It is indisputable that our NHS currently faces a major crisis. The scale of the crisis was perhaps demonstrated most clearly when the Health Secretary told the public to think twice before calling an ambulance, a shocking comment from a senior government minister.
That NHS Scotland is facing such pressures is not unexpected, or unique. Indeed, it was wholly predictable that in the wake of Covid the NHS would experience considerable extra strain, especially as we head towards the winter period. What is unacceptable, however, is that the Scottish Government appears to be embarrassingly ill-prepared for this crisis.
Years of under-funding and inadequate workforce planning have left the NHS in a hugely difficult situation. We are seeing the impact of this neglect locally, with the decisions on the Edington and local care packages. NHS and social care staff continue to do an amazing job, but their representatives are clear that many are facing burn out after 18 months of extreme physical and emotional pressures.
At the election in May, Scottish Labour said that Covid recovery should be the central priority of this parliamentary session. Health, including the remobilisation of the NHS, was at the heart of that recovery message.
Unfortunately, health is low down the priority list for the new SNP-Green government. The NHS first appears on page 35 of the agreement between the two parties. It goes without saying that independence was the top priority. However, even among those who think that this would be in Scotland’s long-term interests, I do not believe most see it is an immediate priority.
As one SNP MSP recently acknowledged, the economic, health and other impacts of the pandemic mean we need time to recover before the constitutional question can seriously be considered again.
I will certainly continue to argue for the focus to be on the recovery of our health, economy, education, environment and communities in the months and years ahead.