Nicola Sturgeon's 'taking our eye off the ball' was a glib metaphor for failings that have cost lives – John McLellan

Television hustings don’t make much difference to election voting intentions, given the audience is largely made up of people whose minds are already made up.

Wednesday, 14th April 2021, 4:45 pm
Updated Wednesday, 14th April 2021, 5:34 pm
Treatment for drug addicts is not the only vital issue that has been mishandled by Nicola Sturgeon's government, says John McLellan (Picture: STV)

The fact that during Tuesday evening’s Scottish election leaders’ debate, STV had to fill up the commercial breaks with their own filler adverts in a prime-time slot says it all.

I’m not sure our man Douglas Ross came out on top, but the moment which stood out for me, and many other observers, was when he asked First Minister Nicola Sturgeon about Scotland’s appalling record on drug deaths. “We took our eyes off the ball,” she responded.

That avoidable deaths could be explained away by a glib sporting metaphor was a rare, but telling misjudgement. To recap, in December. the National Records of Scotland revealed there were 1,264 drug deaths in 2019, with 155 in Lothian. Data for 2018 shows Scotland had nearly 300 deaths per million people, while every other European country, including the United Kingdom as a whole, had less than a hundred.

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Taking eyes off the ball involved slashing rehabilitation places, the key to recovery, from 352 in 22 locations in 2007, when the SNP came to power, to just 70 beds in three facilities in 2019, and figures at the end of last year suggested there were only 22 fully government-funded places.

The Castle Craig private addiction clinic near Peebles received 292 Dutch patients through Holland’s statutory insurance scheme in 2019, but just five NHS Scotland referrals, compared to 257 in 2002.

Never mind taking eyes off it, at the start of the pandemic Ms Sturgeon’s government didn’t know where the ball was at all, with Health Secretary Jeane Freeman admitting they did not understand the care home sector as hundreds of potentially infected elderly patients were sent into care homes untested.

This was almost certainly a major contributor to the deaths of over 3,000 Scottish care home residents from Covid which, like drug deaths, is the highest care-home death rate in the UK.

Taking their eyes off the ball led to deaths of two young patients and over 80 infections in Glasgow’s brand new Queen Elizabeth Hospital because of problems with the water system which had been identified only days after it opened in 2015.

As a result, the new Edinburgh Sick Kids has only just started to receive its first patients after lying empty for over a year as a result of what an independent review called a "collective failure from the parties involved" to identify ventilation problems.

When it comes to eyes, the First Minister has repeatedly avoided promising to fulfil a pledge to fund a replacement for the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion, and instead has made only a vague commitment to “renew” the centre, which sounds like a patch-up job for a facility long past its useful lifespan.

Like her demand to be judged by her record on education, taking her eye off the ball presumes the First Minister’s eye was ever on it in the first place, when it seems the only project to receive the SNP’s constant, undivided attention is independence and a second referendum.

All political parties are guilty of making exaggerated promises to grab easy headlines, but it’s another thing entirely when throwaway excuses are made for decisions which cost hundreds of lives.

John McLellan is a Conservative councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston

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