By Martin Kelly
Claims by the No campaign that Scotland’s NHS is safe under devolution have been called into question after it emerged several Scottish Labour MPs have already expressed concerns that the privatisation agenda currently underway south of the border, could adversley impact the health service in Scotland.
It has now emerged that at least three Labour MPs have already publicly acknowledged that devolution alone cannot protect the Scottish NHS, and that Tory privatisation could lead to cuts being imposed north of the border.
Ann McKechin, Sandra Osborne and Katy Clark have all warned about the “knock-on” effect on Scotland of Tory NHS privatisation, which all three say will “severely damage” the NHS in England.
McKechin, who was a junior Scotland Office minister in the last Labour Government, said it was “inevitable” that changes south of the border would hit the Scottish health service.
“Although management of NHS Scotland has been successfully devolved for over a decade it does not exist in a vacuum and I believe it is inevitable that changes affecting 85% of patients in the UK will put pressures on the devolved nations.” she said.
Her colleague Katy Clark echoed the concerns expressed by McKechin, saying she feared the NHS in England may be “seriously damaged” by the current government which would, she said, impact on the Scottish NHS.
She said: “The NHS in England may be seriously damaged by the Government’s Bill and this will have a knock on effect in Scotland given the current co-operation between the services north and south of the border….[the Bill] will massively increase private involvement in the delivery of services and could threaten the NHS both in England and Scotland.”
Fellow Labour MP Sandra Osborne said: “Even though Health is a devolved matter and the proposed legislation will not apply here that has not stopped people in Scotland expressing their fears that the Tory Government plan to seriously damage the NHS with this Bill. I have received a huge number of letters and emails expressing concerns which I share.”
The comments were highlighted by Scotland’s health minister Alex Neil who said it left claims made by the Better Together campaign, in disarray.
Mr Neil said the concerns expressed by the Labour MPs highlighted the need for a Yes vote which he said would ensure the NHS would be protected. The MSP also highlighted the relative wealth of Scotland which he argued would ensure Scotland’s public services continued to be fully funded.
Mr Neil said:
“Scotland’s one of the world’s richest countries, wealthier per head than France, the UK and Japan. For every one of the last 33 years we’ve raised more tax per head than the UK and with a Yes vote that money will stay here to fund the NHS and other public services.
“More and more people are switching from No to Yes as they realise the damage that Westminster control of Scotland’s finances is causing.
“There is now an overwhelming weight of evidence that there is a real threat to Scotland’s NHS from the Tory privatisation agenda south of the border.”
Mr Neil said claims by senior Labour members of the pro-Union Better Together campaign, that Tory plans would have no impact on the Scottish NHS, were at odds with the concerns expressed by their party colleagues.
Mr Neil added: “While Alistair Darling tries to claim the NHS budget is rising so we have nothing to worry about, the UK Statistics Authority – following a complaint by Andy Burnham – says precisely the opposite.
“While Labour in the Scottish Parliament claim that devolution protects Scotland’s NHS, Labour in Wales are having to make cuts to their NHS Budget and describe Tory privatisation as ‘the fundamental issue’ threatening their public services.
“While the No campaign are saying one thing, away from the referendum campaign Scottish Labour MPs are saying precisely the opposite – exposing the rank hypocrisy at the heart of the No campaign.”
The NHS has moved to the front of the referendum campaign with both sides seeking to reassure voters the much valued service will be safer with them.
The Scottish Government, which receives a fixed grant from Westminster, has ring-fenced spending to ensure the Scottish Health Service is protected. However First Minister Alex Salmond has argued that future cuts set to be imposed by both Labour and Tory Westminster governments will introduce significant pressures on Scottish public services, including the NHS.
Labour leader Ed Miliband has already signalled spending on the NHS will be reduced by a future Labour government. Earlier this year Mr Miliband confirmed plans to introduce ‘savings’ into the NHS in England.
Last month a senior UK Government minister confirmed that funding levels for the NHS could not be guaranteed beyond the next UK general election.
UK Home Secretary, Theresa May made the admission when being interviewed on ITV Borders TV.
Leading trade union Unison has also warned that devolution alone cannot protect the Scottish NHS from the Conservative’s privatisation.
Last month the union issued a statement which said: “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.”