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Chamber and committees

Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee

Meeting date: Thursday, December 20, 2018

Agenda: Decision on Taking Business in Private, Section 22 Reports, Section 23 Report


Section 23 Report

“NHS in Scotland 2018”

The Convener

Item 3 is on the section 23 report “NHS in Scotland 2018”. I welcome our witnesses from the Scottish Government: Paul Gray, director general of health and social care and chief executive of NHS Scotland; Christine McLaughlin, director of health finance, corporate governance and value; Shirley Rogers, director of health workforce; and Dr Catherine Calderwood, chief medical officer. I understand that none of you wants to make an opening statement, so I will move directly to questions.

I do not know whether Mr Gray watched the evidence that we just took on the two section 22 reports, when we heard good examples of the problems that the Auditor General has touched on in her 2018 overview of the health service. We discussed the costs of locums in NHS Highland. The committee is extremely worried that two locum doctors in NHS Highland have cost the taxpayer more than £900,000. How do you respond to that?

Paul Gray (Scottish Government and NHS Scotland)

First, I acknowledge the concern. A substantial sum of money has been paid from public funds. I will ask Shirley Rogers and Catherine Calderwood to say a little about what we are doing to address such issues through our workforce planning and our approaches to medical staffing. I agree that those costs are very substantial.

The Convener

That is a big and shocking example of poor workforce planning in the NHS. We all know that we have issues with workforce planning, which you have admitted before, but how have we got to a situation where the open market is determining an exorbitant cost—more than £900,000—for two doctors to staff our hospitals, when the Scottish Government pays for the training of doctors right the way through?

Paul Gray

There are issues of rurality and there are international shortages in certain specialties—we are not alone in experiencing that. I ask my colleagues to give more details on what we are doing.

Shirley Rogers (Scottish Government)

The convener is right to identify that there are issues of medical workforce supply and, as the DG said, those issues are not unique to Scotland. The Scottish Government has significantly increased the number of places at medical schools and in autumn 2018, for the first time in Scotland, we introduced a postgraduate-entry medical degree, which is targeted at people who are a little more mature and who might be interested in working in rural and general practice. We are looking at transformed models of patient care in which general practitioners are not the only people who can provide healthcare services. The approach is a combination of increasing the supply, being as attractive as we can be as an employer—within the constraints of all the international challenges that we have talked about—and looking at a transformed model of how we deliver services. I do not know—

The Convener

If you will allow me to interrupt, the issue is not just supply. Certain parts of the country—rural areas are an example, but areas of deprivation are another—struggle to get general practitioners and consultants in a range of specialties. The issue is not just supply but getting doctors to the areas in which we need them. How are you tackling that?

Shirley Rogers

We are tackling that by working closely with the boards, by trying to make those roles as attractive as they can be and by trying to take a more diverse approach to workforce engagement and employment. We know that—

The Convener

That is not working. I visited the child and adolescent mental health service in Dundee this summer. It is supposed to have seven consultants in child and adolescent mental health but, at that time, it had only four consultants and could not get doctors to come to Dundee to work. As a result, only 41 per cent of children in Tayside see a mental health specialist when they need to. It is clear that the Government policy to get those doctors in place is not working.

Shirley Rogers

As you will be aware, this year, we published for the first time a workforce plan that starts to identify where there are particular challenges. NHS Education for Scotland and my team have worked through those shortage areas and what we can do to target them. For example, we have used bursaries to help with the situation; we have looked again at rural incentives in particular; and we have a new general medical services contract—

When you say “bursaries”, do you mean bursaries to encourage people to train as doctors?

Shirley Rogers

They are for encouraging people to train and to come and work in our health service—full stop.

Are you saying that we are not training enough doctors?

Shirley Rogers

We are training more doctors than we have ever trained before.

The Convener

Let me put this to you: we train many doctors in this country—you will know the figures better than me. However, I hear reports—I cannot get them substantiated by the General Medical Council or the BMA—that we lose up to 40 per cent of the trainee doctors whom the Scottish Government has paid to train through our universities and hospitals, because they go abroad to Australia or New Zealand.

The taxpayer pays for that training, but in NHS Highland, for example, we have to pay an additional almost £1 million to get two doctors to cover the hospitals. Why is the Scottish Government paying all this money to train doctors and then letting them go to other countries? Should there be some clause that ensures that they have to stay and work in the NHS?

Shirley Rogers

There is an argument to be made there but, to be fair with regard to the numbers, we know that young people like to explore careers in different parts of the world—and that is what they do. To be fair, the vast majority of people who leave Scotland after medical school go to practise in England and then come back. They might go, but that does not mean that some do not return—in fact, many do.

