Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has denied breast cancer consultants were thrown “under the bus” by the Scottish Government while his handling of the staffing crisis in NHS Tayside is trashed as “fantasy”.
The beleaguered health board will be left with only one breast cancer consultant come the new year.
It follows an “exodus” of up to two-thirds of breast cancer staff in Tayside, after senior clinicians claimed they had been scapegoated by health chiefs in response to a review into breast cancer patients being given lower than standard chemotherapy doses.
Mr Yousaf was in Lochee on Monday morning, where he announced £7 million for GP services in Scotland, which the health secretary admitted was under “significant pressure”.
The SNP MSP said he would reconsider meeting with doctors and patients caught up in the scandal, something his predecessors would not agree to.
When asked about the doctors’ claims, Mr Yousaf noted the health board had successfully recruited a new oncologist last summer and claimed the Scottish Government was providing NHS Tayside breast cancer patients with a “full service”.
This was slammed by North East Labour MSP Michael Marra, who pointed out this single consultant would be doing the work of three peers from January 2022.
He said: “The long term mishandling of this service has resulted in a two-thirds reduction in clinical staff in this area.
“One recent appointee is handling the work previously done by three. To say that this is a full service is a fantasy.
“A real plan for recovery is not advertising for a temporary locum. A real plan would start with rebuilding confidence in the service by coming clean on the management failings. Only then will recruitment supported by long term staff development be possible.
“As of January the sole consultant cannot prescribe or oversee radiotherapy. All the breast radio therapists who do breast cancer have left or are leaving Tayside.”
When asked if the Scottish Government had thrown breast cancer doctors “under a bus”, Mr Yousaf said: “I don’t accept the accusation. We have just had a consultant oncologist take-up post in August.
“We will continue to work with NHS Tayside to see how we can further supplement and support breast cancer services in Tayside.
“When you look at figures like 31-day pathway you can see figures speak for themselves, there is still work to do on the 62-day pathway figures when it comes to breast cancer, but certainly we are providing £780,000 in funding to NHS Tayside to ensure they have a full breast cancer service.”
The Scottish Government investigation into the dosing issue was dubbed “flawed” by an expert behind the commissioned report that found patients were put at a 1-2% increased risk of occurrence.
Services are currently being supported by NHS Grampian after NHS Tayside chief executive Grant Archibald warned in February that he could not guarantee the long-term future of the service following the departures.
The health board is recruiting for a locum consultant on a 12-month contract after struggling to attract permanent applicants amid a nationwide shortage.
Mr Yousaf said he would engage again with the GMC over their findings, adding: “I am not a clinician but of course I take clinical advice on a regular basis and I am told quite clearly by our consultants and clinicians and from those that provide me that public health advice we have a safe service and a full service for those in Tayside.
“I will look carefully at anything, as I have done already but will look again, at anything the GMC has to say on this matter and where appropriate speak to them too.”