Voting SNP is bad for your health - Alex Cole-Hamilton

Last week, the Scottish Parliament broke for recess with a bang. Michael Matheson did what SNP ministers have been trained never to do: resign.
Neil Gray, a key ally of First Minister Humza Yousaf, has replaced Michael Matheson as Health SecretaryNeil Gray, a key ally of First Minister Humza Yousaf, has replaced Michael Matheson as Health Secretary
Neil Gray, a key ally of First Minister Humza Yousaf, has replaced Michael Matheson as Health Secretary

Ever since landing the taxpayer with £11,000 in iPad roaming charges, Matheson had been a lame-duck Health Secretary. The patients waiting an age for treatment and staff overworked on every shift deserved so much better than an SNP minister who has lost their trust.

Who was going to be our next Health Secretary? Enter Neil Gray - a key ally of Humza Yousaf, who ran the First Minister’s leadership campaign.

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On the day Gray took over, the Institute for Fiscal Studies revealed that NHS Scotland is spending more money, treating fewer patients and has failed to return to pre-Covid levels of delivery. It’s fallen behind the recovery in hospital activity in England.

This devastating report was the only welcome gift he could expect.

Beyond the First Minister, health is perhaps the most important brief in government. I can’t count how many times my constituents have asked me: How can I see a GP? Why is it taking so long to get the cancer treatment I need? How many more months will it be before I’m seen by mental health services? Why is my gran not getting the home care she needs? Why is it so hard to find a NHS dentist now?

The equivalent of 1 in 7 Scots is on an NHS waiting list. Yesterday heralded yet another set of abysmal waits at A&E departments across the country. There are yawning gaps within the nursing workforce. Patients can’t get the care they need to return from hospital, and the Scottish Government are threatening a centralised takeover of social care that will ignore key issues.

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There has been an abject failure in leadership too. From Humza Yousaf to Michael Matheson, the refusal to admit that the SNP’s NHS Recovery Plan is in tatters has held the health service back.

Instead, we are told that the ails of the health service are always someone else’s fault and monumental pressures are subjected to intensive political spin.

The new Health Secretary has talked of “reform” but failed to spell out what that means. When Parliament returns next week, we need to focus on a way forward.

From social care to mental health, from dentistry to GPs, my party has set out comprehensive plans that would get people swift access to healthcare close to home. We need a renewed focus on recruiting and retaining people, backed up by a plan that will tackle burnout among staff. I want to see the new Health Secretary delivering the safe staffing legislation that Parliament agreed years ago.

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I also want to see Neil Gray listening to my party’s calls for a fund that would remove the dangerous concrete RAAC from the NHS estate. Right now, the government is waiting for catastrophe to strike with no plans to remove RAAC from as many as 35 NHS buildings.

Most politicians struggle to admit fallibility and the need to change course. But that is exactly what our NHS needs right now. The NHS needs brought back from the brink.

There is a cigarette-style warning that deserves to be affixed to every nationalist leaflet: voting SNP is bad for your health.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats

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