NHS crisis: SNP will never be forgiven for the shocking state of our cherished health service – Ian Murray

In the week to New Year’s Day, six in ten patients had to wait more than four hours at A&E in Edinburgh. These unprecedented figures are part of a trend which has resulted in record waiting times across Scotland.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf must resign or be sacked (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf must resign or be sacked (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)

The four-hour benchmark is not some arbitrary time period – it is the standard the Scottish Government has set. But at the Royal Infirmary, 1,248 people waited longer than that in the week to January 1, including 476 who waited agonisingly more than 12 hours.

The doctors, nurses and all NHS staff at the ERI are doing a phenomenal job. They are working around the clock, fit to drop, and facing pressure I simply can’t imagine as they struggle to find beds for people in pain.

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Tragically, people are dying as they wait for treatment. Naturally, given a crisis of this scale, the first thing on the Scottish Government’s mind this week was… independence. Yes, the SNP and Greens chose to prioritise their strange constitutional obsession in the first debate of the parliamentary calendar. A simply extraordinary decision that I have no doubt has angered and upset so many people across Scotland.

Nicola Sturgeon did find time for a TV press conference, of course, in which she talked about the “unprecedented” situation. But, as doctors have pointed out, unprecedented gives the impression that this couldn’t be foreseen. That is simply not true, no matter what the nationalists might claim. It was entirely predictable and medical experts were warning it was coming for a long time. In fact, fewer patients are being seen in A&E than before the pandemic.

What is unprecedented is this SNP government’s abject failure. The NHS has been under SNP control for 15 years. But the government failed to end delayed discharge – when people can’t leave hospital even though they are fit to do so – even though they promised to do this in 2015. Eight years on, it’s at record levels.

SNP ministers have presided over inadequate workforce planning, which began when Nicola Sturgeon herself was Health Secretary, and we now have 6,400 nursing vacancies. Time is up for the current Health Secretary Humza Yousaf. He should resign or be sacked. We need a minister who will start properly supporting our incredible health and social care workforce, ending unacceptable waits at A&E and investing in social care to tackle delayed discharge.

Edinburgh Council and other local authorities can only work with the funding provided to them by the Scottish Government. So when they’re starved of funds by the SNP, their social care services suffer, with the knock-on effect on delayed discharge numbers in hospital, which then knocks on to A&E waiting times and creates the kind of emergency we are seeing today. This is exacerbated by the GP crisis.

As umbrella body Cosla has warned, public services face being stripped to the bone. And as my colleague Jackie Baillie has said, our NHS is now fighting for its life.

This year marks the 75th birthday of our NHS – the cherished institution that Labour gave birth to and will always protect. But the SNP has put our NHS on life support. It will take a collective endeavour to rescue it, but the SNP’s failure will never be forgotten.

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Ian Murray is Labour MP for Edinburgh South