The fact is that there is an international marketplace for medicine. We are talking about highly intelligent and highly trained people with skills that are marketable across the world, and we try to do all that we can to make staying and practising medicine in Scotland attractive. A large proportion of our medical students stay and practise here.

I go back to the two locums whom I mentioned. Have you considered capping the amount of money that they can be paid?

Shirley Rogers

Catherine Calderwood might be in a better position to talk about the impact on services, but we have considered whether there are other ways of helping boards to manage such situations, which might involve establishing and reinforcing Scottish arrangements around bank and agency staff and so on.

Dr Catherine Calderwood (Scottish Government)

As far as doctors in training are concerned, we would give locum positions for an unlimited time with a view to filling those posts with people on permanent contracts. I believe that one of the doctors you have referred to is a surgeon and, given the essential emergency and elective services that they provide, one assumes that, if the post was empty, patients would need to travel for elective surgery, and the rota might be unsustainable for other doctors to cover. If a rota has only three or four people on it, one gap leaves the whole service very fragile.

The Convener

Nobody is disputing that the doctors should be there to cover patient need—the issue is the amount that the taxpayer is having to pay. Should there be a cap on that? The Scottish Government is letting market forces determine how much those doctors are paid, because they are not on an NHS contract.

Dr Calderwood

I go back to Ms Rogers’s comments and point out that this is a marketplace. If we said, “We are not going to pay you X to do this job,” the people would go elsewhere. They would leave the service if they could get more money or a longer contract somewhere else.

The Convener

I say with respect that I do not think that the public see our NHS as a marketplace. They feel that they pay their taxes, and their doctors should be on NHS contracts. Why will the Scottish Government not enforce that?

Dr Calderwood

I come back to your point about medical students leaving. We now understand that issue a lot better, so we train a lot more medical students per head of population than the rest of the UK in our five medical schools. We have always been a net exporter of doctors; indeed, you will find Scottish medical students and doctors who trained in Scotland all over the world—

Is that a good thing when we cannot staff our own hospitals?

Dr Calderwood

I am about to talk about what we are doing to attract people. We know that the biggest factors in keeping doctors in Scotland are whether they trained at a Scottish medical school and where they went to high school, so we are doing a lot of work on encouraging medical students from all over Scotland, but particularly those from remote and rural areas, to stay here. They might leave in the early part of their career, but they will come back and establish roots around where they grew up.

If we pay to train doctors, should they be made to sign up to spend a certain amount of time working for the NHS in Scotland?

Dr Calderwood

That has been considered. One of the difficulties for Scotland is that, if that was not a condition in the rest of the UK, our Scottish medical schools might be less popular. That would have the knock-on effect of fewer people training and, therefore, staying here. Unfortunately, the UK marketplace for medical student places means that, if we were to do something different, we would be disadvantaged.

Angela Constance (Almond Valley) (SNP)

I will pick up from where Dr Calderwood left off. I am interested in practical examples of things that we are doing to get out of the locum loop, and to address some of the broader workforce issues. I am aware of the refugee doctors and dentists programme, whereby doctors and dentists can, for a modest investment, be helped to convert their home-country qualifications so that they can work in our NHS. I appreciate that immigration and asylum are not within the gift of the Scottish Parliament, but I am sure that we could be doing more in that area.

You touched on the widening access agenda; I would like you to say more about that. There are high schools up and down the country that have never had any kid go to medical school, so I would like to hear about the work that you are doing to get more working-class kids and young people from rural areas into medical schools.

Will you ask a question, please, Ms Constance?

I would also be grateful if you could say more about upskilling folk for roles such as advanced nurse practitioner. What are the barriers to the practical measures that you are taking? What opportunities exist?

Dr Calderwood

I will deal with widening participation first. We have a target for the number of places for medical students. We must widen access to other university courses, too, but we are specifically considering medical students at the moment. Each medical school must have 10 people per year coming from schools of the kind that Angela Constance mentioned, which might never have had a pupil go to university or medical school.

We also have the gateway to medicine course that started last year. Of the 25 young people who took the University of Glasgow’s gateway to medicine course, 21 are going on to medical school and four are doing paramedical science degrees, which represents a very high success rate among people who would not otherwise have got through the medical student exams. They do a year to prepare them to get into medicine. That has worked extremely well.

On widening participation more generally, the Medical Schools Council has a scheme in which people like me and colleagues from the NHS go into schools of the kind that Angela Constance mentioned to talk about careers in medicine and in the health service in general. I have been to several schools, and I will go to more in January.

