Former prime minister Gordon Brown says the NHS would be “in trauma” in ten years’ time if Scotland were to become independent.
Writing in The Scotsman to mark the 70th anniversary of the health service later this week, Mr Brown says the recent SNP Growth Commission report stated there would be less public spending than under the current Tory austerity measures.
He says that despite Prime Minister Theresa May’s recent pledge that £20 billion would be spent on the NHS, with £2bn coming to Scotland, the service north of the Border remains “under-staffed, under-equipped and under-financed”.
Mr Brown writes: “The NHS at 80 years old would, sadly, be in trauma if independence should ever happen.
“What has become clear from the SNP’s Growth Commission blueprint – what Nicola Sturgeon calls the foundation for independence – is that public spending would rise less than under Tory austerity and that even then, any new money there is would be eaten up by massive interest rate payments on what would be almost £100bn of new Scottish debt.
“While in both Scotland and the UK the NHS will need 5 per cent more each year to meet the unprecedented needs of a rising elderly population, the more likely fate of the NHS in an independent Scotland is a diminished service. Whatever the SNP say, the NHS is not safe in their hands.
“I recall ten years ago, when I was prime minister, we held a service of commemoration at Westminster Abbey to celebrate 60 years of the NHS – and the most powerful speech on that day came from one of the service’s first nurses, who vividly described the bleak conditions that existed before 1948.
“She forcefully reminded us that hard-working nurses had to leave the beds of their patients to run charity flag days, just to pay for life-saving equipment. We cannot return there.”
Paying tribute to the NHS staff, Mr Brown also writes of his personal experience when he was treated after a rugby accident as a teenager that left him blind in one eye.
He writes: “In my own case, while still a teenager, I was threatened with blindness because of a rugby injury.
“At Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, a brilliant young surgeon called Hector Chawla, who had just completed training in retinal surgery, came to my rescue.
“Then, and later, when I faced further complications, he and the NHS staff around him made sure my sight was saved.”
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs MSP said that Mr Brown was right to highlight the financial cost that independence would have on the NHS and Scottish public services.
He said: “Since 2010, the UK Conservative government has provided the Scottish Government with £2.46bn in additional health spending for Scotland’s NHS.
“That investment has seen the health budget in Scotland reach almost £13bn annually.
“If there is one thing those who work in our NHS tell me it’s that they want to see the politics taken out of our health service.
“This week is about celebrating our NHS and its achievements and outstanding workforce. But our NHS’s 70th birthday should also be a time for us to look to the future and help put in place the long-term policies and plans that can help ensure our NHS is there, free at the point of delivery, for everyone in the decades ahead.”
Last night a spokesperson for Scotland’s new health secretary, Jeane Freeman, rejected the former prime minister’s comments describing them as “utter nonsense”.
The spokesperson said: “This is utter nonsense from Gordon Brown, who knows full well that the biggest threat to Scotland’s NHS comes from the very real prospect of a post-Brexit trade deal being forced on us against our will by a Tory UK government.
“That could see our health service becoming a sacrificial pawn in a Tory-Trump trade deal, thanks to the Westminster power grab on Holyrood – and that is what Gordon Brown should be warning of instead of issuing outdated, discredited attacks on independence.
“The SNP is providing record health funding, after Labour planned to spend even less on it than the Tories.
“Our NHS is already fully devolved and on many measures Scotland has the best performing health service in the UK.
“But independence would give us the ability to protect our NHS both from the dangers of Westminster austerity – and from the effects of any Brexit trade deals.”