Nicola Sturgeon’s £1 billion-plus prescription for the NHS after Covid

Nicola Sturgeon said she wants the health service in Scotland to be “stronger than ever before” as she launched a £1 billion-plus recovery plan for the NHS.

The First Minister joined Health Secretary Humza Yousaf to unveil the proposals, which aim to tackle the backlogs that have built up during the Covid-19 pandemic and increase NHS capacity by 10%.

Reforms are promised to both primary care – which includes doctors and dentists – and across Scotland’s hospitals.

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A priority in the plan is for the return of face-to-face appointments with GPs “as quickly and as safely as possible” – with family doctors having switched to virtual and telephone consultations as a result of coronavirus.

Prior to Covid, Scotland’s hospitals had cared for approximately 270,000 inpatients and people needing day case procedures each year, as well as some 1.4 million outpatient appointments.

The recovery plan aims to increase NHS capacity “substantially” beyond these levels.

The Scottish Government is pledging to invest more than £400 million in national treatment centres, which it says could mean an additional 40,000 more planned operations and procedures to take place each year.

Spending in primary care is to be increased by 25%, with support for GPs, community pharmacists, dentists and optometrists.

To reduce waiting for diagnostic tests, £29 million will be invested, with ministers saying this should allow 78,000 more procedures to be carried out this year alone, with this rising to 90,000 more tests each year from 2025-26.

Plans are also being put in place to recruit thousands more staff, with £11 million being spent on national and international campaigns aimed at taking on 1,500 staff for national treatment centres, as well as 1,000 mental health link workers in the community and 800 additional GPs.

And to help vital staff, £8 million has been set aside to support the mental health and wellbeing of health and care workers.

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The Scottish Government is also proposing a £23 million transformation of urgent care, saying it wants people to have rapid access to senior medics via telephone or video consultation where possible, claiming this should help reduce the pressure on accident and emergency services.

Ministers have set aside £130 million to deliver on plans to increase the number of cancer cases that are detected early and improve treatment for those with the disease.

The Scottish Government is forced to balance its budget each year, meaning an increase in funding could lead to a cut from another part of the budget, or a rise in taxes.

But both the First Minister and Health Secretary told the PA news agency this would not be the case.

“We’ll set that out in our budget, we do that every year,” Ms Sturgeon said.

“This is extra money for our health service and year on year we will set out exactly how that fits into our overall budget.”

With growing awareness of the importance of mental health, the government pledged at least 10% of frontline health spending will be used in this area, with plans to recruit 320 additional Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) workers.

Ms Sturgeon, together with the Health Secretary, unveiled the NHS recovery plan during a visit to the new national Centre for Sustainable Delivery (CfSD) at the Golden Jubilee National Hospital in Clydebank.

They were shown two robotic devices which can operate on patients, one of which could be used for knee and hip issues.

She said: “This plan will drive the recovery of our NHS – not just to its pre-pandemic level, but beyond.

“As we maintain our resilience against Covid-19 and other pressures, the Scottish Government is providing targeted investment to increase capacity, reform the system and ultimately get everyone the treatment they need as quickly as possible.

“Tackling the backlog of care is essential and will be a priority. But we want to go further than that and deliver an NHS that is innovative, sustainable and stronger than ever before.”