By Stefan Bienkowski
Reassurances over cross-border healthcare between the United Kingdom and an independent Scotland were kept from public knowledge by Conservative MSPs, according to a recent freedom of information request.
The findings have revealed that a letter from the NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) service, which deals with the transport of vital organs across the country, stated that it expects cross-border healthcare systems to stay in place after a Yes vote in September.
The letter was initially sent to Tory MSP Nanette Milne in August 2013, after she requested the service’s planned procedure in the scenario of an independent Scotland, as well as a figure for how many people have received their help within the country over the past few years. Yet such information was never made public by the MP or her party at any point.
The response states that “NHSBT would expect this reciprocal agreement to continue if Scotland does agree to independence as the arrangement offers additional security to all four blood services.”
Whilst also confirming: “NHSBT has representation on the Scottish Transplant Group and, in addition to this, senior members of NHSBT have regular discussions with Scottish Government officials. From these discussions I can confirm that NHSBT and Scottish Government do not believe that there would be any significant change to the relationship or the management of organ donation and transplantation in the event of independence.”
Cross-border cooperation is already within the NHSBT’s remit as it and its counterparts in other regions of the UK already work closely with the Irish Health Service Executive.
Commenting, SNP MSP Aileen McLeod, who sits on the Health and Sport Committee, said:
“This letter may not have been the negative response the No campaign was looking for, but people in Scotland deserve to know that vital cross-border healthcare will continue after a Yes vote.
“The NHS Blood and Transplant service makes it perfectly clear that they expect the reciprocal arrangement with NHS Scotland that currently exists to continue after Scotland becomes independent.
“That is an entirely sensible position and one that confirms that an independent Scotland will of course cooperate closely with the rest of the UK on all kinds of issues where it is in our mutual interest to do so.”
Evidence of cross border healthcare cooperation has already been published by pro-independence campaign group Yes Scotland. One story involved a mother whose baby received treatment in Germany after officials from England, Scotland and Germany seamlessly worked together.
Consultant Izhar Khan has criticised claims that cross-border medical treatment and co-operation would be under threat in an independent Scotland, describing the statements as “scaremongering”.
Speaking last September, Dr Khan said “This appears to be nothing more than scaremongering. As a doctor, I do not ask if a patient is Scottish, English, Irish or Welsh. Doctors treat patients, not nationalities.”
He added: “An independent Scotland would continue these arrangements for a number of very straightforward and sensible reasons – not least because these services are paid for and are extra-contractual.
“Money follows the patient from Scotland and the struggling NHS in England is not going to refuse lucrative contracts.”
Ms McLeod added: “It leaves the anti-independence parties with questions to answer about what other reasonable responses they have suppressed because they didn’t fit in with the No campaign’s Project Fear agenda.”
Speaking on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland show on February 12, Tory Deputy Leader Jackson Carlaw stated that he did not believe a Yes vote would be problematic for healthcare in Scotland, saying:
“I believe in staying with the union but let me say if Scotland did vote for independence, Scotland’s health service would continue, people would continue to be treated and I believe it would prosper.”