The University of Edinburgh’s medical school has a new programme that will each year take in 30 medical students who have healthcare professional backgrounds. That programme will start in 2021, and will be expanded if it is successful. It will allow people to study part time, so that they will be able to continue to work as nurses, physiotherapists or whatever their current NHS job is. It will be an online course until the later years, when the students will need to be present for learning with patients. We hope that that will attract people who know what it is like to work in the NHS and who will stay there. It is likely that those students will be more mature students, who evidence suggests will not leave the country. Those are tangible practical measures.

The other part of Angela Constance’s question was about reliance on medical rotas. The traditional model has the medical consultant at the top, with registrars or doctors in training below them, and then another level of more junior doctors below them. We realised that, for many of those posts, other practitioners—advanced nurse practitioners, in particular—can do an extremely good job. There is supervision through the consultant being on call. We have changed our attitude in relation to the role being performed by a doctor.

The committee knows extremely well the difficulties in paediatrics, and psychiatry has also been touched on. There are real shortages in those specialties. We are looking at how to provide services differently. For example, at Dr Gray’s hospital in NHS Grampian, advanced nurse practitioners are on a shortened course—one year, rather than two—so that they can come into the service earlier.


Colin Beattie

I would like to explore a few issues around governance and leadership. There are a number of references in the report to the quality of board members and the lack of a consistent approach to achieving the appropriate levels of knowledge, skills and expertise. I believe that the Scottish Government is developing a range of initiatives in that regard. In the light of the Auditor General’s report, do you think that the initiatives are adequate to address those issues?

Paul Gray

We commissioned John Brown and Susan Walsh to review the governance issues in NHS Highland. They produced a report, which in turn produced a blueprint that is being applied to all NHS boards in Scotland, and is to be fully applied by the end of this financial year. In other words, all boards should be conforming with the blueprint by the beginning of the next financial year. I think that that will address some of the issues that the Auditor General raised.

We have strengthened our support for induction of board chair and members, and the cabinet secretary has made it clear to the chairs of the boards that she expects the findings and good practice from the exercise that was carried out in NHS Highland to be applied in all their boards. We will not simply take that for granted, but will follow up and assure ourselves about that.

I do not think that the blueprint that you referred to has been shared with the committee.

Paul Gray

I cannot say whether it has, but I can see no difficulty in our doing so.

Colin Beattie

Convener, it might be useful if we see a copy of that blueprint, in view of our concerns over governance in general.

You have used NHS Highland as an example. As a committee, we see only the things that go wrong, and not the things that go right. How do you transfer best practice from one board to another? Addressing problems is one thing, but adopting good practice from boards that are getting it right is equally valuable.

Paul Gray

That is part of the purpose of the blueprint. We took the view that it was not sufficient simply for NHS Highland to learn the lessons of the review by John Brown and Susan Walsh review; we thought that those lessons should be applied across Scotland.

Again, the cabinet secretary has raised directly with the chairs of the health boards the importance not only of understanding and sharing best practice, but of implementing, spreading and scaling it. I have discussed with the board chairs how they can do that through the work that they are doing on innovation. There are pockets of good practice, but we need to get better at ensuring that they are embedded everywhere.

That said, when issues arise, we try to learn from them. We also make sure that we use the board chair meetings to discuss things that boards are finding work well. For example, when NHS Lanarkshire went through a period of significant difficulty at the end of 2013, we put in a support team, and the findings of the support team were shared with all boards. Some governance support that we now give to boards that experience difficulties is drawn from the good practice that we have learned from previous incidents.

You say that you shared with the boards the lessons that were learned from NHS Lanarkshire’s difficulty in 2013. Clearly, some boards did not learn those lessons, because problems have come up subsequently.

Paul Gray

Among the things that we are committed to doing, and on which the cabinet secretary is leading, are improved sharing of best practice and ensuring, and assuring ourselves, that it is being embedded everywhere.

Colin Beattie

The blueprint is obviously something that the boards can use as a learning device, but the quality of NHS board members is variable, as the report mentions. Again, we see weaknesses only when things go wrong. Frequently—and not just in the NHS—weaknesses in boards have exacerbated problems. How will you deal with that? The blueprint will not, by itself, address that.

Paul Gray

No, it will not. On recruitment of board chairs, we have moved in the past year to a process of values-based recruitment, which is much more thorough and detailed. It involves not only a paper submission and an interview, but a battery of psychometric tests that are conducted by qualified people, and a role-playing exercise that is overseen by qualified people. From feedback on those elements, we get a much better picture of the skills and capacities of individuals who come forward. The Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland, who oversees the public appointments process, has been very supportive of the approach that we are now taking.

At this stage, that process is for board chairs—I want to make that clear to the committee—but I believe that elements of the process could be applied to board member recruitment. I am also clear that the quality of appraisal of board members needs to continue to improve, in the light of what we are seeing.

