Tories tell Sturgeon to ‘wake up’ and deal with ‘spiralling crisis’ in Scottish NHS

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, watched by Humza Yousaf, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, speaks during First Minster's Questions at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh. Picture date: Thursday September 16, 2021.
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, watched by Humza Yousaf, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, speaks during First Minster's Questions at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh. Picture date: Thursday September 16, 2021.

Waiting times for ambulances have risen, leaving some patients waiting several hours – or even days – to get help.

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Nicola Sturgeon has been challenged to “wake up” and deal with the “spiralling crisis” facing the NHS in the midst of the Covid pandemic.

Tory health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane, who has continued to work part time as a GP since being elected to Holyrood, told the First Minister that the health service was now at “breaking point”.

He spoke out after official figures showed performance against accident and emergency waiting times targets is now at its worst ever.

Meanwhile, waiting times for ambulances have risen, leaving some patients waiting several hours – or even days – to get help.

Ms Sturgeon said the health service was dealing with “crisis conditions as a result of a global pandemic” – but stressed this was the case throughout the rest of the UK.

And as she warned that “this will be the hardest winter the NHS has faced in any of our memories”, she insisted ministers were working to help front line staff.

Giving a Covid update to MSPs, the First Minister told how the NHS is “already under considerable pressure”.

She said: “NHS staff are dealing with a large number of Covid cases at the same time as they are gearing up for winter, and also while dealing with the backlog that has built up during the pandemic.”

But Dr Gulhane challenged her on the “spiralling crisis in our NHS”, telling her: “Shocking ambulance waiting times are risking lives, and today stark figures reveal the worst A&E waiting times on record.”

With the most recent weekly figures showing 551 patients spent more than 12 hours in A&E, he added it was “unbelievable” that this total was almost double the previous week’s total.

Dr Gulhane said: “Behind every one of these appalling stats are patients and their families who are suffering, but the First Minister doesn’t think this is a crisis, somehow she won’t admit the reality and say that word.

“Wake up, Scotland’s NHS is at breaking point. This is a crisis.”

He told Ms Sturgeon that warnings about this state of the NHS had been “ignored, not just for weeks but years”.

The Tory MSP insisted: “This can not just be blamed on Covid. The NHS recovery plan is not cutting it. Since it was published things have got worse.”

Labour leader Anas Sarwar similarly insisted Ms Sturgeon must not “use the pandemic as a cover for government failure”.

He described the situation as being a “national scandal and tragedy”.

Mr Sarwar added: “I accept the pandemic has had a negative impact, but there were underlying challenges and failures that pre-dated Covid-19.”

The First Minister praised NHS workers who she said were “working incredibly hard” as a result of the pandemic.

But she said these frontline staff “don’t need to worry about what we call it, they need the government to take the action and provide the support to those on the front line to help them deal with that pressure”.

Ms Sturgeon insisted: “That is exactly what we are doing, through funding, through increases in capacity, through changes in how the NHS is seeing patients to free up capacity.”

She added: “Of course there were significant pressures on our National Health Service before the pandemic, but anybody who stands in this chamber and suggests that the pandemic is not the most significant factor impacting on our NHS right now, or it is not the most significant factor that has impacted on our NHS for years if not decades, I think lacks credibility.”