Neil Gray's headache as he takes over as Scotland's new Health Secretary

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New Health Secretary Neil Gray has a headache and a half as he takes on the role in charge of Scotland's NHS

Hospitals are seeing record waiting lists and missed targets, while a think tank report found fewer patients are being treated than before Covid - and that's despite increases in spending and staff.

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Mr Gray, a key ally of First Minister Humza Yousaf, was appointed last week after Michael Matheson's predictable but protracted resignation from the Cabinet over his £11,000 data roaming bill blamed on his sons watching football. 

In a BBC interview at the weekend, Mr Gray tried to paint a positive picture of the state of the NHS in Scotland.  There was record spending and record staffing and, unlike the NHS south of the border, not a single day had been lost to strike action.

But he agreed waiting times were too long and said it was "unacceptable" that many people felt forced to turn to the private sector as a result. He said he was committed to keeping the NHS free at the point of need, but added this was "a challenging proposition". 

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

And he said: "We need to see reform."  He gave no hint of what reform might consist of, but said he would be taking a paper to Cabinet in the coming weeks and months. Reform may indeed be necessary, but resulting improvements will inevitably take time to materialise.

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In the meantime, swifter action is needed to tackle the misery of long waits, particularly in accident and emergency departments and for cancer treatment, which the opposition parties say are leading to "needless deaths".

People in Edinburgh and the Lothians will need no reminding that, despite Mr Gray's boast about record NHS spending in Scotland, NHS Lothian remains the lowest funded health board in the country per head of population, which inevitably has an impact on what can be done.

And sometimes overlooked, but just as serious, is the freeze on major new NHS infrastructure spending ordered by the Scottish Government after its capital funding from the UK Government was slashed by 10 per cent. In Lothian, that means no progress for at least the next two years on vital projects like Edinburgh's promised new eye hospital, the elective treatment centre at St John's Hospital, Livingston, and the South East Scotland regional cancer centre at the Western General.

The two governments can argue who is to blame, but halting crucial new hospitals is no way to run a health service.