Kevan Christie: Same old story from the Owl and the Health Secretary

Health Secretary Shona Robison with Dr Owl
Health Secretary Shona Robison with Dr Owl
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Health Secretary Shona Robison launched NHS Scotland’s national winter health campaign yesterday – with the help of a cartoon character known as Dr Owl.

The “Be Health-Wise this Winter” campaign will see Dr Owl spread his wisdom across the nation as he urges us all to be prepared to deal with the most common winter ailments ahead of the festive holidays.

Dr Owl wants us all to know our GP surgery’s opening times over the holidays, to make sure we don’t run out of repeat prescription, ordering only what we need in plenty time, and to check that we have cold and flu remedies.

This is all sound advice which I’m sure may well be breaking news to anyone under the age of eleven.

Rather like those handy motorway signs that tell us to ‘wear a seatbelt’ and ‘don’t drive drunk’ the rollout of Dr Owl will be seen by many as yet more evidence of SNP nannyism.

I’m sure spending time at Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden with a cartoon owl to help launch the campaign was a welcome distraction for Robison given the latest evidence of NHS meltdown that came with the publication of waiting time figures the day before.

Nearly one in five NHS patients are waiting longer than the Scottish Government’s target time for treatment which set the ambition of having 90 per cent beginning their treatment within 18 weeks of being referred.

Other NHS figures showed a rise in people waiting for key diagnostic tests, while the number of patients waiting more than 12 weeks for inpatient or day-care treatment has increased by almost 10,000 in two years.

Robison reacted to this in her usual head-in-the-sand manner (Dr Ostrich?) by telling us how much the Scottish Government have given to the NHS, while trying to shift responsibility for waiting times onto the local health boards.

This groundhog day response is wearing thin, but is anyone other than medical professionals and opposition politicians taking notice?

The public have grown weary of reading about the perceicved failings of the NHS in Scotland on an almost daily basis, while the hardworking staff are not getting the credit they deserve being as they are at the mercy of this target-driven culture.

It would appear that Professor Sir Harry Burns’ independent national review into targets and indicators published earlier this month has now been kicked into the long grass by the Scottish Government. The former chief medical officer advocated scrapping the 18-week target for referral to treatment, warning that striving to meet it can adversely affect the treatment of patients.

Professor Burns said the health service should move away from reliance on waiting-time targets if it wanted the best for patients. Here was an opportunity for the Scottish Government to loosen the noose tied around the neck of our health staff – caused by its handling of the NHS. But it was ignored.

There is an obvious problem with reducing the targets, and Robison must know that missing an easier goal would lead to even greater criticism – but Professor Burns was actually talking about doing away with the flagship target that is not being met. The bad news is it looks like we’re going to be in for another four years of this tired old tale of targets missed, opposition fury, health secretary ignoring the issue and talking about something else.

It’s time the Scottish Government wised up.