SCOTLAND'S health and social care sector is to receive extra funding of more than £300 million as ministers expect the NHS to face its biggest ever challenge in the coming months.

Humza Yousaf announced the unprecedented additional financial investment in a statement to Holyrood this afternoon after several weeks of warnings over the acute pressures on the service.

Medical and nursing staff face catching up on a backlog of patients' operations and treatments that were paused during earlier stages of the pandemic, while at the same time continuing to treat high numbers of people admitted to hospital with Covid. In addition, like other workplaces, many NHS staff are also off work due to the virus.

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"Our NHS is under more pressure than it has been at any point in the pandemic and quite frankly is likely to get worse, that is why I have decided our NHS will remain on an emergency footing until at least 31st March next year," he told parliament.

"Our social care services are also dealing with the same level of pressure and demand is extremely high. It is for this reason I am announcing the most significant package of measures and investment since the advent of devolution to assist our NHS and social care services with winter pressures.

"The total package of measures I will be announcing today comes to over £300m additional investment."

He added: "This winter is likely to be the most challenging we have ever faced ... I hope many of the actions I have outlined today will have a positive impact over the coming weeks."

Yousaf said the funding will support a range of measures to maximise capacity in hospitals, reduce delayed discharges, improve pay for social care staff, and ensure those in the community who need support receive effective and responsive care.

The package of additional funding includes:
• Recruiting 1000 additional NHS staff to support multi-disciplinary working
• £40m for "step-down" care to enable hospital patients to temporarily enter care homes, or receive additional care at home support, with no financial liability to the individual or their family towards the cost of the care home
• More than £60m to maximise the capacity of care at home services
• Up to £48m will be made available to increase the hourly rate of social care staff to match new NHS band 2 staff
• £20m to enhance multi-disciplinary teams, enable more social work assessments to be carried out and support joint working between health and social care
• £28m of additional funding to support primary care
• £4.5m available to Health Boards to attract at least 200 registered nurses from outwith Scotland by March 2022
• £4m to help staff with their practical and emotional needs, including pastoral care and other measures to aid rest and recuperation

Yousaf added: “As the winter period approaches, it is vital that we do all we can to maximise the capacity of the NHS and social care system. That’s why I’m setting out our £300m NHS and Care Winter Package today. We cannot look at the NHS in isolation we must take a whole systems approach and these measures will help alleviate pressure across the NHS and social care.

“This significant new investment will help get people the care they need as quickly as possible this winter. Bolstering the caring workforce by increasing their numbers, providing them with additional support, and increasing the wages of social care staff.

“We’ve previously provided funding to ensure that adult social care staff are paid at least the real living wage. Today we’re going further and our new investment will ensure that adult social care staff who are currently paid the real living wage will get a pay rise of over 5%.

“Measures I have announced today will help patients whose discharge has been delayed waiting for care and help get them out of hospital and on to the next stage in their care. This helps the individual by getting them the right care, and helps the wider system by ensuring the hospital capacity is being used by those who need that specialist level of clinical care."

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Scottish Greens health spokeswoman Gillian Mackay welcomed the extra funding and the pay rise for social care workers.

“The Scottish Greens cooperation deal with the Scottish Government included fair work progress for the social care workforce as a priority, so I am pleased to see swift action to ensure they get more than the living wage," she said.

“We’ve championed higher pay in the sector because these workers have been the front line of the pandemic and deserved to be valued. 

"Today’s announcement is an important first step towards giving care work parity with those who work in the NHS and provides a new baseline for future pay negotiations.

“The additional measures to recruit more staff into the NHS will also be an important part of easing the enormous pressure on existing staff, to support multi-disciplinary working and to address backlogs.”

 Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie described the measures as a "sticking plaster" said not enough was being done.

“While some of the Health Secretary’s statement is to be welcomed, the measures are frankly a sticking plaster for an NHS in crisis," she said.

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“We have A&E services in disarray and over 96,000 people stuck waiting for hospital procedures as cancelled operations soar.  

“We need action now to get services back on track, not more promises of jam tomorrow. 

“And the planned raise in pay for social care staff is simply insufficient. As long as working on the checkout at a supermarket pays more than working as a carer, we will continue to have a staffing crisis. That’s why we need a £15 an hour for Scotland’s social carers.” 

RCN Scotland Director Colin Poolman said: “The Cabinet Secretary is correct to warn that this winter is likely to be one of the most challenging our health and care services have faced.

“Our members across health and social care are under significant pressure trying to maintain services while being conscious that the number of people needing treatment is growing each day. 

“Some of the measures announced by the Cabinet Secretary will be welcomed by our members. Further support for staff wellbeing is absolutely necessary as are measures to support community services and reduce delayed discharge.

“The Royal College of Nursing has long argued that the pay, terms and condition for nursing staff working in adult social care should be the same as their NHS colleagues.  The pay uplift is a start in addressing this issue. The Scottish government should go further and ensure that all nursing staff working across health and social care are paid at a level that recognises their skill, expertise and their safety critical role.  

“The Scottish government’s response to record nursing vacancies and the workforce crisis faced by the NHS is disappointing. With nearly 5,000 nursing and midwifery posts unfilled across Scotland and a significant number of staff on work related absence, two hundred additional nurses from overseas will not solve the problem.

"Much more needs be done to encourage our experienced nursing staff to stay and to ensure there is a robust plan to increase the future workforce to a sustainable level. To address this challenge the Scottish government must fully implement safe staffing legislation and fund a fair pay rise for nursing staff.”