Our NHS is a vital public institution, and is a key part of Scotland’s national identity. For decades, it has been there whenever people need it – publicly-owned and publicly-run. The staff of the NHS, whether working as GPs, as nurses, as porters or consultants, stand ready to provide high quality care 365 days a year. And it is free at the point of use – a founding principle of Bevan’s which we all should be incredibly proud is realised in Scotland.
This must be the starting point for any discussion of the NHS. We must never lose sight of how precious our health service is, and we must always protect its founding principles. No matter how rich or poor you are, you must always be able to get the treatment you need.
The SNP, and the overwhelming majority of the people of Scotland, are absolutely committed to those principles. We’re clear the privatisation of the NHS that we are witnessing in England must never be allowed to happen here.
But if we are to retain the NHS as the fantastic public service it is today, then it needs to evolve. Among the challenges that we face is that, like most of the western world, our population is ageing. It’s fantastic that people are living longer, healthier lives. But we also know our NHS is dealing with more people than ever before, and those people are sicker, with complex and, sometimes, multiple conditions.
That is why the NHS needs to progress and develop to ensure it meets the challenges of the future.
Not only does the Scottish Government want to ensure that people are living healthier long lives, but we want more older people to be supported to stay in their own home and local communities. We’ll only achieve this by ensuring that our health and social care services work seamlessly together – something in which Scotland is already leading the way.
We’re integrating health and social care services, to be delivered around the patient’s needs. Our vision for the NHS is to see more people treated at home or in a community setting. Landmark legislation to bring the delivery of health and social care together was passed this year with cross-party support and will be fully implemented across the country by April 2016. The full integration of these services is designed to get patients home or to a homely setting as quickly as possible and ease pressure across the system. It is truly pioneering work. I hope that people across Scotland should really begin seeing the benefits this year.
In practical terms, this strategy should provide the long-term solution to reducing delayed discharge – which is one of this government’s key priorities. Currently, there are too many people waiting unnecessarily in hospital, when they are fit to be discharged, but the present system holds them up. This has knock on effects across the whole system, not least in A&E.
But by bringing local authorities and health boards together in a much more strategic way, we should be able to ensure the whole system works better and delayed discharge will become a thing of the past. As part of our focus to treat more people at home and in the community, we have also committed to investing £40m in GP and primary care services to support new ways of working that can help meet the changing demographics of our population.
This government is clear that health inequalities must be tackled, every child, regardless of their address or background, in Scotland should have the best start in life through better early years support and that every patient treated by our NHS receives safe care centred on their needs.
We’re absolutely committed to supporting our NHS to deliver world-leading care. That is why we have clearly outlined the standards of care that Scottish people can be assured they will get from our NHS.
Scotland has some of the strongest health standards in Europe, with standards introduced by this Government reducing waiting times to among the lowest levels on record. But none of this would be possible without the dedication and hard work of our staff. It makes such a difference to the experience patients and families receive. It is why our NHS is such a much loved and wonderful organisation.
And it is why the Scottish Government, unlike the Conservative-led UK Government or Labour-run Welsh Government, chose to accept the recommendation of the NHS Pay Review Body for a modest 1% uplift in staff pay. The Scottish Government is backing this up by increasing front line investment in the NHS, with an increase in the overall budget in 2015-2016 despite cuts to Scotland’s fiscal budget under the current coalition Government of almost 10%, increasing in nursing and overall NHS staffing numbers to record numbers as well as extending the no compulsory redundancy guarantee.
Preventative measures are also critical to ensuring the sustainability of the health service in the future, and many of Scotland’s public health policies are leading the way in the UK, and in Europe. The Scottish Government strongly supports minimum unit pricing, which we believe will be an effective and efficient way to tackle alcohol misuse in Scottish communities.
But there are threats to our NHS from outside Scotland. We have made clear to both the UK Government and the European Commission that, like the BMA, Unite and many others we have concerns about the possible impact of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) on the NHS and have pressed to ensure that the NHS is explicitly exempt from TTIP. The Scottish Government and the public must see the full legal text of any agreement before we can be fully assured that the NHS will continue to be safe in public hands.
That reflects our absolute commitment to a publicly-run NHS, free at the point of use. While our NHS simply can’t stay the same, this unwavering principle will stand behind all of the decisions we take to ensure our wonderful health service is fit for generations to come.