That said, I do not want to leave the committee with the impression that we do not have some very good board chairs and board members: we do, and I engage with them directly. The cabinet secretary engages directly with board chairs, as the committee knows.

Colin Beattie

In paragraph 69 of the report, the Auditor General talks about the need for more effective challenge by board members. That has consistently been a weakness that we have seen in boards in which things have gone wrong—at least, in the NHS. How will you address that for existing board members?

Paul Gray

One of the things that I have been clear about when recommending chairs to the cabinet secretary for appointment is that I take them through questioning on how they will move from a process of seeking reassurance—which is, in my view, insufficient—to a process of assurance that involves them testing the material that is put before them, while ensuring that boards are not swamped by paper but get the information that they need and have the time and skills to interrogate it.

When we recruit board members, we pay very close attention not only to their skills and capabilities, but to their fit and the mix in the boards. In other words, we make sure that we have people who are financially qualified and able to scrutinise the clinical governance arrangements that are in place. The approach is therefore not just to have a baseline to ensure that every board member is the same but, rather, to make sure that members fit and that the mix of the board is adequate for its needs.

Anas Sarwar

I want to return to workforce issues for a moment. I will follow up the convener’s questions to Shirley Rogers and Dr Calderwood. Shirley Rogers said that we have a published workforce plan for the first time. Why has it taken 10 years and the current workforce challenges for us to finally publish a workforce plan? Also, why do we have, rather than a comprehensive integrated plan, three separate plans based on the old model and not on the modern model that we want to project of the national health service and the social care service?

Shirley Rogers

I have worked in the NHS in Scotland for 23 years: workforce planning has been present for all that time. What is different now is that there are the elements to which Anas Sarwar referred. We are doing workforce planning with NHS partners and with others, and we are doing it in a manner that reflects the holistic nature of the NHS, rather than just secondary care in hospitals, just primary care outside hospitals, just doctors, just nurses or whatever.

As you know, the plan was published in three phases. The first phase dealt with secondary care and the integrated landscape, with colleagues from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and so on. In the second phase and latterly it has, because of the negotiations around the GMS contract and various other bits and pieces, dealt with primary care.

As the committee is aware, we intend to publish an integrated workforce plan; work continues so that we can do that in the spring. The work reflects the changing dynamic, which has not been the case and was not the case 10 or 15 years ago, when we planned speciality by speciality for doctors and, separately, for nurses and allied health professionals.

Was not the comprehensive plan meant to be published this year?

Shirley Rogers

We have published the three elements of the plan, as was committed to.

There are three separate plans, though, which are based on the old model.

Shirley Rogers

They are three separate plans that are based on the new methodology, which is another important aspect, because in order to be able to plan with multiple employers, we needed a shared methodology.

When will we have the new comprehensive plan based on the new model? When will we have a manageable vacancy rate in the national health service and social care service?

Shirley Rogers

The vacancy rate in the NHS and social care will always be challenging for us. We will continue always to have to ensure that we have sufficient staff. As you know, health and social care employs approximately 14 per cent of the working population of Scotland. With numbers on that scale, there will always be a challenge in making sure that we have sufficient staff, which is influenced by other factors including European Union withdrawal and other bits and pieces that we need to consider.

As the CMO pointed out in previous evidence, we are targeting the areas in which we know that we face specific challenges. Perhaps I can give the example of a challenge that is not medical. We know that we have a challenge with healthcare support—in particular, in respect of people who work in the care-home sector. For the past two or three years, we have been developing an education model that allows us to have people learning while they work.

Anas Sarwar

I will give you some medical examples. We have 3,500 nurse and midwife vacancies in the national health service, one in three GP practices reports a GP vacancy and one in three radiologist posts is vacant, as we heard from NHS Ayrshire and Arran and NHS Highland. Based on your comprehensive workforce plan, when will we sort out the radiologist and GP crises, and when will we get down to 1,000 nurse vacancies from 3,500?

Shirley Rogers

In radiology, some of the solution will be about recruitment—as you know, we have some targeted activity in that space—but some of it will be about finding different solutions to the challenges. For example, in the east of Scotland, radiology services are being developed using digital and technical platforms that allow X-ray films to be read, appropriately, by clinicians from every part of the region.

It is not simply about a number: I think that the Audit Scotland report says that this is not just about money and supply. It is about transformation and how we use technology better to support services that need to be provided and which are under pressure. An X-ray film can be read by competent people in a number of different locations. That allows us to make use of the technology that we need to use and it allows us to make good the supply issue.

However, can I say, specifically, that in five, 10 or 15 years we will never have a GP vacancy? No, I cannot—and you know that.

