President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, Professor Jackie Taylor has welcomed the Audit Scotland report NHS in Scotland 2020 published this week and called for action to ensure the health and wellbeing of the healthcare workforce is at the forefront of decision-making around the renewal and remobilisation programme.
“Audit Scotland has highlighted a number of ways we can learn from the COVID-19 pandemic and take positive action to move forward as we remobilise the health service. Ensuring the health and wellbeing of the healthcare workforce will be critical to the successful renewal and re-design of services.
“This includes an urgent need to address workforce shortages in the NHS and providing the existing workforce with adequate time to rest and heal before we start to ramp up activity. Many healthcare workers are exhausted and I am personally very concerned about the mental health and wellbeing of our colleagues. Ongoing psychological support and care for those who have been through an extremely challenging time will be vital to any renewal programme.”
Audit Scotland note in their report that most health boards have achieved their savings. This may be the case, but this can also come with significant implications.
“Rather than focusing on financial savings, we should be looking at the effectiveness and quality of service delivery and public health. At a time when health inequalities are rising, the population is ageing, and life expectancy and healthy life expectancy are falling, we need to question whether financial savings are really delivering an optimal health service,” Professor Taylor said.
The report highlights that staff across the NHS have worked hard, in challenging circumstances, to respond quickly to the pandemic. NHS frontline staff have put themselves at risk reflecting their absolute commitment to public service. However, while the work of the NHS workforce has been extraordinary, healthcare professionals have been under considerable pressure during the pandemic with high levels of work-related stress reported. This is a situation that pre-dates COVID-19 and the pandemic has made it clear that vacant posts need to be filled and different ways of working urgently need to be introduced.
Professor Taylor added:
“Audit Scotland’s conclusions tie in with a number of key issues our College has highlighted as major concerns. These include worsening health inequalities and the severity of COVID-19 outcomes in areas of deprivation in Scotland, and that the wellbeing of healthcare professionals is key to providing a high quality health service which is able to meet the demands made upon it.
“NHS leaders will need to work collaboratively, in partnership across public services, to deal with the ongoing challenges caused by COVID-19 and to remobilise services. This will be hard work, and maintaining innovation and learning from the pandemic will be essential.
“Our College welcomes Audit Scotland’s recommendation that the work undertaken as part of the re-mobilise, recover, re-design programme of work should have clear priorities that align with the remobilisation framework. We are also pleased to see the recommendation s to update the integrated workforce plan. This must consider how services will be delivered differently in the future, and how this will affect the shape of the health and social care workforce in the longer term. It is essential that the focus on workforce planning begins now.”