Prime Minister (Meetings)

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:10 pm on 27 February 2003.

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Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 3:10, 27 February 2003

To ask the First Minister when he next plans to meet the Prime Minister and what issues he intends to raise. (S1F-2536)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I expect to speak regularly with the Prime Minister over the coming weeks. We will discuss a wide range of issues.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

On 14 January, the First Minister said:

"I don't make promises I can't keep".

Four years ago, the people of Scotland were promised that the Labour party would

"bring down waiting lists by at least 10,000 ... and then drive them down further".

Today, four years on, waiting lists have not fallen by 10,000; instead, they have increased by 10,000. How does the First Minister reconcile his statement,

"I don't make promises I can't keep", with that shocking record on hospital waiting lists?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Because I am also very honest about when we need to change the policies and the targets that we have set out. It is absolutely right and proper that our health service policies and priorities focus on what matters most to patients, which is the time that they have to wait. As a result, we have focused step by step on real improvements to tackle key killer diseases such as heart disease, cancer and strokes. We have also focused on those who have had to wait the longest for their in-patient appointments, and between September and December last year managed to bring those figures down by a huge proportion. We will now move on to tackle out-patient appointments, because there is no point in bringing down in-patient waiting times if out-patient waiting times are still far too long. That is the next step and, step by step, we will ensure that the national health service gets better.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

That was undoubtedly an admission of failure on waiting lists by the First Minister.

As the First Minister has moved the ground on to waiting times, we should now address that issue. Four years ago, the people were promised that the Labour party would

"bring down the time that patients have to wait to see a hospital consultant".

There were no ifs, no buts and no concentration on those who wait the longest. Instead, there was a simple promise to bring down the time that people wait to see a consultant. Four years ago, it took 46 days to see a hospital consultant. Today, after four years of this Administration and after all the money that has been spent, the waiting time to see a hospital consultant is not 46 days, but 57 days.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The First Minister shakes his head. However, the information is from the Government statistic database and was published this morning. If the First Minister cannot read the statistics, how can he hope to get in charge of the problem? That is the issue. Once again, I ask the First Minister how he can reconcile his statement,

"I don't make promises I can't keep", with his failure to cut waiting times.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Apparently, because I can count. As I have tried to explain to Mr Swinney before, a median is not a mean or an average. The median is the mid-point; if we bring down the longest waiting times in the health service—which we are doing—the median will move upwards. I am happy to explain that basic mathematical fact to Mr Swinney in writing any day of the week.

We must deal with the most important issues in our health service. Since I became First Minister and Malcolm Chisholm became the Minister for Health and Community Care, we have focused firmly on waiting times. What has happened? The waiting times for heart disease, stroke and cancer and for those who are waiting longest in our health service have come right down. What will happen next? I assure Mr Swinney that the waiting times for out-patients will also come down. That way we will get the better health service that Scotland wants and needs.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The only promise that the First Minister keeps is that he will keep on changing the goalposts as far as his promises to the people are concerned.

Let us look at the First Minister's record on waiting times. We should be fair to him: waiting times have come down in Lothian University Hospitals NHS Trust. However, that is only one trust. In Yorkhill NHS Trust—a children's hospital—waiting times have risen from 62 to 100 days. In Ayrshire and Arran Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, the times are up; in West Lothian Healthcare NHS Trust, they are up; in Tayside University Hospitals NHS Trust, they are up; in South Glasgow University Hospitals NHS Trust, they are up; in North Glasgow University Hospitals NHS Trust, they are up; in Grampian University Hospitals NHS Trust, they are up; in Forth Valley Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, they are up; in Fife Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, they are up; in Dumfries and Galloway Acute and Maternity Hospitals NHS Trust, they are up; in the Borders General Hospitals NHS Trust, they are up; and they are up in Argyll and Clyde Acute Hospitals NHS Trust.

Finally, let us get to Lanarkshire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust—in the constituency and community that the First Minister represents. Waiting times there have gone up from 51 days to a shocking 80 days as a result of the current Administration. Is it not time that he started being honest with the people about his failure to deliver on the health service and made way for a Government that will get waiting times down?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I will not waste your time, Presiding Officer, by trying to explain "median" to Mr Swinney again. I will do that happily on another occasion. I am happy to quote some statistics. I visited Mr Swinney's area of Tayside very recently and I studied carefully what has happened there. Tayside Health Board was the health board that was in the most serious difficulties in the country just two short years ago.

On 31 December 2000, 415 people were waiting more than nine months for in-patient or day-case treatment in NHS Tayside. By December 2002, that was down to 13 people. The number of Tayside residents with a guarantee waiting for more than six months for in-patient day-case treatment was 198 a year ago and 136 today. Real people are being treated by real doctors and real nurses in NHS Tayside and that is making a real difference. That is not all in NHS Tayside. I referred only to the people who are being treated by consultants. What about the 78 one-stop clinics in NHS Tayside where people are being treated by nurses rather than doctors for all kinds of conditions? What about the new paramedics in Angus who are managing to deal on the spot with heart attacks with clot-busting drugs at the scene? Those are the changes that are taking place in our health service.

When I travel throughout Scotland to Tayside, to Edinburgh—where I visited Edinburgh royal infirmary two weeks ago—to my local brand new hospital of Wishaw general hospital, to Crosshouse hospital in Ayrshire and to many other places in Scotland, I see good doctors and good nurses doing new things that they have never done before, using new technology and new procedures. They are proud of what they are doing and they wish that people in this Parliament would back them up instead of trying to run them down. That is what we should be doing, that is what Malcolm Chisholm will be doing and that is what we will be doing in the months ahead.