Leaders: The SNP must nurse the NHS

Picture: Greg Macvean

Picture: Greg Macvean

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The SNP has yet to prove it can make the health service fully fit for purpose

We are all entitled to have faith in the National Health Service. We are all entitled to believe it will be there when we need it.

Politicians would have us believe that’s the case. The government points to small progress towards unachievable waiting time targets as evidence that all is well in the Scottish NHS.

But the truth is that there are huge gaps in the service.

Beyond the repeated failure of health boards to achieve standards set by politicians with an eye on the ballot box, there have been concerns about hygiene standards in some hospitals, and about staffing levels too.

Now it emerges that the equivalent of 100 full days of out-of-hours GP sessions were not covered in the past three months. Figures obtained by the Labour Party paint a picture of a service under intolerable pressure, unable to deliver the promises made on its behalf by the Scottish ­Government.

NHS staff cannot be expected to work miracles; ever-dwindling resources mean they are already stretched. Responsibility for the NHS’s failure to provide these out-of-hours GP sessions must lie with the Scottish Government – government, which, it must be pointed out, has under-spent its budget by several hundred million pounds in recent years, even as concerns about NHS funding were raised.

Politicians of all parties are locked in a battle to be seen as the trustworthy guardians of the NHS. The SNP has fought vigorously to win that honour in Scotland. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon deserves credit for that achievement. She was regarded as a decent health secretary and certainly had all the right rhetoric when it came to the NHS.

During the independence referendum campaign, the NHS became a central issue when the Yes campaign suggested a No vote would usher in a new era of privatisation in the service. Sturgeon urged Scots to vote Yes to save the NHS.

As the Labour Party once did, now the SNP makes promises to and on behalf of the NHS. It promises more staff and quicker treatment. But it does not appear to have consulted those working in the NHS in order to ascertain whether that which is pledged is deliverable.

Scotland’s NHS underwent reform under the Labour-Liberal Democrat executive at Holyrood. The Kerr report, which recommended specialist units and new health centres to replace crumbling accident and emergency units, led to quite radical change in the service.

But those reforms took place almost a decade ago. The Scottish Government appears to favour the managerial over the radical when it comes to running the NHS. Surely now is the time for a real overhaul of the health service?

Political parties must stop their thoughtless tit-for-tat pledges on waiting times and instead take a considered and honest look at the state of our NHS, what we expect of it and what can be done to ensure it delivers on those expectations.

All parties represented at Holyrood have expressed their commitment to the NHS. It should, then, be possible for mature debate to take place in the Scottish Parliament.

The SNP has persuaded Scots that it can preserve the NHS. It is now time for the party to prove that it can make the service fully fit for purpose. If investment is needed, then we hope the Scottish Government might look to its reserves before blaming Westminster.

The SNP has staked its own reputation on the performance of the Scottish NHS and the party would not be wise to allow itself to appear complacent on this issue.

The NHS touches all of our lives and we expect a great deal of it. It’s time that the politicians who encourage our expectations showed the NHS some attention.

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