The NHS in Scotland may not survive the next 25 years without a “national conversation” about the service and the funding it receives, a leading doctor has warned.
Dr Iain Kennedy, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) in Scotland, said there is a need to “look at the whole NHS and make the big decisions on where the money should be spent” – adding that without such action, it may not last until its 100th anniversary in 2048.
His comments come after data showed there were 828,398 people in Scotland waiting for an appointment, treatment or diagnostic tests on the NHS at the end of September.
Dr Kennedy said the waiting list is part of the “well documented” crisis in the NHS, as he warned governments have “simply failed to plan for the workforce that is needed” to cope with the increasing demands for health care from Scotland’s ageing population.
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, Dr Kennedy said: “The crisis in the NHS in Scotland is well documented and it is not new. This has been going on for at least 15 years.
“We have waiting times problems, waiting list problems, and they are only getting worse.
“The demand for health care is increasing, as we all knew it would due to the ageing population, and we have simply failed to plan for the workforce that is needed.”
Dr Kennedy, a GP from Inverness, complained of “people waiting a long time” when referred for help from various parts of the NHS, including mental health care, orthopaedics, gynaecology, ear nose and throat services, and dermatology.
He warned that without action from the Government, “things are likely to get worse”, with older and frailer Scots, as well as those living in the most deprived communities, “going to suffer most”.
Calling for a national conversation about the service and its funding, he said: “We need to have a look at the whole NHS and make the big decisions on where the money should be spent.
“Otherwise I predict Scotland’s NHS will not last until it is 100 years old.”
Dr Kennedy said he believes “politicians in Scotland know that that conversation needs to happen”, adding First Minister Humza Yousaf had told him this was a “good idea” when he was still health secretary.
The BMA Scotland chairman said he has raised the issue with current Health Secretary Michael Matheson, who he is due to meet in the coming days.
Dr Kennedy said: “The national conversation needs to be independently led, but it obviously needs to be commissioned by the Government.
“I am going to push Michael Matheson to give us an idea of his level of commitment to having a national conversation and when that might start.”
Former NHS Scotland chief executive Professor Paul Gray has also called for a conversation on the NHS – leaving open the possibility that some services could become paid for in the future.
Prof Gray said the service “cannot afford to carry on as we are and hope for the best”.
He told the BBC: “The consequence is that everything slowly gets worse, the pressure on staff continues to grow, the service that patients and their families receive – despite the best efforts of everyone – continues to reduce.
“People choose to pay for some elements of care that they receive, that choice is already open to them, so I think it’s about having the conversation.
“I don’t have a view about what the conclusion of our conversation should be, because we haven’t had it yet, so my view is we should have it.”