Anas Sarwar

No—I am not saying “never”. At the moment, the situation is not sustainable. Health boards tell us that it is not manageable. The vacancies are not managed, at the moment. At what point will we have a transformation plan for services, and a workforce plan that will fill the vacancies and give our health boards a manageable situation? You can surely give us a timeframe for that. Will it be a year, two years, five years or 10 years?

Shirley Rogers

It will be a case of incremental development. We now have a medium-term financial framework that allows boards to plan. We have a number of issues in relation to access that would allow us to increase our supply. We look at training ratios: for example, in areas in which we have shortages, we now train more than one for one. In paediatrics, we train 1.6 for one, which reflects the changing patterns of work that people want to enjoy. People do not necessarily all want to—

You must have an ambition date—a hope that you will have it done in two, five or 10 years.


To be fair, Mr Sarwar, I point out that we have asked Ms
Rogers that question a few times now and she has given an answer.

Liam Kerr

The workforce issues are hugely concerning, but all those people need to work somewhere. The report also discusses the capital investment that is required in the estate and talks about a backlog of £900 million-worth of maintenance, 45 per cent of which is urgent, significant or high risk. What is the Scottish Government’s response to that? Given the financial challenges that we have been looking at, how on earth is the NHS supposed to cover that?

Christine McLaughlin (Scottish Government)

You are right that the level of backlog maintenance has stayed relatively static for the past few years. That is one of the factors that we look at in capital planning but, as well as ensuring that the buildings are safe and usable, one of the most significant answers on backlog maintenance is to look at our programme for the replacement of facilities as part of service redesign. The answer on backlog maintenance is not to spend the sum of £900 million to bring those facilities up to the level that we would want; in some cases, the answer will be additional facilities. Our longer-term capital investment strategy is to look at the priorities across the country. We have a national infrastructure board that ensures that we prioritise across the whole of Scotland and do not focus on only parts of the country.

We have said in response to the report that we are now developing a capital investment strategy that will look to the longer term. We need to be able to look 10 or 20 years in advance when we think about our infrastructure. As members know, a typical new hospital build will take around seven years from the first strategic case that the board makes through to its being in use. Therefore, it is important to look further ahead.

Our annual investment from capital is split between essential maintenance across the service and investment in new facilities. We have recently seen the opening of the new Dumfries and Galloway royal infirmary, which is a good example of our answer on backlog maintenance.

Liam Kerr

I hear that answer, but paragraph 33 of the report says:

“As the way healthcare is delivered changes, the existing NHS estate will need to adapt to reflect this. The Scottish Government has not planned what investment will be needed.”

You talked about a capital investment strategy, but the report seems to suggest that there is no such strategy and that the planning is not being done. Has the Scottish Government really not planned what investment will be needed? In any event, how can the NHS continue to deliver services in the future without the buildings and infrastructure to do so?

Christine McLaughlin

I agree that that will be one of the most significant areas for us to focus on over the next few years.

Has it not been focused on already?

Christine McLaughlin

We should look at the number of new facilities that have been opened over the past few years, going back to the Queen Elizabeth university hospital. There was an £842 million investment in that facility. It is not the case that we are not investing, but we always need to look ahead in making use of the funds and prioritising correctly. The work that we are now doing builds on things such as the regional plans to ensure that we are looking at the right facilities across the whole country. As Shirley Rogers said about the workforce, it is not that things do not exist, but it is really important to look at the short term, the medium term and the long term. The strategy is about the very long-term approach.

Let me be clear. The report says:

“The Scottish Government has not planned what investment will be needed.”

Is that a fair statement? Is that the case?

Christine McLaughlin

No—we have not not planned. We are doing work to ensure that the regional plans for the next 20 years are in place, but the strategy that we are now developing is new. I do not have a strategy just now that I can say is the one that we have—we are developing something for the future.

When will it be developed?

Christine McLaughlin

We are doing the work just now, and we have said that we will publish something by the end of this financial year that sets out our approach.

So there will be something that we can have a look at by April, I presume.

Christine McLaughlin

That is what we are working to.

Splendid. Thank you.

Have you done any modelling of the impact of Brexit on the workforce?

Paul Gray

Yes, we have.

What is the message that you are picking up from that?

Paul Gray

Shirley Rogers is leading on that, and she and the CMO can tell you more about it. We have done quite significant work on that.

Shirley Rogers

I am sure that everyone around the table will understand that the model that is emerging for Brexit is changing fairly frequently and at pace. A number of concerns emerged around particular elements, such as the mutual recognition of qualifications, and we needed to consider whether arrangements would be in place to enable us to continue to deploy people who trained in the EU27 nations. We now have a position in respect of that.

