General election: Here’s the real reason why SNP is talking about indyref2 so much – Richard Leonard

Given the state of the NHS, it’s no wonder that the SNP is focussing on Scottish independence during the general election campaign, writes Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard.

With Donald Trump back in the country, under strict instructions – which he is unlikely to abide by – to avoid interfering in the general election campaign at all costs, the question of the future of our NHS will be at the forefront of many people’s minds. The National Health Service remains the greatest achievement of any Labour government and probably the best example of applied socialism we have. Since its birth on 5 July, 1948, that achievement has been a shared one.

It is shared with hospital porters and cleaners, with nurses and doctors, with ambulance crews and technicians, and with all the staff who give so much.

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There is mounting evidence that they are being let down. A recent FOI request revealed that one in four of all absences in our NHS in Scotland are due to stress, anxiety and mental health related reasons. The public service which is meant to make us better is making the staff who run it ill.

Jeremy Corbyn and NHS staff hold government documents detailing discussions about the NHS in US-UK trade talks (Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire)Jeremy Corbyn and NHS staff hold government documents detailing discussions about the NHS in US-UK trade talks (Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire)
Jeremy Corbyn and NHS staff hold government documents detailing discussions about the NHS in US-UK trade talks (Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire)

Health is of course a devolved issue – but that is no excuse for any party to shy away from its present crisis and future prospects over the course of this UK general election campaign. After all, the funding of our health service is contingent on the settlement we reach with the next UK government.

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The SNP is seeking to turn this election into a referendum on a second independence referendum. No wonder, with their track record of mismanagement and failure of new hospitals, safety standards and patient treatment targets.

Labour is standing not only to defend and maintain the NHS, but to expand it – with at least £2 billion of additional investment, through the Barnett consequentials for Scotland’s NHS.

Last time Labour was in government spending on the National Health Service in Scotland doubled in real terms. When Gordon Brown had the choice of cutting taxes or investing in public services he chose the latter. But the fact is that for the last decade, our health care services have been desperately short-changed considering the support they need. We are witnessing creeping privatisation, and cuts disguised as efficiency savings. The current state of affairs cannot continue.

According to the Auditor General, over the next four years health and social care services in Scotland face a potential £1.8 billion black hole. Already, the SNP’s own waiting-time guarantee has been broken over 230,000 times. There are now 1,500 fewer hospital beds than there were ten years ago.

Trump is a real and present danger to NHS

On top of this, Trump’s visit serves as a stark reminder of the looming threat to our NHS if Boris Johnson stays in Downing Street. After weeks of denial from Johnson, the truth was finally confirmed last week when leaked documents exposed that the Tories had put the NHS on the table in Brexit trade talks with the US. This is a real and present danger.

And so there can be no starker choice than this. On the one hand, A Tory government prepared to sell off our NHS to big pharmaceutical companies in the US.

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And on the other, Labour’s proposal to create a UK generic drug company, breaking the stranglehold of giant pharmaceutical multinationals.

We would wield the powers vested in the Patent Act provisions, compulsory licenses and research exemptions to secure access to generic versions of drugs at fair prices for the NHS. This will help end the exploitation of our health service at the hands of the private sector and will ensure that we can maintain the NHS for the benefit of the many, not the few.

There is another radical proposal in Labour’s manifesto too.

Social care has for too long been the poor relation of our health service. Every single day across Scotland, an average of 1,430 adults are kept in hospital when they could be cared for at home or in an appropriate setting, and so discharged from hospital. The result is that last year over half a million hospital bed days and over £120 million were lost in Scotland because of delays to hospital discharges.

Highest suicide rate in UK

A Labour government will invest £600 million a year in extra resources and so a step change in care in Scotland. Scottish Labour is proposing the creation of a new Scottish Care Service.

This Scottish Care Service would use the 25 per cent increase in adult social care funding to bring an end to the poor terms and conditions of carers, allowing proper time for visits and giving dignity back to those who require care, and to those who provide it.

We are also proposing a full support strategy for informal carers, too, giving those who provide care access to improved mental health support as well as free travel. And we will explore the case for a minimum income guarantee for carers too.

We are witnessing a crisis of mental health in Scotland. We have the highest rate of suicide in all of Great Britain and last year alone over 100 young people took their own lives in Scotland.

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While there are no easy solutions to this crisis, it is absolutely imperative that those most in need in our society have access to help when they need it. So we will invest in suicide prevention programmes including research, staff training and additional funding. And we will properly fund crisis services so that they can operate on a 24/7 basis.

The dedicated staff of our health service, our employed social carers and our voluntary family carers have put up with doing more for less. There is simply no more that they can give, and it is long past time that they have a government that gave back to them.

On 12 December, we all have the opportunity to vote for a government that will.

Richard Leonard is Scottish Labour Party leader