Scotland's NHS crisis: SNP is simply managing health service's decline. It needs to embrace the power of aspiration – Brian Whittle

This Scottish Government is strangling the aspiration out of Scotland.

It seems to me the only aspiration left is for independence and somehow everything else doesn’t seem to matter. This extreme, polarised view ensures all decisions made by the Scottish Government are seen through this prism without regard to how this will impact the public.

Independence trumps everything else. The Scottish Government is no longer governing, rather they are little more than a protest group with one objective and an intent to ensure devolution doesn’t work.

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The current crisis in our health service has been a long time in the making; Covid just accelerated the process. It’s not just about the level of NHS funding (44 per cent of the Scottish Budget which cannot continue to increase), it’s how we spend that investment.

It’s never about how we save money in the health service, but rather looking at how we tackle preventable conditions, so we can re-invest in other areas of health. The current pay dispute is about increasing pay this year. However, we should be looking at how we ensure that the level of investment in our healthcare professionals can be developed year on year.

We all recognise their value and if we want to improve their remuneration and working conditions, we are going to have to change the way we look at health; and we must take healthcare professionals with us on that journey to increase retention of experienced staff and recruit new talent. If the sector understands there is a long-term plan to develop pay and conditions, perhaps we can elevate the importance we place on their service.

The biggest disappointment is that the Scottish Government has so many powers to do good but has chosen not to use them, especially in health and education, the two biggest levers available to tackle the increasing inequalities. I entered parliament with a desire to change the way in which we discuss health, with the strapline of “Education is the solution to health and welfare”.

Health and education are totally devolved to Scotland, so the Scottish Government has had the capability of choosing a different path, innovating, utilising technology and developing a cross-portfolio solution to tackle the poor health report card that persists in Scotland. After all, we are the unhealthiest nation in Europe which if this remains unchecked will continue to be a huge drag on our economy. Instead, they’ve followed the same old track that leads to the same increasingly poor outcomes (and if I was in Westminster, I’d be urging a similar action).

There needs to be a long-term plan to develop pay and conditions for NHS staff (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
There needs to be a long-term plan to develop pay and conditions for NHS staff (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
There needs to be a long-term plan to develop pay and conditions for NHS staff (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

If we truly want to tackle health inequalities, we must give the opportunity for everyone to be all they want to be, ensuring there are no barriers to achievement. It’s my strong belief that the inequality we surely must tackle is the inequality of opportunity. A long-term strategy to tackle Scotland’s poor health record must focus on education.

We should be using the education estate as the main battleground to improve our nation’s long-term health. Use sport, art, music, drama and other activities to engage with pupils; use these activities as educational tools, to encourage aspiration, interaction and engagement.

The old adage, “to do it you must be able to see it” is in play here. For pupils to aspire, we must inspire them, show them what’s possible.

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In doing so, we must recognise it will take 20 years plus to make the shift to the preventable health agenda; but it’s a journey that must be mapped out and started, knowing that those who start this journey will not be the ones who get the credit. My frustration is that most MSPs agree with the premise, but the implementation is difficult, and the Scottish Government does not have the courage to attempt a solution for fear of taking on such a big challenge.

I would argue that if the Scottish Government continues to avoid this increasingly alarming issue, then they are not managing the sustainability of our health service and the health of the nation, merely managing its decline. Aspiration is a word that does not seem to appear in the Scottish Government’s dictionary. It’s time it learned the power that this word holds.

Brian Whittle is a Scottish Conservative MSP for South Scotland



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