Healthcare professionals teamed up with Health Secretary Alex Neil yesterday to jointly declare support for a Yes vote as the only guarantee against damaging Westminster budget cuts.
Mr Neil was joined by members of NHS for Yes at an optician’s clinic in Toryglen, Glasgow, to highlight why independence is the best way to safeguard the NHS from the financial impact of privatisation south of the Border.
As the pro-Yes group continued to await answers to its six key questions posed to Alistair Darling about the consequences of a No vote for the NHS in Scotland, Mr Neil said Westminster’s privatisation agenda was a clear threat to Scotland health service.
He said: “The austerity, privatisation and patient charging agenda of Westminster will have a direct impact on how much money we’ll have in future to spend on the NHS in Scotland if we stay in the UK. Patient charges for care and services which were previously free to access sees public money being replaced with private money, which will deliver a consequent reduction to Scotland’s budget if we were to remain in the UK.
“Every £10 lost to the health and public services in England through austerity cuts, privatisation and patient charging will mean Scotland automatically lose £1 from our budget.
“It has been deeply disappointing to witness Labour politicians in Scotland trying to fool Scottish voters that the Tories and NHS privatisation pose no threat to public service budgets. South of the border Labour in England and Wales are warning of serious consequences to the NHS from Westminster’s action.”
Yesterday’s visit was arranged ahead of a public meeting in Glasgow tonight, organised by NHS for Yes.
NHS for Yes co-founder, Dr Willie Wilson said: “By voting Yes in the forthcoming referendum we can secure the progress that has been made in health under devolution, and take the opportunity to protect NHS Scotland from Westminster’s destructive privatisation and austerity agenda.
“Privatisation and commercialisation are now rampant in the health service south of the border.
“In Scotland, we have not gone down this road – but the more Westminster cuts Scotland’s budget, and the more the state withdraws from direct NHS provision in England, the greater Scotland’s budget will be squeezed as a consequence because of the way the Scottish Parliament is currently funded.
“Devolution has allowed us to protect the Scottish Health Service from the destructive policies of successive Westminster governments, but only independence will protect the Scottish Health Service from the future budgetary consequences of the accelerating privatisation of NHS England. Put patients before profits. Vote Yes on 18 September.”
GP Dr Anne Mullin said: “The scandal remains that despite what is known about health inequalities and the wider influences of socio-economic factors, health inequalities between the most deprived and affluent areas in the UK are greater today than before the great recession of the 20th century and child health inequalities in the UK are worse than ever.
“Scotland has an unique opportunity on September the 18th to narrow the gap and flatten the gradient of health inequalities.
“By voting Yes Scotland’s citizens will affirm their belief that the NHS remains a national asset which is not regarded as a drain on resource but understood as an investment in the health, wealth and well-being not just for her youngest citizens but for all her future generations.”
The healthcare professionals met Mr Neil at the practice of optometrist Tahra Mahmood, whose work is exclusively funded through the NHS.
The young mother-of-one said: “A public health service and in particular free NHS eye examinations are incredibly important to my patients in Toryglen. A Yes vote allows us to safeguard the NHS against cuts that come from Westminster. This referendum is a choice between two futures – one of austerity where we waste money on nuclear weapons and one where decisions about Scotland’s future are in Scotland’s hands.”
Dr Wilson, who will chaired the meeting in the Pearce Institute in the city’s Govan, added: “Charges for eye tests and for prescriptions are only a few of the indicators of what things are like south of the Border. Westminster is subjecting their NHS to wholesale privatisation.
“There is rationing for some surgical procedures and patients are being actively encouraged to speed up their own treatment by funding it themselves. Charges to visit your GP are being discussed and any savings from these measures would affect Scotland’s block grant. Devolution is not enough to protect NHS Scotland.”
Among those also on the visit was Dr Catriona Pagliari, a consultant radiologist, who said: “The only way to protect the Scottish NHS from financial pressures and a privatisation agenda imposed via Westminster is via independence. It is also of vital importance to be able to exclude the Scottish NHS from a planned EU/US transatlantic trade deal (TTIP).
