SNP ministers have published their £1billion plan to address the NHS backlog created by the Covid pandemic while admitting they don’t know the true scale of the problem.

Nicola Sturgeon and Health Secretary Humza Yousaf unveiled the NHS Recovery Plan with a promise to increase health service capacity by at least 10 per cent over the next five years.

The First Minister said she wanted the service to be "stronger than ever before". 

Opposition parties said the 28-page plan was an "embarrassingly flimsy" package of rehashed policies and PR spin.

The plan includes reforms across doctor dentist and hospital services to address the backlog “as quickly as possible” as well as improve care across the NHS.

A key element willl be restoring face-to-face GP consultations as soon as as safely as possible.

However the long-awaited document admits the extent of the Covid-related backlog is unknown, meaning the timetable to clear is also unknown.

It states: “One aspect that cannot yet be fully quantified is the true backlog in care that will emerge following the pandemic, as we know there will be a number of people who will not yet have presented with conditions requiring treatment. 

“As a result we will continue to work to identify ways of adding additional activity, through new facilities or through improvements to existing ways of working. 

“We will include the results of this work in the annual updates to this plan.”

Ms Sturgeon and Mr Yousaf launched the plan during a visit to the new national Centre for Sustainable Delivery (CfSD) at the Golden Jubilee National Hospital in Clydebank which will play a key role in supporting improvements in outpatient and inpatient capacity as well as diagnostics.

The First Minister said: “This Plan will drive the recovery of our NHS, not just to its pre-pandemic level but beyond.

“As we maintain our resilience against COVID-19 and other pressures, the Scottish Government is providing targeted investment to increase capacity, reform the system and ultimately get everyone the treatment they need as quickly as possible.

“Tackling the backlog of care is essential and will be a priority. But we want to go further than that and deliver an NHS that is innovative, sustainable and stronger than ever before.”

A priority in the plan is for the return of face-to-face appointments with GPs “as quickly and as safely as possible” – with family doctors having switched to virtual and telephone consultations as a result of coronavirus.

Prior to Covid, Scotland’s hospitals had cared for approximately 270,000 inpatients and people needing day case procedures each year, as well as some 1.4 million outpatient appointments.

The recovery plan aims to increase NHS capacity “substantially” beyond these levels.

The Scottish Government is pledging to invest more than £400 million in national treatment centres, which it says could mean an additional 40,000 more planned operations and procedures to take place each year.

Spending in primary care is to be increased by 25%, with support for GPs, community pharmacists, dentists and optometrists.

To reduce waiting for diagnostic tests, £29m will be invested, with ministers saying this should allow 78,000 more procedures to be carried out this year alone, with this rising to 90,000 more tests each year from 2025/26.

Plans are also being put in place to recruit thousands more staff, with £11m being spent on national and international campaigns aimed at taking on 1,500 staff for national treatment centres, as well as 1,000 mental health link workers in the community and 800 additional GPs.

And to help staff, £8m has been set aside to support the mental health and wellbeing of health and care workers.

The Scottish Government is also proposing a £23m transformation of urgent care, saying it wants people to have rapid access to senior medics via telephone or video consultation where possible, claiming this should help reduce the pressure on accident and emergency services.

Ministers have set aside £130m to deliver on plans to increase the number of cancer cases that are detected early and improve treatment for those with the disease.

With growing awareness of the importance of mental health, the government pledged at least 10% of frontline health spending will be used in this area, with plans to recruit 320 additional Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) workers.

Tory MSP Annie Wells said: “If this flimsy pamphlet is the best that Humza Yousaf can come up with, Scotland’s NHS is in real trouble.

“This delayed plan is mostly a lift from their manifesto and a regurgitation of undelivered promises from failed SNP health ministers of old.

“It’s embarrassingly thin – made for PR purposes, not for our NHS.

“The SNP have shamefully walked back a key election pledge. They’ve tried to quietly abandon a commitment to remobilise the NHS.

“There is not a single mention of Long Covid. There’s no new funding for A&E, despite waiting times hitting their worst level in six years, and nothing new to tackle alcohol and drug deaths, which have both hit record highs.

“The few good points are obscured by the litany of recycled pledges and oversights. The lack of leadership from Humza Yousaf is apparent.

“The health secretary got caught spinning misleading statistics already this summer and now he’s rewriting history, claiming that waiting times were under control before Covid when the facts tell a different story.

“This is what happens when the SNP prioritise a nationalist coalition with the Greens over an NHS recovery plan.”

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Ballie said the plan was "as underwhelming as it is overdue".

She said: "Frankly, this plan does not even begin to chart a path to the full re-mobilisation of our NHS. And targets promised before the election have disappeared from the plan.

“Most disappointing of all is that the SNP has entirely failed to comprehend the size of the NHS backlog.

“In this plan the majority of the new National Treatment Centres will not be opened until the second half of the parliament. This is simply not good enough.

“Our NHS is facing a real crisis due to the SNP’s catastrophic failure to re-mobilise our NHS.

“Services are being cut, A&E is in crisis, and hospitals are at breaking point.

“What frontline NHS workers and the people of Scotland need is urgent action from the SNP, not PR stunts and half-baked plans.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton added: “With A&E departments more stretched than ever and more than 200,000 operations lost to the pandemic, patients and NHS staff deserved more than wafer thin commitments and re-packaged promises.

"The government is chancing on money, redesign and technology to dig them out of a hole.

“This is clear in the plan’s focus on supressing demand and shifting patients online.

"Doctors have told us that isn’t without its risks. Patients shouldn’t be discouraged from treatment.

“GPs are being asked to do more but with the same increase in capacity that was planned pre-pandemic. It doesn’t add up. This plan doesn’t even know whether a key recruitment target is 2026 or 2028 – it can’t be both.

“Earlier this year Scottish Liberal Democrats won the biggest investment in mental health since devolution. We will hold the Scottish Government to this latest in a long line of commitments to end the terrible waits for mental health treatment.

"The route must not involve parking children and young people on lesser interventions. They deserve the best care possible.”

Andy Glyde, of Cancer Research UK, said: “The pandemic has had a devastating impact on patient care and this additional investment will be important as services recover.

“Funding to reduce the time patients are waiting for diagnosis and treatment is positive, as is the commitment to tackling staff shortages.

“Training enough health professionals will be essential to ensure cancer services are fit for the future.

“What’s important now is the detail of how this recovery plan will be delivered. Improving cancer survival must be a priority for everyone.”