WEST Scotland Labour MSP, Katy Clark, writes for the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald...

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THE NHS is in crisis. People continue to experience difficulties accessing GP or dental appointments, and one in eight Scots languishing on NHS waiting lists.

Accident & Emergency services are under such strain that NHS Ayrshire & Arran recently advised the public to avoid attending unless urgent due to “extreme pressures”.

The latest figures show only just over two thirds of patients were seen within four hours in the week up to March 6.

The legal threshold is supposed to be 95 per cent.

Of course much of this is caused by the pandemic, which has tested the resilience of services and left staff exhausted and demoralised.

However, the fact is nearly 2,000 acute hospital beds have been cut across Scotland since 2009, and at least 1,000 are now needed just to meet demand.

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Long term underinvestment in key areas has been an issue – and real terms day-to-day spending is down on what it was a decade ago.

NHS Ayrshire & Arran has been in financial difficulties for many years, requiring additional Scottish Government funding just to break even.

The health board has sold off nearly a quarter of its assets between 2015 and 2019, no doubt to plug funding gaps.

Rather than using public buildings, land and community assets to support communities, public bodies are desperately selling them off to profiteers.

Meanwhile, private health care hospitals and firms are being invited to bid for the provision of vital medical procedures, including lifesaving surgery, normally carried out by the NHS.

An Freedom Of Information request in 2020 revealed NHS boards spent £80.5 million on the private sector in just one year.

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The Scottish Government does not track how much public funding leaks into private hands.

Then there is the workforce itself, hailed as heroes early in the pandemic but now being rewarded with additional duties and real pay decreases across the board.

Many staff report stress, burnout, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Many more are being redeployed to fill staffing gaps in wards and units, often at the last minute.

Is it any wonder there are now a record 6,600 nursing and midwifery vacancies?

Astonishingly, the Scottish Government’s new National Workforce Strategy barely even acknowledges these issues, let alone proposes solutions.

There are clear actions the Scottish Government must take to halt the exodus from the sector and ensure the NHS is equipped to effectively support the public.

There needs to be an immediate real terms pay increase for all staff, an NHS catch-up plan based on robust and up-to-date workforce data, and a roll back on all use of the private sector.