Alex Cole-Hamilton: Sturgeon has no respect for her own law
Nicola Sturgeon's government breaks the law thousands of times a month, and by Christmas it will have broken it nearly 25,000 times this year. The extent of their crimes are reported in the press, debated in parliament and their victims come through the constituency office doors of MSPs every single day.
It does so literally thousands of times a month and by Christmas they will have broken it nearly 25,000 times this year alone. The extent of their crimes are reported in the press, they are debated in parliament and their victims come through the constituency office doors of MSPs the country over every single day.
What makes things worse, is that this is a law that Nicola Sturgeon created.
In 2011, as Health Secretary, she sought to deliver a grandiose gesture to indicate the SNP’s “iron clad” commitment to reduce treatment waiting times, so they put it into law that no patient would have to wait more than 12 weeks from the point at which the course of treatment or surgery was agreed to it commencing.
In September, the Government only met that legal obligation in 69 per cent of cases. You might think that’s not a bad effort and I should lay off. But a) that’s the worst performance since the law was created and b) many of those 31 per cent of patients who weren’t seen in 12 weeks, weren’t seen in 13 weeks either. All told, vast numbers of them will have waited many, many months more, sometimes in terrible pain, for their treatment to begin or their surgery to take place.
I have held the hands of constituents in my office who have been in tears, of anger and of pain, as they describe the hope they’d started out with only to see their treatment put back and delayed over and over again. Several had planned holidays a year beyond the point at which they had expected their treatment to have been concluded, only to have to cancel those plans when surgery is delayed.
I’ve also sat with people about to lose their jobs because they’ve been signed off work for so long. They had started out, long ago, under the misapprehension that they’d be back at work in three months, give or take a bit of convalescence, only to run out all of the sickness benefits and provisions available to them as they waited.
What’s desperately cruel, truly criminal in fact, is that each and every one of these people received a letter following their initial consultation, describing to them the legal guarantee that their treatment would commence within 12 weeks. Almost every one of them took those letters at face value. Why wouldn’t you?
Many will have done a swift calculation about possible time off work, pain management over that short term and plans they could make following their recovery. They would then stoically begin their wait. About week seven, they’re starting to feel a bit anxious that they’ve not received a date to go into hospital, so they call up the relevant hospital department, only to be told that they have many dozens more weeks of waiting ahead of them.
Our amazing NHS staff are working their hearts out to shorten those waits, and we can’t turn this around immediately, but in the meantime I think we should start being straight with people about how long they’ll have to wait from the outset. Last week in parliament, I challenged the new Health Secretary to end the practice of sending people letters advising them of the 12-week guarantee when the departments sending those letters know that they haven’t a hope of meeting it in the current climate
I believe that Scottish patients have the maturity to understand why treatment may be delayed, I just think it’s unbelievably cruel to tease them with a timeframe that is so manifestly unachievable.
Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Lib Dem MSP for Edinburgh Western.