Our NHS deserves better and my constituents deserve more from Scottish Government - Ian Murray

It’s an integral part of our representative democracy that elected members can take up issues on behalf of the people we represent directly with government ministers.

Thursday, 25th November 2021, 12:30 am
Health secretary Humza Yousaf cannot ignore the waiting times people are forced to endure at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary A&E, writes Ian Murray MP. PIC: John Young / YoungMedia.

After all, it is ministers who are both responsible for the delivery of services and are paid quite a handsome additional salary on top of what they already earn as an MP or MSP.

It’s just common courtesy that when an MP writes to a Minister, they get a reply from them directly. Now, I’m not naïve enough to think that Ministers write the letters themselves. In fact, it’s normally the impartial departmental civil servants, but they should at least be signed by the Minister.

That is why I was incredulous this week to receive a Ministerial response from the Scottish Health Secretary, Humza Yousaf, written and signed by a civil servant saying he was “too busy to respond personally”. That is not good enough in any circumstance but especially when you are demanding action be taken to resolve the very serious issue of a 40-hour A&E wait at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

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To make matters worse, the civil servant’s letter itself didn’t even attempt to address the serious concerns of my constituent - but was a political response that merely said Scotland’s A&E waiting times were marginally better than England’s over the last 6 year average. I’m sure that will be of great comfort to the patients waiting 40+ hours and an already overstretched workforce close to burnout.

The SNP’s stock answer to any problem in Scotland is to point at England, as if that should somehow be all that we aspire to.

On top of the A&E crisis, the Army is supplementing the ambulance service, our waiting times for routine operations are through the roof, more than 600,000 people are waiting for treatment, elective surgeries have been cancelled, delayed discharges are on the rise again and the number of beds has been slashed by over 1,300.

We have a full-blown crisis in our NHS and the Health Secretary’s current strategy is clearly not dealing with it whatsoever. He needs to get a grip of this situation to ensure the NHS can cope, yet his response is full of old, reheated commitments and watered-down election promises.

We can all acknowledge that Covid exacerbated the problems in our NHS, but it did not cause them. These problems existed before Covid. What we need is a Health Secretary committed to resolving them rather than deflection and a sticking plaster just to get him to the next press release. Without acknowledging that these are deep-seated historic problems from before the pandemic, caused by a decade of underinvestment in the NHS and its hard-working staff, then it will never be resolved.

These are the most serious of issues. A Minister should never be “too busy” to take time to at least give the impression that he cares about these issues. Maybe if the SNP’s own MPs and MSPs dared to question their own Government we may have a much healthier democracy in Scotland and better government as a result.

And maybe Scottish Ministers should spend less time on another referendum Bill so they are not “too busy” to do their jobs properly.

Our NHS deserves better, and my constituents deserve a proper response from those in charge.

Ian Murray is the Labour MP for Edinburgh South

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