Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of desperate “deflection tactics” after blaming Brexit for dire staff shortages fuelling a treatment crisis enveloping Scotland’s NHS.
The First Minister admitted the Scottish health service was “under more pressure than at any time in our lifetimes” as a result of Covid, but refused to say it was in a “crisis”.
In an interview coinciding with the start of this weekend’s SNP conference, she said there were staff shortages across the NHS after Brexit led to the end of free movement from the Continent.
But opposition parties said her remarks were “shameless” as the staffing problems dated back more than a decade to Ms Sturgeon’s tenure as Health Secretary, when she cut the number of student nurses.
Vacancies within the NHS have reached “record levels”, with new figures showing that more than 500 consultant positions and almost 5,000 jobs in nursing and midwifery are lying empty.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said Scotland entered the pandemic in March last year with 15 per cent of consultant positions unfilled and there was currently a shortage of around 800 GPs.
Red Cross drafted in
Ms Sturgeon’s denial came the day after the Unite union said sick Scots who called 999 for an ambulance faced an average six-hour wait until they were admitted to hospital thanks to a shortage of accident-and-emergency beds.
This had led to ambulances carrying sick patients being stacked up outside A&E departments for up to seven hours, waiting for a bed to become free. During this time they were each unable to respond to three emergency calls.
It emerged that the Red Cross was drafted in to Scotland’s biggest hospital to provide emergency aid as ambulances queued up in car parks for hours.
The Daily Record reported that volunteers were handing out tea, coffee and biscuits to paramedics, patients and relatives at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.
The number of hospitalisations increased again yesterday by 49 to 977 and the number of children being admitted is at its highest since the pandemic started.
Focus remains on independence
But the first day of the SNP’s virtual conference instead focused on independence, with the party disclosing it had started work on a temporary constitution for a separate Scotland.
Ms Sturgeon announced this week she has asked her civil servants to start drawing up a “detailed” prospectus for the referendum she wants to stage by autumn 2023.