The Auditor General of Scotland recently reported the NHS is suffering a budget shortfall unlike any other in recent history. If something doesn’t happen soon, Scotland’s ageing population, in particular, may suffer the consequences. Unsustainable funding will only lead to declining access, long wait times, and undiagnosed health issues as patients and physicians struggle to meet in the middle.

A Failing Budget

The health budget for 2017/18 was 13.1 billion pounds, which is roughly 42% of the total Scottish budget. This reflects a slight decrease from the 2016/17 budget. With performance continuing to decline this year, the NHS is drowning in financial and workforce-related issues, increasing drug costs and major maintenance backlogs.

Having just celebrated its 70th anniversary, the Scottish NHS certainly doesn’t need this kind of attention. Unfortunately, recent significant payouts for malpractice lawsuits in the UK have drawn scrutiny from government officials, barristers, and interested organisations.

The Consequence of an Ageing Population

With the Scottish population ageing at a faster rate than the English population, it’s difficult to see how this shortfall will be resolved without a major overhaul. Public finance economist, John McLaren, noted that health care needs are assessed at the English level without regard to what’s happening in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

“This is a consequence of a variety of factors including the lack of funding available to fund Scottish think tanks, lack of in-depth media analysis, lack of academic involvement and a lack of medium-term planning analysis by NHS Scotland,” Dr McLaren stated.

Struggling to Retain Staff

NHS boards are under increasing stress as they fight and fail to meet key national targets. In light of the NHS financial issues, many facilities are struggling to retain staff. Turnover and increased staff absences due to illness plague the NHS. Without proper support and sufficient funding, patients will continue to suffer the consequences.

BMA Scotland, the doctor’s trade union, spoke out when the Auditor General revealed the issues the NHS is facing. A spokesperson said the report was a “stark warning” that “could not be any blunter” but should be no surprise to doctors who’ve seen the funding inadequacies pile up over the years.

What the Shortfall Means for Patients

The audit report indicated Scotland’s desire to “transform the healthcare system” so patients can live longer and healthier lives outside a hospital setting. Patients with healthcare needs understandably prefer a home setting whenever possible. Unfortunately, with the continuing loss of medical staff and the inability to recruit the right people, progress is slow, making this lofty goal increasingly unrealistic.

However, a recent announcement may mean a light at the end of the tunnel for the NHS. An extra one billion pounds is scheduled to be invested in public services. Scotland’s Secretary of State, David Mundell, said, “I urge the Scottish Government to use this extra money to support the NHS in Scotland.”

Further information regarding the distribution of funds is not available, but one thing is certain: the decisions the government and the NHS make in the coming months will determine the future course of healthcare in Scotland.