NURSES have voiced concerns over the lack of progress in levelling out health inequalities in Scotland as they prepare to debate public health funding at their annual congress in Glasgow.

A survey of more than 10,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), including 1000 in Scotland, found that nurses continue to encounter high numbers of patients whose health is impacted by poverty, poor housing, drugs and social isolation.

Four in ten nurses (41 per cent) said malnutrition, food poverty and inadequate or unsafe housing was impacting on patients' health, while two thirds had dealt with patients made ill by drug abuse or social isolation.

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Lack of household heating was also highlighted as a problem for patients by more than one in five nurses.

RCN Scotland director, Theresa Fyffe, said: “Preventable lifestyle causes such as smoking, obesity, alcohol, drugs and other substance abuse continue to blight many people’s life chances in Scotland.

"People’s health is inextricably linked to the circumstances in which they live, and inequalities in health are widening. It’s completely unacceptable that, in Scotland in the 21st century, people still live in sub-standard, cold homes and in food poverty. Malnutrition should have no place in a civilised society. If we don’t tackle all these issues, we won’t tackle our deep-rooted health inequalities in Scotland.”

Ms Fyffe added that the move to integrating health and social care services through new Joint Integration Boards was a "step in the right direction", but said the financial pressures facing NHS health boards and local authority budgets made it "difficult to see where the money to invest in preventative measures will come from".

Public Health Minister, Aileen Campbell, said Scotland's health budget was a record £13 billion, with £250m funding health and social care reforms.

She added: “Scotland has tackled its health problems in innovative ways, including introducing the UK’s first public spaces smoking ban, legislation to reduce harmful drinking through minimum unit pricing, and an ambitious physical activity programme to create a lasting legacy from the Commonwealth Games.

“However it is a fact that deeply ingrained health inequalities continue to persist and the Royal College of Nursing are right to raise this important issue."

Meanwhile, a BMA survey of Scotland’s GP practices has highlighted the deepening scale of the recruitment problem facing general practice in Scotland, with more than one in four practices reporting at least one vacancy.

The survey of Scotland’s GP practices found that on June 1 this year 28.5 per cent of practices had at least one GP vacancy, up from 26 per cent in March this year.

Dr Alan McDevitt, chair of the BMA Scottish GP Committee, said the findings were "extremely concerning".

He said: "It shows that the recruitment and retention problems in general practice that we have been warning of are continuing to get worse.

“The Scottish Government can no longer talk about record numbers of GPs in Scotland. The vacancy rate shows that there are simply not enough doctors to meet the demands being put upon general practice."

Health Secretary Shona Robison said Scotland still has the highest number of GPs per patient in the UK and that £20m would be spent in the next year to "ease some of the immediate challenges" facing GPs.

She added: "We have pledged to increase the number of GPs working in our NHS. Last year we confirmed an extra 100 GP training places to encourage more medical students into the profession, and an increase in our support for return to practice schemes that bring experienced GPs back into the health service."