The main subject was the failure to come within a country mile of meeting targets on Accident and Emergency treatment. These statistics are the worst on record alongside a whole range of other indicators which suggest our NHS is in real difficulty, as anyone who works in it will confirm.
This case was prosecuted effectively by both Douglas Ross and Anas Sarwar. The statistics are damning of any government responsible for them. While A&E figures are the most widely publicised, they reflect a wider decline which stretches back to well before the pandemic.
Fourteen months ago, Mr Sarwar recalled, Ms Sturgeon announced a “catch-up plan”. Another day, another headline. Since then, NHS waiting lists have risen from 603,000 to 750,000 – one in seven of the Scottish population. “Catch-up surely means that waiting lists come down rather than go up,” he observed.
When the SNP took over Holyrood, there were 260,000 people on NHS waiting lists. Before Covid was heard of, this rose to 420,000. In other words, what we have is a long-term trend under Ms Sturgeon (who was previously Health Minister) towards an NHS which leaves far more Scots waiting far longer – sometimes, as Mr Ross pointed out, to grotesque extremes.
Long delays at the point of A&E track back in part to failings earlier in the system. Mr Sarwar quoted Dr Lailah Peel from the British Medical Association: “Patients are now presenting at A&E because of complications developed while waiting for treatment and scans.”
The Labour leader also noted that life expectancy in Scotland has fallen for the second successive year with the gap between prosperous areas and poor ones widening further. Despite all the rhetoric, there has been not one single indicator of “levelling-up” in Scotland after 15 years of Nationalist government. Instead, previous progress is reversed.
With even the clapping seals around her looking glum in the face of hard facts, Ms Sturgeon fell back on her two favoured forms of deflection – or “context” which appears to be her new buzz word which, in her lexicon, means someone else’s fault.
First, she maintained, things are worse elsewhere in the UK. Whether or not this is true depends on which statistics you select on any given day. It is also almost wholly irrelevant to the responsibilities of the devolved government of Scotland.
Our NHS was pretty much devolved long before the Scottish Parliament or rise to power of the SNP. I can never recall the “rest of the UK” argument being deployed over these decades. There was a consensus that responsibility for the NHS rested in Scotland – and ministers were accountable.
Since then, funding has increased massively and Scotland has £2,000 more per head to spend on services than the UK as a whole. There are then political choices about priorities. For Ms Sturgeon to seek refuge in comparators when the powers and resources have been in her hands for so long is pathetic.
The other deflection was the mandatory reference to “one hand tied behind our back”, implying that if Scotland was a separate state, both hands could be deployed to wondrous effect. In the case of the NHS, there is already little that is not in her own hands.
Anyone sympathetic to her argument might consider what the state of our NHS would be for decades to come if “the hand” was weighed down with our £15 billion deficit, at which point deflection would become poor consolation to sorrowing families.
They might also consult John McLaren’s article in Scotsman on Thursday which pointed out Scotland will “receive £1.5 billion less in revenues as a result of taking partial controls of income tax, rather than sticking with the original Barnett formula … with a parliament that pontificates at length but effects little change in practice”.
But why would the likes of Ms Sturgeon and Mr Yousaf be driven by the need for change or improvement, so long as there is someone else to blame?