THE NHS is close to all of our hearts. It is our most cherished and precious public service and we know that we can rely on it to be there when we and our families need it most.
It is for this reason I am proud that, while in government, the SNP has protected the NHS budget every single year since 2007. Indeed, a record £13 billion will be spent this year.
Since 2007, the Scottish Government has made the NHS a priority. We have seen prescription charges abolished, thereby ending the tax on ill health, which hit hardest those people with long-term conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
The number of frontline NHS staff is at a record high with over 11,000 more staff overall and achieving this increase has helped to drive down waiting times over the past nine years. Today, 97 per cent of people are seen within 12 weeks compared with 85 per cent who were seen within 18 weeks in 2007. A total of 4.7 million people are registered with an NHS dentist, a massive 82 per cent increase since 2007, while we are treating cancer patients faster than under any previous Scottish administration.
That is real improvement – delivered by NHS staff, supported by the SNP Scottish Government.
But I know there are challenges and everyone is aware that improvements need to be made.
On Monday, the News highlighted that one in four GP practices in the Lothians is turning away patients. This is a serious issue, which NHS Lothian must do more to address, however it is wrong to conflate the problems with GP recruitment with underfunding of primary medical services.
This year’s health budget includes an increase to the Primary Care Fund, meaning it will deliver an £85 million investment over three years.
Investment in GP services has increased each year since 2007 while the number of GPs in Scotland has increased by seven per cent since 2006. Scotland has more GPs per head of population than the rest of the UK and the Scottish Government has pledged over £16m to recruit 140 more pharmacists to help free up GP time for patients.
We all know that there are growing demands on our NHS. Our ageing population means we must be forward-thinking in how to address the new challenges that our health service will face. But the Scottish Government is not standing still on this issue.
If re-elected, the SNP will commit to investing £200m in creating a new network of elective treatment centres – including at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary – which will undertake knee, hip and heart operations as well as other elective procedures. This will be vital as we live longer lives and demand for these types of operations goes up.
It is worth remembering also that our NHS does not face the uncertain future that it does south of the Border.
Unlike the UK government, our Scottish Government has passed on the pay increase to nurses in full, committed to maintaining bursaries for student nurses and midwives while also keeping their tuition free. Let’s also remember, Scotland’s junior doctors will not face the imposition of a contract that will remove payments for working unsociable hours.
Keeping the NHS safe in public hands, valuing hardworking staff and ensuring that it receives the investment it needs in the years to come are the actions of a government which is willing to stand up and protect our NHS and prepare it for the future.
It is these key policies which will ensure our NHS stays the treasured institution it is today.
• Jim Eadie is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Southern