We are currently operating the advance pilot of the settled status scheme to enable members of our NHS and health and social care staff who are from the EU27 countries to apply for settled status, and we understand that people are starting to do that. We accept that there are some messaging issues and other concerns have been raised with us around circumstances that we may or may not find ourselves in, depending on the nature of the deal under which we withdraw from the EU, but we hope that those issues are largely in a manageable form.

The bigger issue for us at the moment is the concern around the supply of people choosing to study, live and work in the United Kingdom after Brexit. The chief medical officer has already identified that the strongest factor in someone’s choice about where to practise medicine is where they went to medical school—we know that there is a huge and positive correlation between where someone went to medical school and where they practise later. However, we are starting to see some of those expressions of interest in places dip a wee bit. Committee members will be aware that the number of applications from the EU27 nations to join the Nursing and Midwifery Council has significantly declined—the number has gone from approximately 8,000 to fewer than 100 in the past year. Those supply issues are encouraging us to work hard to grow our own, as it were.

Some of the issues that Catherine Calderwood talked about in relation to medicine have been replicated, with extra effort, around schools of nursing and, in particular, around healthcare support workers, as we know that the proportion of EU nationals is higher in that area than in others. We are working closely with colleagues in local government and in other sectors to try to ensure that we have a supply pipeline in that respect. We are making a concerted effort to address the supply pipeline and to ensure that we can retain the EU citizens who work in our system, by assuring them that they are very much wanted in that space and ensuring that the messaging around that is positive.

What do you think will be the likely impact on NHS staffing and recruitment of the £30,000 salary limit that was announced yesterday in the new immigration policy?

Shirley Rogers

We know that the cut-off point of £30,000 will impact on some of our nursing grades and on some of our junior doctors. However, the biggest proportionate hit will be on the healthcare support worker area. That is a challenge to us. Low pay does not necessarily indicate low skill, of course. Healthcare support workers might not be paid very much, but the skills and abilities that they bring are critical to how we run our social care programmes.

Willie Coffey

When I sat on the committee a number of years ago, Robert Black, who was Caroline Gardner’s predecessor, warned us about the days facing the NHS and how difficult it would be to sustain and deliver the service as it was. More boards are reporting overspends, the numbers are increasing and the sizes of the overspends are increasing, despite record funding for the NHS. Another £730 million is going in next year. Where are we with the transformation strategy that we are pinning our hopes on? How consistent is that across Scotland? When will we begin to see some of those overspend numbers coming down because of the benefits of the transformation strategy?

Paul Gray

I will bring in other colleagues, but I first want to draw out three things.

First, the ministerial steering group has commissioned a review of health and social care integration. Sally Loudon and I co-chair the group that will report to the ministerial steering group on that in January 2019. A key impetus behind that is to accelerate the pace of change through health and social care integration and—to pick up on the points that Mr Beattie and others have made—to share and implement best practice.

Secondly, it would be useful if the chief medical officer for Scotland said a little about the work that she is taking forward through the realistic medicine programme, because that involves genuine and sustainable change that will make a difference to the way in which we engage with patients and the way in which diagnosis and treatment are done. Shirley Rogers may be able to say a little more about the fact that we are seeing a reduction in the rate of prescribing through the work that we are doing with pharmacists and patients to ensure that there is appropriate prescribing and to avoid polypharmacy—that is to say, giving people too many medicines. We can cover those points if the committee would like us to.

Dr Calderwood, what is your take on transformation? Is it going far enough and fast enough?

Dr Calderwood

The realistic medicine that we are promoting has started in Scotland and is now all over the world. We talk to people about what they actually want from their medicine. The fact that we can prescribe something does not mean that it will be the right thing for somebody. One person may want to run a marathon and someone else may just want to be able to walk their dog in their garden. Shared decision making allows us to take a personalised approach to people’s care, which we have probably not refined as well as we should have done. Within that, we need to talk about value-based healthcare, which means value for the person and also value for the public purse.

We believe that we are the first country in the world to do this. We have a training programme that matches clinicians and people from the finance department of their health board to learn together about value improvement training. It sounds naive when I say out loud that doctors are not given an understanding of the finances in their training, but we know that people in finance are working on a different column of numbers, so we have brought them together in an initiative that will spread. We will have trained 200 people in this first year, and we have funding to continue that training. As you can imagine, the small number of people in the boards who are trained will then train others.

We are also working on exposing where there is variation in practice, which can lead to variation in outcomes. At the moment, our rate of primary hip replacements varies by a factor of fourfold across Scotland and primary knee replacements vary by a factor of sevenfold across Scotland, but the patients do not vary by those factors, so it may be that some people are having procedures that they do not need or people in other areas are not having what they should have.

