As NHS crisis deepens, politicians need to be brave enough to tell public the unpalatable truth – Scotsman comment

With 15 per cent of Scotland population on a waiting list and NHS health boards facing a deficit of £395 million, it’s time for some straight talking from our politicians

Another week, another revelation about the parlous state of the health service: NHS Scotland’s health boards are expected to hit a combined deficit of £395 million this year. As she laid out the position in a letter to MSPs, NHS Scotland chief executive Caroline Lamb said she had “made clear my expectations” that NHS boards must reduce the deficit and that she expected them to work towards making three per cent savings this financial year and next.

This comes after another telling statistic that, as of the end of September, a total of 828,398 people – about 15 per cent of the population – were on an NHS waiting list. Presumably, the cuts expected by Lamb are going to make reducing this staggering number even harder for the health service’s hard-working staff.

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Unsurprisingly, opposition politicians expressed their horror. Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said the NHS crisis “risks spiralling out of control”; Dr Sandesh Gulhane, the Scottish Conservatives’ Shadow Health Secretary, said Lamb’s letter “fully exposes the SNP’s staggering mismanagement of Scotland’s NHS during their 16 years in power”; and Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson said the NHS was “on the brink of disaster”.

The health service is a much-loved institution to which many people owe their lives. Its loss would be a catastrophic blow to Scotland. However, it also seems to have become so precious that any talk of reform is dismissed if it might even remotely undermine the NHS’s founding values.

But for all the concern about a two-tier health service, we already have one. People who can afford it are going private, rather than wait impatiently in line behind 828,398 others, and who can blame them? It seems we have three main choices. We can continue as we are and watch the NHS shrink and crumble; we can choose to pay considerably more in tax; or we can allow some payments for health care with, for example, the means-testing of free prescriptions.

All of these choices are unpalatable. But Scotland needs politicians brave enough to be straight with the public about the gravity of the situation and the bleak reality facing the NHS.



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