‘SNP more worried about Scottish independence than our NHS’ - Gordon Brown

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The former Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the NHS may take up around 40 per cent of the Scottish Government’s budget but, he adds, “no one will tell you that the NHS merits 40 per cent of the Scottish Government’s attention.”

Brown is now urging the SNP to undo some of the damage in their budget on December 12.

Former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Picture: Getty Images

Former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Picture: Getty Images

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He said: ”SNP ministers are far more likely to wake up in the morning planning for independence than worrying about our NHS.

“And the effects of this are now coming into sharp focus: for the past 10 years the SNP has shortchanged the Scottish NHS to the point that every winter, from now on, Scotland is likely to face a staffing and waiting list crisis.”

Scottish health care spending per person according to Brown, has always had to be higher than in England.

He added: “With a third of the land area of the UK, we need more resources to staff island and remote practices.

“Pensioners who have the greatest health care needs are a bigger share of our population than in the UK.

“Poor health in the poorest areas of our cities and towns has required more doctors and nurses.

“That’s why, in 2007 - the year the SNP took power - Scottish health care spend was 16 per cent higher per head than in England.

“But after 10 years of SNP government it was, by last year only seven per cent more – which represents a cut in the real value of what was spent last year of nearly £1 billion.

“The Scottish Parliament Information Service state that instead of a projected £2,516 per person based on 2007 levels, just £2,363 per person - about £150 less - was spent last year.

“Every day we see at first hand the price patients are paying for this underfunding.

“In the past 12 months my home town of Kirkcaldy has lost a 1,700-strong GP practice; the local Victoria Hospital is under huge staffing pressures; recently the Fife out-of-hours service - once available in four centres - has been offered in only one; and because mental health sufferers, who have urgent needs - often of a life-and-death nature - are waiting months even for an initial appointment, a local charity, the Cottage Family Centre that I am patron of, has had to employ its own mental health counsellors.”

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Kirkcaldy’s predicament is not unique, admits Brown. Latest statistics, in what the Mental Health Foundation calls ‘a growing child mental health crisis’ show 8,000 children in Scotland with severe mental health problems were waiting to see a specialist at the end of June, 2018 - 2,116 of them for more than 18 weeks.

At present Scotland is short of 600 consultants and GPs and around 3,300 nursing and midwifery posts remain unfilled.

Brown said: “The waiting list and the 62-day cancer targets are now regularly missed.

“As Monica Lennon MSP showed this week more than 20 per cent of patients waiting for diagnostic tests are not seen within six weeks as promised - and throughout 2018 Scottish accident and emergency departments have not met their 95 per cent target - the promise of treatment within four hours - despite the fact Scottish hospitals appear to experience less demand for A & E than England.

“In the North East, as a result, it has been reported that social workers are being drafted in to keep casualty departments moving in fear of a winter crisis.

“It is no doubt one of the reasons why the chairman of the Royal College of GPs in Scotland has added his concerns to those of The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and said our under-funded NHS is ‘doomed’ in its present form.

“During 2018 seven NHS chief executives have moved on and of course, after decades, when more people have lived longer, Scotland is now seeing life expectancy - still below the UK average - stall and then, last year, fall.

“But shocking as the current financing of the NHS is, what is happening now could be a mere prelude to a greater crisis ahead as demands on the service begin to bite and as the elderly population and the need for new equipment and new facilities becomes ever more pressing.

“The economist John McLaren has estimated that NHS Scotland could face an even bigger annual black hole simply because of a sleight of hand by the Scottish Government using highly dubious estimates to justify their underfunding.

“Ministers are denying the NHS the money it needs by assuming efficiency savings that, at 1.3 per cent a year, are 50 per cent more than the 0.8 per cent claimed in England.

“They then deny the NHS further funding by assuming NHS inflation is going to be 2.3 per cent as against the historical trend of four per cent, which is also the more realistic English assumption.

“And then Ministers deny the NHS even more money by assuming that social care spending will rise by only four per cent in Scotland where the forecast is six per cent for England. Finally, they claim Scotland’s demographic trends are such that while there will be three per cent growth in demand in England it will be just one per cent in Scotland.

“In all, they are offering the NHS a cash growth half as much as that of England – 3.5 per cent cash growth per year as against seven per cent down south - something John McLaren thinks untenable

“When, earlier this summer, I criticised the SNP’s independence plans for the 2020s and 2030s contained in their Growth Commission Report and showing that austerity budgeting allied to a £100billion of debt would lead to big cuts in NHS funding, I was denouncing a blue-sky document that I hoped would never be implemented.

“Now I fear the SNP are already implementing their post-independence priorities and the National Health Service, Labour’s creation, has become a victim of the Scottish Government’s different priorities.”

With the Scottish Budget on Wednesday, December 12, Brown claims the SNP has an opportunity to undo some of the damage.

He added: “The Barnett formula has allowed them to offer the NHS an extra £550 million as a result of the UK Budget.

“But to bring the NHS up to standard the ex head of devolution, Professor Jim Gallagher - an expert on the Scottish budget - assesses that if the SNP had given the NHS its fair share of the Barnett formula in their first 10 years, health spending would now be £1billion pounds a year higher.

“And even that NHS SOS for £1.5billion now would not be enough to meet Scotland’s rising long-term need. Twenty years ago, as Chancellor, I set up a review into NHS funding. That review explored NHS future needs – because of new technology, changing demography and rising concern about social care mental illness and preventive medicine.

“We brought in people on a non partisan basis to help us draw up a national plan based on the best use of new investment. Now we need a similar independent review into the long-term future of the Scottish NHS and, for the sake of five million patients and their long-suffering nursing and medical staff, we need it urgently.”

SNP Response

Responding to Mr Brown’s claims and SNP Spokesperson said: “This is utter hypocrisy from Gordon Brown who, as Chancellor, imposed a legacy of toxic PFI contracts on our public services, including the NHS, at a cost of over £32 billion.

“We will take no lessons from a party which at the last Scottish election, proposed spending plans which would have seen our NHS £360 million worse off this year – the equivalent of losing around 9,000 nurses.

“In contrast under the SNP, NHS staffing is up by over 12,000 and health funding is at record levels - £4 billion higher than it was under labour.”