We have published three maps showing variations in Scotland, and we plan to publish another 10 by the end of the financial year. I am not going to tell orthopaedic surgeons how many knee replacements they should be doing but, by asking the questions, we are exposing why practice across what is a small country should be so different. We are looking at rates of childhood obesity, and the clinical communities, doctors and healthcare professionals are really welcoming that, because they want to have those conversations. They often talk to me about feeling that they do not have permission to talk to people in that way.


I will be brief, but I must mention the first-ever citizens jury in Scotland, which has just finished. We invited people over the age of 16 to come together over three weekends to talk about some of the difficult questions that we are considering. We were a victim of our own success in that. We calculated the number of people to invite based on the numbers who vote and how many people turn up for ordinary juries, but we were oversubscribed by 50 per cent and we had to turn away people who wanted to take part. I have seen a draft of the recommendations that the people of Scotland have come up with, and they are really supportive on those difficult questions about value, values and improving how we deliver healthcare. The process will not be quick, but we have started the conversation.

Bill Bowman

I want to go back to the cost of locums. One of the issues when we discuss that is that, although we speak about agencies, I am not sure that I or others know very much about those agencies. Who are they? Are they regulated? Do you approve them? How do you manage your buying power so that the boards here and those in the rest of the UK do not have a bidding war and push up the costs for the same people, which would be to nobody’s benefit?

Paul Gray

I will bring in Shirley Rogers on that in a second, but it is probably worth saying that medical agency spend in NHS boards fell by 5 per cent between 2016-17 and 2017-18, and locum spend fell by 10 per cent between those years. I make that point because, although there are high costs that the committee has rightly drawn attention to, we are working hard to bear down on those and not let them run away from us.

The use of locums is important. I do not want to reopen the point about Highland, but the two locums in question were at the Belford hospital and the Caithness hospital in Wick. Those are not large hospitals that can flex their workforce particularly easily. The situation might be different for a big hospital. As the CMO said, the local community would have had to travel substantial distances had those services not been available, particularly given the types of skills involved. There was also a possible impact on emergency surgery.

Shirley Rogers might say something about the way in which medical agency staffing is operated.

Please be as brief as you can, Ms Rogers.

Shirley Rogers

There is no reason for us to be concerned about the quality of the people who come to us from the agencies. They are run through commercial organisations and they contract with boards. There is a national contract that is used and that is regulated—

Is there one agency, or are there two or five?

Shirley Rogers

There are a number of agencies.

Roughly how many are there?

Shirley Rogers

In regular usage, there are probably four to six, so there are not thousands. There is a distinction between that and the bank, which is the NHS’s own staff. Nothing suggests to me that there are concerns about the quality of what we get, although clearly we all have the ambition of having full establishments and using our bank where possible. The point that I would make, perhaps more bluntly than the director general did, is that we utilise the agencies in order to preserve safety for patients.

Bill Bowman

My point was really about how you manage the relationship so that you are in control. I suppose that you are a large purchaser, so I would think that you have some sway over the agencies and the setting of rates.

Shirley Rogers

There is a national prototype contract that is supplied from NHS National Services Scotland to boards for their use. The boards are not required to adhere to it absolutely, but they can draw on it if they wish.

Forgive me, but I am still not completely sure that I follow the issue about locums. Why would a doctor take an NHS contract if they can make £400,000 going through an agency to work in NHS Highland?

Paul Gray

They might want security of tenure, they could have certain views about their values or they might have a desire to work in one place and have certainty in that respect, or want the ability to settle their family in a particular place because they have certainty about the length of their employment. There are many reasons why people—not just in medicine, but in many professions—might choose locum or agency employment or fixed, substantive employment with an employer.

The Convener

We know that many people do that, but the locum and agency option is open and working—indeed, it is thriving—in Scotland. Does the power not rest with the Scottish Government to close down that option and save the taxpayer a lot of money while providing the same service?

Paul Gray

That power does rest with us. We could close every contract and cease to employ locums tomorrow, but I would not like to estimate the number of people who might die as a result. I think that that would be a very dangerous thing to do.

I whole-heartedly accept your point about the expense of some of this and the importance of bearing down on it, and I have tried to give the committee some evidence of how we are seeking to do that. However, as Ms Rogers has said—and I am sure that the CMO will support me in this—there are significant patient safety issues at stake here. What if people were taken out of the Belford hospital? It is not a big hospital. What if people were taken out of Wick? The good folk of Wick would not want to have to travel—

The Convener

With respect, Mr Gray, I have already made it clear that I am not suggesting that the doctors be taken out. I am suggesting that NHS Scotland, as the main employer of doctors in Scotland, manages its workforce and ensures that hospitals have the doctors that they need. Clearly, these doctors exist, but the option is open to them to go through an agency instead of being on an NHS contract.

