The Scottish Government must focus on transforming health and social care services to address the growing cost of the NHS and its recovery from Covid-19.
Improving the NHS will be very difficult against the competing demands of the pandemic and an increasing number of other policy initiatives, including plans for a National Care Service.
The health service in Scotland is on an emergency footing and remains under severe pressure. There is a growing backlog of patients waiting much longer for treatment because of the response needed to Covid-19. That has made workforce planning and delivering on ambitious recruitment plans all the more important. But the Scottish Government has historically struggled to recruit enough people with the right skills.
The NHS's ability to plan remains hindered by a lack of robust and reliable data, including workforce, primary care, community, social care, and health inequalities data. Meanwhile the pandemic has increased the fiscal pressures on the NHS, which remains financially unsustainable. This is despite the Scottish Government allocating £2.9 billion for pandemic-related costs in 2020/21 and committing more funding in 2021/22 and beyond.
Stephen Boyle, Auditor General for Scotland, said:
Reforming the NHS is key to the Scottish Government's pandemic recovery plan and needs to remain a priority. Putting Covid costs to one side, health spending is rising every year, meaning less money for other public services.
There's now a clear opportunity to do things differently by building on the innovation and collaboration we've seen across the NHS in the last few years.
For that to happen, our leaders must take the public with them and involve them in the shift from care being delivered in hospitals to much closer to people's homes. But better-informed policy decisions and services won't be possible without better collection and use of data.