Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

New SNP health chief Neil Gray faces tough job running Scotland’s NHS – here’s the state of play

From record A&E waiting times to lengthy delays getting patients out of hospitals, the health secretary has plenty on his plate.

New SNP health secretary Neil Gray. Image: PA.
New SNP health secretary Neil Gray. Image: PA.

New SNP health chief Neil Gray was given the biggest job of his career so far last week as Humza Yousaf tasked him to run Scotland’s NHS.

But from record A&E waiting times to lengthy delays getting patients out of hospitals, the Airdrie and Shotts MSP will have plenty on his plate.

Here’s the current state of play as the SNP’s sixth health secretary in the past decade looks to get the NHS back on track.

Waiting times remain a major problem

No problem has gripped Scotland’s NHS since the Covid pandemic more than plummeting waiting times for A&E patients.

There was a major decline in the number of people showing for emergency treatment during Covid lockdowns when everyone was told to stay home.

But that quickly reversed as pandemic restrictions were eased as the NHS continued struggling to recover from the impact of the virus.

Humza Yousaf came under pressure as health secretary. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DCThomson.

In December 2022 – when First Minister Humza Yousaf was health secretary – just over 62% of all patients were seen within the target time of four hours.

That led to repeated demands for Nicola Sturgeon to sack him, before he ended up replacing her in the top job instead.

A year on, just over 65% of patients were able to get treatment without waiting for more than four hours, a slight improvement.

Mr Gray succeeds outgoing health chief Michael Matheson during the winter period when emergency departments remain under immense pressure.

Waiting times in NHS Grampian hospitals have plummeted since the pandemic.

In December last year, just 64% of patients were seen within the target time, just slightly below the national average.

By comparison, that figure was 93.5% five years earlier in 2018, when A&E departments were meeting the 95% target much more often.

NHS Highland has been one of the country’s better performing areas and has been less impacted by the national decline since Covid.

In December, 82.7% of patients were seen within the four-hour target time, far higher than the Scotland-wide average but a record low for the health board.

Meanwhile, the country’s three island health boards – Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles – have also coped well compared to mainland hospitals.

Bed blocking has risen since the pandemic

Delayed discharge for patients from hospitals across Scotland is another crisis that has plagued successive health ministers in the aftermath of Covid.

In December 2023, 1,879 Scots on average were being kept in hospital for longer than they ideally needed to be every single day.

That’s just slightly below a total of 1,950 beds being blocked every 24 hours in November 2022, the highest figure in the past five years.

NHS Highland has seen a significant rise in delayed discharges since the pandemic.

In December, 217 patients were being kept in hospital beds for longer than they needed to be there each day, the highest monthly total so far.

No total between January 2018 and March 2020, when lockdown rules were first put in place, even comes close to that.

By contrast, NHS Grampian has fared much better and has not seen a significant rise in delayed discharges over the past half-decade.

In the final month of last year 133 beds were blocked on average every day, a small increase compared to 124 exactly five years earlier.

What other problems will the new health secretary face?

Getting A&E times and delayed discharge down will be just two of the many problems Mr Gray has to tackle across the north and north-east.

The NHS has been plagued with long-running recruitment difficulties in many of Scotland’s more rural areas.

Ambulance queues outside Aberdeen’s Royal Infirmary were a major concern in December when more than a dozen were stacked outside the building.

Ambulance queues in Aberdeen have been a major concern. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson.

One patient in the city was forced to wait for more than 15 hours before they could even get an ambulance.

And Mr Gray also comes into the challenging new job at a time when cash is stretched due to widespread budget cuts.

Last month, his predecessor Mr Matheson admitted there was no cash for two over-budget and delayed Aberdeen hospitals.

He will also be expected to address longstanding worries over depleted maternity services in Moray.