Independence is vital to protect Scotland’s NHS, says SNP MSP


  By a Newsnet reporter

The contrast between the record of Nicola Sturgeon and Andrew Lansley – who both left their positions as Health Secretary this week – was put into sharp focus with the reaction on twitter following their moves to new roles.  SNP MSP Jim Eadie claims that the difference in reception illustrates why it is vital for Scotland to achieve independence in order to protect the NHS.

While Andrew Lansley’s determination to continue the privatisation of the NHS south of the border earned him near universal condemnation, the reaction to Nicola Sturgeon changing roles was overwhelmingly dominated by people praising her record of protecting Scotland’s NHS from the Conservative led Coalition’s austerity and privatisation agenda.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no UK National Health Service.  The NHS systems of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are quite distinct from their English counterpart, and are directly controlled by the devolved administrations in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.  Only the NHS in England is directly controlled by the UK Government’s Health Secretary, who has no direct influence over the NHS in the other nations of the UK.  

However the NHS in Scotland and the other devolved nations remain at risk from the UK Coalition’s budget cuts.  All Scottish Government expenditure comes from a block grant from Westminster, and Westminster will be reducing the amount received by Scotland as the Coalition’s cuts begin to bite.  

As Scotland’s longest serving Health Secretary, Ms Sturgeon presided over popular moves like the restoration of free prescriptions, the abolition of hospital car park charges, and the guarantee of free personal care for the elderly.  She resisted pressures from Westminster to introduce privatisation in the Health Service, and sought to undo some of the damage done by the previous Labour administration’s introduction of privatisation by the back door.  

Nicola Sturgeon’s time in the role has seen waiting times driven down, the principle of free healthcare restored with the abolition of prescription charges and a firm rejection of the privatisation agenda which has fundamentally changed the NHS south of the border.  This stance has contributed to her popularity amongst health care professionals.

The British Medical Association in Scotland praised Ms Sturgeon’s “honest and forthright approach” during her time as Health Secretary.  The Royal College of Nursing Scotland, one of the main organisations representing nursing staff, tweeted their best wishes and thanks to Ms Sturgeon, while the Scottish Emergency Rider Volunteer Service, who transport blood and other urgent medical items for the NHS, tweeted:  “A great job done Nicola, and best wishes for the new role.”

However Mr Lansley’s move from the post in charge of the NHS in England did not prompt such fond farewells.  

As news of Mr Lansley’s move broke, NHS Networks tweeted:  “Lansley’s legacy: Only Herod’s maternity policy got a worse press.”  

Campaigning group Keep Our NHS Public tweeted:  “Andrew Lansley – inept, hectoring, ill-tempered – was a disaster who deserved to be sacked.”

Guardian Healthcare noted:  “Lansley took a wrecking ball to NHS structures, alienated every interest group and patronised those who disagreed.”

News that Mr Lansley was to be replaced by former Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt was not received any better.  Mr Hunt recently resisted intense pressure to resign after one of his close aides was sacked for revealing confidential information to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation during the Murdoch bid to take over full ownership of SkyBSB.  

London Evening Standard columnist Rosamund Urwin remarked:  “Last night, I asked if Cameron could actually find someone worse than Andrew Lansley for Health Secretary.  Slightly shocked that he managed.”

Commenting, SNP MSP Jim Eadie who sits on the Health and Sport Committee said:

“The records as Health Secretary of Andrew Lansley and Nicola Sturgeon could scarcely be more different.

“While Mr Lansley’s main objective whilst in charge of the England’s NHS was to dismantle it, in Scotland waiting times have been driven down and free prescriptions introduced to make healthcare truly free at the point of delivery.

“In England, hit squads are being sent in to try and save hospitals from going bust and the NHS moves further and further away from its founding ethos, while in Scotland, there is an absolute cast-iron guarantee from the Scottish Government that Scotland’s NHS will remain in public hands.

“The contrast between the two legacies is the clearest demonstration possible of the different approach which the independence of the NHS in Scotland allows us to take. But of course, Scotland’s NHS is still put under threat from funding cuts coming from Westminster.

“With the powers of a normal, independent country we would be able to bring such Scottish approaches to bear in other areas and ensure we avoid the damaging effects of some of Westminster’s worst follies.”