“In England this would lead to an insurance-based Americanised model of health with increasingly reduced state funding. In the event of a No vote, health funding in Scotland could be reduced indirectly if TTIP proceeds in England as a knock-on effect. There is also a direct risk from TTIP if Scotland is simply a “region” of the UK with no negotiating rights within the EU.”
Last night’s meeting was addressed by Mr Neil, Dr Mullin and Dr Pagliari along with a number of other health professionals.
Alex Neil has accused No campaign leader Alistair Darling of being ‘the Darling of the Tory privatisation agenda’.
He said that during Monday night’s TV debate, Mr Darling had been unable to explain why:
· Labour politicians in England are warning that further privatisation in the NHS will ‘destroy everything that is precious about it’.
· The Labour administration in Wales has been forced to cut NHS funding, which Health Minister specifically blamed on budget cuts being passed on from Westminster.
· Unison in Scotland are warning that privatisation in England means that the UK Government is “starving” Scotland’s NHS of resources. ‘They are cutting back on the money provided to the Scottish Government and this puts the health budget under pressure.’
Mr Neil called on Scots to use a Yes vote to protect the progress of the NHS in Scotland.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, Mr Neil said: “During the BBC debate on Monday night, the No campaign’s concerted cover-up of the catastrophic effects of the wholesale privatisation of the NHS in England was completely exposed.
“In front of a UK-wide audience, Alistair Darling was unable to explain why he and the No campaign are trying to downplay the very serious warnings of unions and of Labour in England and Wales – goodness knows what people living in England and Wales were thinking.
“No one seriously believes that the Tories are privatising the NHS in order to spend more money on it – and in trying to pretend otherwise, the Tories no doubt view Alistair as the Darling of their cuts agenda.
“As long as we are tied to the fixed budget of governments at Westminster which are committed to austerity, the funding that underpins our NHS is under threat.
“This is one of the many reasons why Scotland needs to be in full control of its own vast resources.
“As the referendum gets closer, more and more Scots are waking up to the opportunity we have to protect the progress of Scotland’s NHS with a Yes vote – guaranteeing a service that is publicly-owned, clinically-driven and freely-delivered for all.”
The six questions NHS for Yes has posed to Alistair Darling:
1. Do you agree with Labour’s health spokesperson in England, Andy Burnham MP that the NHS in England could be broken up in five years?
2. Do you agree with Andy Burnham that people need to be woken up to what is happening in the NHS which is taking “the first steps towards an American health care system”?
3. Do you agree with Unite, the union that people in England “will increasingly have to pay for aspects of their care that used to be free at the time of treatment”?
4. Can you guarantee that privatisation will never result in an increase to or extension of patient charges for health care in England? Will such a guarantee be included in the manifestos of the 3 main No parties at Westminster?
5. Do you agree with the Welsh Health Minister that the current Westminster government believes in shrinking the state, which in turn means less money is being passed down to his administration?
6. Can you confirm that any changes in health spending in England in the future will result in automatic changes to Scotland’s block grant? In this regard, do you still stand by the claim made by Scottish Labour, which helped you get elected, that the Tories have “starved our schools and hospitals of funding and there’s a real risk they’d do the same again”?
Trade Unison Scotland has already warned of the dangers of a No vote saying: “Devolution means they can’t run down and privatise our NHS directly, the way they are doing in England. But what they can do is starve it of resources. They are cutting back on the money provided to the Scottish Government and this puts the health budget under pressure.”
And now, Andy Burnham says: “If we allow the continued advance of the market into the NHS it will eventually destroy everything that’s precious about it.” [Radio 4 Today programme, 29th July 2014]
Labour’s Health Minister in Wales Mark Drakeford said: ‘The fundamental issue…is the impact on public services in Wales of the cuts being made by [the Conservative-led] administration in Westminster, and passed down to Wales. That is what the fundamental problem is here: we have a Westminster Government that believes in shrinking the state, which believes in doing less through the public realm, and passes less money down to us in order to be able to do it.’ [Welsh Assembly debate 17 June 2014]