Paul Gray

That might be a lifestyle choice or a choice related to the point that they are at in their career—

But you have left that choice open to them.

Paul Gray

Indeed we have, and I believe that we should continue to do so. I am happy to say that unequivocally to the committee.

The Convener

Turning to the Auditor General’s report, I note that in paragraph 62, which looks at leadership, she sets out at least six bullet-pointed examples of what is happening at the top of boards, with struggles to recruit chief executives and directors of finance, the establishment of various interim positions and high turnover of non-executive board members. Do we have enough people to run our health boards?

Paul Gray

We have a chief executive in place in every health board—

Some of them are interim positions. Is that not correct?

Paul Gray

The chief executive of NHS Grampian is an interim position. Because Professor Logan is leaving at the end of the year, we took what I think was the right decision to appoint a new chair and allow them to oversee the substantive recruitment of the chief executive. We have also recruited to the state hospital. Either Shirley Rogers or I can give you a list of places—

The Convener

The Auditor General has helpfully done that for us. My policy question is: how do we get people in place who will run our services for the long term? What paragraph 62 shows is quite a hotch-potch of interim positions, struggles to recruit people and so on.

Paul Gray

I am reading that paragraph, and what I am telling the committee is that we now have a substantive appointment in NHS Orkney, we have—and have had for some time now—a substantive appointment in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, and we have a substantive appointment to the Golden Jubilee national hospital. At the time when the Auditor General wrote the report, what she said was entirely factually accurate. However, we have moved on since then.

Do members have any more questions for our witnesses?

Anas Sarwar

I have some questions for Mr Gray. First, Mr Gray, I want to thank you for your work over the past two and a half years. We have had our fair share of friendly arguments and discussions, but you have been very open and I wish you all the very best for the future.

I want to take advantage of your appearance here and ask you a couple of questions. You might be less on the leash with regard to responding to some of these issues but, being the consummate civil servant, you might well bat them off.

Perhaps I should say, Mr Sarwar, that I expect Mr Gray to come before the committee again before he escapes from the Scottish Government.

Anas Sarwar

I look forward to that appearance. I have a couple of questions related to what we have discussed today. The convener talked about the number of people in our health boards, and I note that, with regard to the vacancy rate, the national health service is short by more than 5,000 people—3,500 nurses, 900 GPs and so on. Should we just be honest with the public? Should we tell them that we are not going to find 5,000 people and that, as a result, we are going to have to change the model of care with a real programme of reform coming from and led by the Government? Would you advocate and support such a move?

Paul Gray

A significant investment in primary care has been announced and we should allow that £250 million over five years to take its course. There has also been an announcement about an additional 800 mental health workers and we should allow that to take its course, too.

The fact is that there is an international shortage of radiologists. There is nothing that we can do to prevent an international shortage but, as Ms Rogers said, we do not absolutely need to have everything done by radiologists. They are highly skilled individuals, but there are opportunities for others to participate and technology can make a difference, too.

Overall staffing levels are up. I can give you the detailed numbers, but I point out that, in the most recent quarter, there has been a reduction in the vacancy rates for consultants, nursing and midwifery and AHPs. Those rates are coming down.

I do not mean to be flippant—this is a genuine point—but the 140,000 whole-time-equivalent staff who work in the NHS did not come from nowhere. They came from the workforce planning that we have done. As Ms Rogers said, we have substantially enhanced that.

Anas Sarwar

I accept that, but I actually asked a different question. I accept everything that you have said about the recruitment challenges and what you have done to counter them, but my point is a much broader one. Do we need to accept that we are not going to magic up 5,000 people, that there needs to be a radical transformation of how we deliver services in Scotland and that leadership needs to come from the Scottish Government with regard to putting in place radical reforms and a new model of care that takes this Parliament and, more important, the public and the people who work in our national health service with it? Does that need to happen?

Paul Gray

Nobody is disputing the need for radical change in any way whatever. However—and I am not making a point about particular terms of office or sessions of Parliament—the changes that have been made and the developments over the past few years have been substantial. For example, people are now being cared for at home who would not have been 10 years ago, and they are being treated in different ways. If you go to the Golden Jubilee national hospital, you will see the supported discussions that people have with a nurse at one end and a doctor at the other to ensure that they are cared for and treated appropriately and they do not have to come back from, say, Orkney after they have had surgery.

We are making significant advances. I expect the future to be very different from today, in the same way that today is very different from 10 years ago.

The Convener

As members have no further questions, I thank the panel very much indeed for their evidence, and I close the public part of the meeting.

10:58 Meeting continued in private until 11:13.