Does the NHS have the resources to do its job?

Our health service
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 they qualify.

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 staff.

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 staff shortages.

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.

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