​Scotland’s failing health services need urgent care - Sue Webber

The Scottish leg of the Covid Inquiry is over and our attention must focus on the crisis our NHS faces while Baroness Heather Hallett gathers more evidence about what went wrong in the past. Or at least as much evidence as still exists.
The ‘Take Hold’ campaign has been launched to tackle the rise in vaping in young people.The ‘Take Hold’ campaign has been launched to tackle the rise in vaping in young people.
The ‘Take Hold’ campaign has been launched to tackle the rise in vaping in young people.

With nearly 627,000 patients waiting for treatment this time last year, 35 per cent of people admitted to Scotland’s accident and emergency units kept waiting more than four hours, and ten per cent of Scottish GP practices closing over ten years to 2022, crisis is the only word for it.

Here in Lothian, we already know the SNP promise of a new eye pavilion to replace the one deemed unfit for purpose was worthless, and it’s the same for other promised essential facilities like the Royal Infirmary’s new sterilisation unit.

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Literally a matter of life or death, it’s incumbent on all parties to produce plans to address this dire situation and today Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross is revealing a raft of proposals to turn things around.

It won’t be easy, especially after the Institute for Fiscal Studies revealed this week that the SNP budget details gave a “misleading impression” of spending plans, with NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care spending falling 0.7 per cent in real terms this year, not the SNP’s claimed 1.3 per cent increase. That’s some miscalculation.

We need to plan long term to tackle root causes of health problems, so we will introduce new legislation such as a Vaping Restrictions Bill to bring the law into line with the regulations on smoking, banning the sale of non-nicotine vaping products to under-18s and outlawing the use of vapes in public places. We would increase fines for illegal vape and tobacco sales to under-18s, restrictions which are too often more honoured in the breach than observance.

But our starting point is investment in the family doctor network, with a plan to deliver 1000 extra GPs, the bedrock of our NHS, and to guarantee an appointment within a week. GPs are the gateway to specialist treatment and without addressing the current decline all health care improvements become tougher to deliver. Delayed or cancelled appointments lose valuable time which could quicken recovery and relieve pressure on the system.

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One way of speeding up appointments is with an app, as has been available in NHS England for six years, with twice as many subscribers as Netflix. There still isn’t one in Scotland, despite an SNP promise three years ago, so we would work with colleagues in the south to deliver a “My NHS Scotland” app to give patients a one-stop-shop to book appointments, check waiting times and access records. It would eradicate needless paperwork at a stroke and shouldn’t be as difficult as the SNP makes it.If only more choice was available, but the app will help us introduce a new, legally-enforceable ‘patient guarantee’ of maximum wait times across the NHS, and tackle unacceptably long delays for treatment. It would apply not just to A&E where long waits are now just accepted as the norm, but to surgery and cancer treatment.

We might not be in government here, but these measures will make a huge difference, and can be delivered by the SNP if they stopped dithering. Sadly, bitter experience tells us they won’t.

Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative Lothian MSP