Covid Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon denies NHS in crisis as she hints at further expansion of vaccine passports

Nicola Sturgeon has said the NHS is under extreme pressure, but denied it was facing a “crisis” as she defended her plan to introduce vaccine passports.

The First minister admitted the Scottish health service was “under more pressure than at any time in our lifetimes” as a result of Covid, but refused to say it was in a “crisis”.

Speaking on BBC Scotland, she accused the presenter, Martin Geissler of an “attempt to get crude headlines” and of “shouting” at her.

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"I have spent 14 years in government and I have not seen the health service under the pressure it's under, but we’re living in a global pandemic,” she said.

Nicola Sturgeon has defended the move to using vaccine passports.

“On the BBC website yesterday there were headlines about ambulance waits in all parts of the UK.

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"This is a significant challenge for health services everywhere, that’s why we need to take the hard choices like vaccine certification, and why we need to invest in the health service, and why we have warned for a long time, and I’m not saying this is the key or principal driver of pressure in the health service, are staff shortages. We are seeing across our economy and in public services increasing staffing shortages because of Brexit.”

Mr Geissler raised the concerns of a doctor who had said the health service had been struggling for a decade and it would take “more than ten years to get things right” – and asked how that could be blamed on leaving the EU.

"I wasn’t blaming Brexit,” she said. “You put to me the issue of staff shortages and I was saying, rightly, one of the many factors putting pressures on our health service right now is staff shortages, and I’m afraid Brexit is the driving reason for that.

“It is not the only reason but we are starting to see difficulties in recruiting people is the overall constraints of labour supply which does go back to Brexit.”

Ms Sturgeon added: "Yes the NHS has been under pressure for a long time before Covid, but the reality is we have a record number of people working in our health services, we have been increasing the workforce, increasing investment.

“In the period going into Covid we had big challenges on waiting times and had an improvement plan starting to bring these down and had dedicated £850m to that.

"Right across the world, and this is undeniable, in a global pandemic when last year we had to stop much of the normal treatment in the NHS has exacerbated that. So it’s why we have to continue to bear down on Covid, consider how we will recover our NHS, increasing capacity by 10 per cent backed by investment.”

Responding to the interview, Scottish Conservative public health spokesman, Dr Sandesh Gulhane, said: “Nicola Sturgeon clearly has no idea what’s going on at the frontline of our NHS.

“My colleagues are swamped and health services across the board are in crisis. The First Minister is in denial about the scale of the problems. Everything from GP to ambulance to A&E services are overwhelmed.

“The deflection tactics are a disgrace. The SNP are blaming everything else instead of taking responsibility and fixing the problems.

“The government must accept the reality and bring forward a credible plan to bring Scotland’s NHS back from the brink.”

The First Minister also revealed in the interview the government had considered introducing vaccine certification for nightclubs, football matches and other large events in September, but had shifted to October 1 to allow time to engage “with the affected business sector” adding that was “the right and proper way to do government.”

She also hinted at possible extension of the scheme, pointing to France where the passports are needed for entry to cafes, saying only that it wasn’t required in Scotland “right now”.

Her government has been heavily criticised for not consulting with hospitality and night-time industry businesses, and the Music Venue Trust, a charity representing live music venues, became the latest to voice its dismay at the details of the scheme published on Thursday.

The organisation said it had “provided extensive information” to the government “on the challenges this policy provokes without any acknowledgement or via any method of formal consultation.

"The issues we raised about the implementation of this policy are not answered in the government statement, and have not been responded to or resolved elsewhere.

"In fact, the challenges with definitions and implementation we made clear to Scottish government are recognised in the statement without offering any solutions or decisions on them.”

In a statement, the MVT added: “The activity the Scottish Government asserts presents a serious enhanced risk is dancing closely together in enclosed spaces.

”The ‘analogous premises’ in which such activity takes place therefore potentially covers a huge range of pubs, bars, restaurants, wedding venues, hotels, conference centres and pretty much everywhere where celebrations through a community activity are being enjoyed.

"As it stands this Scottish government policy amounts to an attempt to exclude some people from going somewhere at some time, without providing adequate information on when, where, who or how."

"In doing so it potentially disproportionately penalises young people, excluding one in four of them from the late night economy, and people from diverse backgrounds, excluding nearly 50 per cent of them from the late night economy.”

Ms Sturgeon said that opposition to the policy from Tory and Labour MSPs was “opposition for opposition’s sake” and that consultation was now happening with affected businesses.

She added: "We have set out broad outlines of the scheme. People can see how schemes like this operate because they are already operational in many countries across Europe.

“But we are considering and engaging with the affected business sector on the fine detail of the scheme – that’s the right and proper way to do government.

“We’ve also built in time so the scheme wont come in into force until the 1st of October to make sure that businesses have the full detail and there’s not just overarching guidance but sector specific guidance is in place.

"This is not just something Scotland is doing… you can look at this working in many other countries.

“If you go to France, you need a vaccine passport to go into a cafe – we’re not proposing that, right now.”

Ms Sturgeon said that vaccine passports were not a “magic wand” to defeat Covid, but could help reduce case numbers through winter.

“When we first started to consider the principle of this and took the decision to go ahead we were looking at potentially introducing this over the early part of September but we chose not to do that in order that those who are going to have to apply this get the ability to have their views about practical application heard and we take account of that.”

Pressed on the caveat of “Covid permitting” in terms of a timetable for a second independence referendum she said: "When we’re not in the teeth of a Covid crisis which I consider we are right now, with pressure on our NHS and cases rising.

"It’s not just about the safety of polling stations but having a country able to focus on a very big decision and having the space and time to do that.”

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