SNP’s aim that, by 2005, everyone will receive
hospital treatment within six months of diagnosis.
For many, the lengthiest delays occur whilst waiting for
diagnosis. Waiting times for first outpatient appointments
have increased steadily in recent years. That is why we will
also work towards a maximum wait of six months for a first
outpatient appointment and we will seek to deliver that by
the end of our first term in office.
But we recognise that setting targets is the easy part. The
real challenge for government is to equip the NHS to deliver
on them. The SNP will tackle the core problem in the health
service — it is too small to meet the growing demands
that we place on it.
But as demands have grown, the capacity of the NHS has shrunk.
The NHS has 980 fewer acute beds today than in 1999, and serious
staff shortages exist in all parts of the service. An SNP
government will halt the reduction in acute beds. We will
set up a Review of Acute Capacity to determine the number
and range of beds that are required in the NHS in the medium
to long-term. Our building and refurbishment programme will
be designed to meet that need.
And by making sure that we have the right number of beds
in residential homes, as well as the right number of acute
beds, we can more adequately tackle the problem of bed blocking.
As a matter of urgency we will look to see what action requires
to be taken to resolve the ongoing dispute between central
and local government and private and voluntary care home providers.
Our frontline staff
We will take measures to boost staff recruitment, starting
with better pay for nurses. Common sense tells us that we
can’t reduce waiting times unless we have the right
numbers of nurses in the health service. Nurses, after all,
provide 80 per cent of patient care. But recruiting nurses
and retaining them in the profession is getting more and more
difficult. Around 25 per cent of student nurses drop out before
Many of those who do qualify take up better-paid posts south
of the border or further afield. There are more nursing vacancies
than ever before and, regrettably, many health trusts use
vacancies as a way of managing budgets. As a result, expenditure
on agency nursing has gone through the roof. We believe that
money spent on agency nurses would be better invested in permanent
That is why the SNP will immediately increase the pay of
our nurses and midwives by 11 per cent over and above any
UK settlement. This is right because, as we expect nurses
to expand their roles and assume more and more responsibility,
we must reward them properly. But it will also give Scotland
a vital competitive edge in the recruitment market.
This measure will cost £150 million each year, and
will be funded from within the £2 billion health budget.
Of course, delivering health care is a team effort, involving
doctors, nurses, technicians, ancillary staff and carers.
Other staff working in the health service must be valued just
as much as nurses and, under the SNP, they will be. Where
appropriate, we will use enhanced pay to tackle shortages
in other professions within the NHS.
We will examine ways of providing financial incentives in
specific areas of the country, particularly rural and remote
areas, and in specialities where there are the most acute
We will implement the new consultants' contract both because
it is a good deal for them and because it delivers more for
the NHS and its patients.
Taken together our plans offer a new direction for the NHS
in Scotland. A direction where patients and staff come first.
And where your priorities are the priorities of our government.