SCOTLAND’s NHS has featured prominently in political debate in recent months, while at the same time being left in a kind of independence referendum limbo. Now the result is known and the dust slowly settles, it seems like a good time for less talk and more action.
As I head off on maternity leave to watch how this pans out from a slightly more removed standpoint, there are quite a few issues which it is obvious need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
Firstly, let’s have some proper openness about how decisions are made on which drugs the health service in Scotland will and won’t pay for.
Yes, meetings of the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) are now open to (a limited number of) the public, but anyone expecting a full debate is likely to be disappointed. Aware of the potential for controversy, SMC members appear reluctant to make anything but the most basic of comments.
It’s also difficult to work out how much consideration is being given to the views of patients reported back to the meeting. Why not bring them into the debate and let the SMC members explain to their faces why the NHS should not pay to extend their lives?
Equally, let’s put the drugs companies in the line of fire, making them defend their often extortionate price tags.
The issue of money is never far away when it comes to the health service. And, again, honest debate about NHS funding is often lacking.
Does anyone really understand what “efficiency savings” actually are? We’re repeatedly told they are not cuts – the money is kept within the NHS rather than being siphoned off elsewhere.
But if savings have to be made in one area in order to pay for or improve something somewhere else, isn’t that just a cut by another name?
This “efficiency savings” phrase needs to be banned, at least until someone can properly explain it without slipping into political mumbo-jumbo that avoids the truth – that the NHS in Scotland is facing financial dire straits.
Finally, we need to get to grips with staffing issues. Whether it’s missed waiting-time targets, high mortality rates or poor care of the elderly, it’s likely that a shortage of staff will be playing a part.
While numbers appear to be rising again after past cuts, there’s little doubt that more nurses, doctors and other workers would help improve the service; that’s if we could solve problems recruiting them in some areas.
Nobody said sorting out the NHS was easy, but if we really care about it as much as the past few months of debate would suggest, it really is a task that needs to be taken firmly in hand.