The NHS in Scotland will face “significantly more pressure” in the coming year despite a budget increase, doctors’ leaders have warned.
The British Medical Association (BMA) Scotland claimed that “constrained resources” meant the health service was struggling to cope with increasing demands.
Chair Peter Bennie also raised fears the number of jobs lying vacant could have a “detrimental impact” on frontline care.
With Holyrood elections due to take place in May, Dr Bennie called on Scotland’s political leaders to focus on the “serious challenges” the NHS has to deal with.
He said: “The funding gap faced by the NHS set against rising demand and the impact of increasing consultant, specialty doctor and GP vacancies and unfilled trainee posts cannot be ignored, and we must establish ways to make Scotland’s NHS a more attractive place to work.”
Dr Bennie made the plea as he issued his Christmas message just over a week after Deputy First Minister John Swinney announced the NHS would receive almost £13 billion in 2016-17 under his budget plans.
The BMA chair said that cash should help prevent the current funding gap from “growing further” but added: “It is clear that the NHS will face significantly more pressure as Scotland’s population continues to age.”
Public spending watchdog Audit Scotland “clearly identified that fundamental change is needed now if the NHS in Scotland is to cope with rising demands across a range of fronts”, Dr Bennie said.
“The struggle to recruit and retain doctors adds to that burden significantly. Unfilled vacancies put pressure on existing NHS staff, already dealing with high workloads.
“This is a concern that doctors express to us regularly, along with the belief that in the long-term this will have a detrimental impact on their ability to deliver the sustainable, high-quality care people in Scotland need and deserve.”
He insisted it is “not acceptable or sustainable” to rely on the goodwill of staff to “cover gaps in the workforce indefinitely”.
Dr Bennie said: “How we respond is critical. Integration of health and social care is one of the major reforms facing healthcare delivery next year but again Audit Scotland has expressed its concerns about the progress of that implementation.
“The public will want to know that finite resources are being used in a way that optimises patient care and outcomes and their ability to access services.
“BMA Scotland’s call to support Scottish general practice has also been recognised with the Scottish Government announcing increased investment in general practice.
“This is urgently needed as GPs face huge demands in workload with the number of doctors choosing to train as GPs falling and a number of senior GPs set to retire in the near future.
“Extra funding for primary care development will be vital to support Scottish general practice as demand on community-based services continues to increase.”
He continued: “The focus must be on delivering high-quality care to the people of Scotland and ensuring our NHS is sustainable for future generations.
“We will ensure that doctors’ voices are heard and continue to influence positive change.
“Their role is vital, not only in providing services today but in establishing how resources are used in the future to secure better outcomes for patients and to deliver a sustainable and flourishing NHS for Scotland.”