Scotland's NHS crisis: Six steps SNP could take to fix health service if they weren't preoccupied with independence – Alex Cole-Hamilton

How did you spend your weekend? Well, the First Minister and the SNP high command spent it changing, yet again, their strategy on how to conduct a (not legally binding) referendum to break up the UK.

Still determined to make any future election all about them, it now looks like they're punting that baffling and arrogant strategy down the road to the next Scottish Parliament election. Sound like a good use of their time to you? Me neither.

While the SNP attempts to head off a party civil war, our health service is on fire. Lib Dem research has shown things are so bad that one-in-six people who couldn’t get a doctor’s appointment last year conducted a medical procedure on themselves, or got someone else unqualified to do it.

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We are coming out of a pandemic, granted, but other health services around the world don’t seem to be struggling in quite the same way. Indeed, perhaps the most startling international comparison can be found in the example I raised in Parliament with Nicola Sturgeon last week.

Maria is a 22-year-old Ukrainian refugee who has been living in Scotland since the summer. She suffers from a hormonal thyroid condition which requires regular monitoring and treatment, but when she presented at her local Scottish GP she was confronted with an unexpected dilemma. The wait for treatment was so long that it actually made more sense for her to return to war-torn Kyiv to see her doctor there. That’s exactly what she chose to do.

The air-raid sirens, drone and missile strikes were less daunting to Maria than the waiting times of Scotland’s NHS. That is appalling.

We can’t afford to have Scottish ministers frittering away their time on other things. The dead hand of ministerial disinterest is exactly why we’re in this mess, so Scottish Liberal Democrats have come up with a list of steps that Humza Yousaf should take right now to address the NHS crisis.

He should as a matter of urgency:

There are things that Health Secretary Humza Yousaf could do right now that would help the NHS (Picture: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Strike a fresh pay deal as part of a staff burnout-prevention strategy that guarantees better working conditions, protected time off and safe staffing levels for NHS staff. Outline specific dates by which long waits for key procedures will have been cleared, and replace the meaningless treatment-time guarantee with real-time information on waits for operations and diagnostic procedures. Immediately withdraw legislation for the ministerial takeover of social care and instead invest the £1bn that would cost on services and staff. Call a staff assembly that puts the expertise of frontline staff at the forefront of designing a route out of the crisis. This should go hand-in-hand with a national recruitment drive and investment in new training places. Put more counsellors in schools and establish a single point of contact for those on waiting lists to reduce the pressure on child and adolescent mental health services. Ensure dentists are properly recognised and reform of the funding structure so they can return to taking on NHS patients.

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The distraction that has gripped the SNP/Green government over breaking up the UK has taken a heavy and bitter toll, one that is being measured in human lives. This government must urgently change tack and focus on the crisis in our health service or make way for someone who will.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western