NHS Scotland crisis: Health Secretary Humza Yousaf needs to take time out from campaigning to address health service's pressing problems – Ian Murray
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This week brought another raft of devastating figures which show the reality of the healthcare front line. Nearly 7,000 patients in Scotland are waiting more than two years for hospital treatment, even though SNP ministers promised to "eradicate" such long waits.
And before the nationalists do their usual trick of saying “but what about England?”, the figure south of the Border is just 1,400 – for a country with ten times the population. It’s utterly shameful. It’s also emerged that about 164,000 more patients are on NHS waiting lists compared to when Humza Yousaf took over as Health Secretary, a 27 per cent increase.
And it has also been revealed that the average size of a GP patient list in Scotland has increased significantly in the past two years. This will come as no surprise to residents in south Edinburgh, where this crisis has been exacerbated by the building of thousands of new homes with no facilities or infrastructure to cater for the population growth.
I’ve repeatedly raised this directly with Mr Yousaf, given the challenges of accessing GP surgeries in my own constituency – but he has done nothing about it despite a decade of warnings. This week brought the infuriating news that plans to build a new medical practice in Liberton have been put on hold because of a Scottish Government funding freeze.
After a decade-long wait for progress, NHS Lothian has had to pause all projects. This comes after years of NHS underfunding by the SNP government. Mr Yousaf shouldn’t wait until the outcome of the First Minister’s leadership race before addressing this situation – he should do so now.
But while the Scottish Government talks a good game when it comes to running the NHS, we know that better spin doesn’t lead to better outcomes. There is much focus this week on the WhatsApp messages from former Westminster Health Secretary Matt Hancock, and the claim that he rejected expert advice on Covid tests for people going into care homes in England at the start of the pandemic.
The Daily Telegraph has more than 100,000 messages after Mr Hancock downloaded his Whatsapp and foolishly shared them with a commentator who was helping him write a book. This is no way for the government’s handling of the pandemic to be scrutinised – through sensationalised coverage of leaked texts.
It does a disservice to all those who lost their lives and their families. But the first revelation does serve as a reminder that the SNP government in Edinburgh followed precisely the same path on Covid and care homes.
Nearly 3,600 elderly patients were discharged to care homes between March and April 21, 2020, and only 650 of these patients had been tested. Astonishingly, 68 patients tested positive and were sent to care homes without getting a negative result.
When it comes to the handling of the pandemic, like so many other aspects of running the health service, the SNP let down patients. That’s why Mr Yousaf should not be rewarded by failing upwards into the top job in Scottish politics.
Ian Murray is Labour MP for Edinburgh South