Alex Neil: No NHS funding cuts planned in Scotland

THERE are no planned cuts to the NHS budget and claims that the health service faces a funding gap of up to £450 million are a “myth”, MSPs have been told.

The Health Secretary responded during question session at Holyrood. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Health Secretary Alex Neil said the Scottish Government has a record of protecting and increasing the NHS budget in Scotland as he faced questions on the issue at Holyrood.

Mr Neil was quizzed about the contents of private documents leaked to the BBC during the independence referendum campaign which suggested the NHS is facing a funding gap of up to £450 million and major changes will be needed to find savings.

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According to the papers, which were presented to a meeting of health board chief executives and civil servants last month, new obligations are “not fully funded” and the “status quo in terms of service and workforce planning is not an option”.

The funding gap is put at between £400 million and £450 million during the 2015/16 financial year, according to the papers - a level described as “significantly in excess of that previously required”.

Options that health boards will have to consider include centralising hospitals and closing services, the papers said.

MSPs used a questions session on health at the Scottish Parliament to call on Mr Neil to give assurances that frontline health services in their areas would be protected.

He said: “Let me be clear there are no planned cuts to NHS funding. Read my lips: there are no planned cuts to NHS funding.

“The Scottish Government has a record of protecting and increasing the NHS budget.

“Our latest £12.1 billion resource budget...reflects a funding increase in real terms both this year and next.”

Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser called for a “cast-iron guarantee” that across Fife, Tayside and Forth Valley there would be no centralising and closing of services while Labour MSP Jayne Baxter asked about the impact on NHS Fife.

Mr Neil said: “The memo that was leaked was the thoughts of some chief executives and it is does not represent government policy.

“The member (Mr Fraser) knows perfectly well that any proposals for service redesign go through a very, very intense process including a major process of public engagement, and I certainly have no intention of redesigning services in a way that leads to any retrograde steps in terms of the quality of service provision.

“Certainly we will always ensure that any proposals for change will require to go through a very comprehensive exercise in public engagement as we always do.”