A LEADING academic who authored a 20-year plan for the NHS in Scotland in 2005 said progress has not come "far enough".

Writing in the Herald today David Kerr, a professor of cancer medicine at Oxford University who produced the 60-page National Framework for Service Change for the then-Scottish Executive government, said the widening gap in avoidable death rates between the rich and poor needed to be tackled "with a greater sense of urgency".

Prof Kerr, whose report in 2005 recommended a model of increased regional planning for hospital-based services with a few centres of excellence providing highly specialised treatment such as heart by-pass surgery and neurosurgery, said this had not been fully realised.

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He said: "The envisaged Networks in which we hoped to see a greater degree of site specialisation and a better access to complex care have not come fully to fruition.

"I felt at the time that Scotland had done some great work in terms of delivering integrated care through telemedicine to more remote communities and would have hoped that more progress would have been made with a greater degree of governmental support."

Prof Kerr said there had been improvements in outcomes for chronic diseases, but noted that progress in reducing avoidable mortality has plateaued since 2014, from 303.8 avoidable deaths per 100,000 people to 307.8 per 100,000 in 2019.

He said: "In 2019, nearly a third of all deaths – 27% - were considered avoidable. And, within Scotland, the gap between the health of the richest and the poorest is widening.

"The 10% most deprived Scots are nearly five times as likely to die from an avoidable death as someone in the top 10%. This is up from 3.5 times more likely compared to 2001.

"When the gap between the rich and the poor is widening, we must act with a greater degree of urgency."

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Prof Kerr said there is also scope to make more use of technology in healthcare to ease pressure on primary care and hospitals.

He said: "The new wearables under development, track specific health trends, and relay them to the cloud where physicians can monitor them.

"Patients suffering from asthma or blood pressure could benefit from it, or monitors for blood oxygen levels to monitor Covid patients at home with alerts to signal when further treatment might be needed, all of which confer more independence and reduce unnecessary visits to the doctor."

Prof Kerr said he would be working with former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Our Scottish Future think-tank to make further recommendations on how deeper cooperation across the UK "can support the delivery of better healthcare for all citizens".

"This isn’t a constitutional dividing line," he said. "It’s about finding practical ways to get the best out of our health care system, be it in the supply of medicine, the application of technology, or the fight against a pandemic."

The Scottish Government has committed to increase frontline NHS spending by at least 20% and, in the first 100 days of the new parliament, to "deliver a pay-rise for NHS staff, open the first three fast-track cancer diagnosis centres, and publish an NHS Recovery Plan".