Secretary of State for Scotland (Meetings)

– in the Scottish Parliament at 3:10 pm on 27 February 2003.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

Own goal again, Mr Swinney.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Thank you, Mr McNeil.

To ask the First Minister when he last met the Secretary of State—[Interruption.]

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Yes, thank you. We are coming to the good bit.

To ask the First Minister when he last met the Secretary of State for Scotland and what issues were discussed. (S1F-2533)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I last spoke to the Secretary of State for Scotland earlier this week and we discussed a very interesting range of issues.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Good. I hope that one of the interesting issues that they discussed was the fact that, since 1997, taxes have increased by the equivalent of £1,900 a year for every man, woman and child in Scotland. From April, the average worker will be paying another £200 a year out of his pay packet as a result of the national insurance increase. Despite the extra £1.5 billion of taxpayers' money being spent on health in Scotland, today there are 19,000 more people waiting for treatment than when the Executive came to power in 1999. Never mind the averages or medians that so troubled Mr Swinney and the First Minister, let us consider basic facts about out-patient appointments. In June 1997, 74 per cent of people were seen within nine weeks and that has now fallen to barely 52 per cent. Does the First Minister acknowledge that we have all paid the higher taxes? In which case, where are the better services?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

As I was saying in my final answer to Mr Swinney, the evidence of those better services is there for anyone who wishes to visit not only our hospitals, but our clinics, doctors' surgeries and other health facilities throughout Scotland. When I go to Edinburgh royal infirmary, I might meet an old lady who is there for three days for her hip operation, rather than the four or five weeks for which she might have been in hospital in the past. In Tayside, I give not only the example of Angus paramedics, but the example of the accident and emergency unit in Perth sending information to Ninewells hospital in order to get analysis to be able to treat on the spot. All those new procedures are taking place. They might not show up in the statistics, but they show up in the reality of the lives of the people who benefit from them. People throughout Scotland are being treated more quickly, more effectively and with higher-quality procedures and better equipment than ever before. I am proud of that health service and I wish that more people in the Parliament were too.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

I am very proud of the health service, because one of the improvements effected as a result of the Conservative hospital-building programme is that there are brand new hospitals such as the one in the First Minister's constituency and the Edinburgh royal infirmary, which he initiated. Instead of taking credit all the time for the hospitals that are open, the First Minister might be as gracious as I am, and acknowledge the origins of that programme and the fact that it lies in my party's commitment to the NHS in Scotland.

To return to the central point about the health white paper that was unveiled this morning, spending has gone up a considerable amount since 1997—some 34 per cent. However, the most recent figures show that the number of patients treated off the waiting list has gone down by 6 per cent. In other words, taxes and spending are up, and the number of treatments down. That demonstrates to me—and to anyone else who has observed what has happened in the health service in the past five years—that the Executive's centralising agenda has patently failed. The health plan that we got this morning is more of the same, with the abolition of local hospital trusts. Is it not about time that the First Minister faced the facts of those failings and that, instead of pursuing his current route, he and the Executive devolved real power down to local general practitioners and hospitals and stopped the centralised, bureaucratic meddling?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

It is simply not true to say that less treatment is taking place in the health service today than was the case years ago. In reality, there are fewer consultant-led treatments, because more and more treatments—thousands daily, all over Scotland—are led by nurses. Those nurses now have the skills, abilities, and opportunities to carry out those treatments more locally, so that patients get a better service in the local community rather than having to travel elsewhere. That is the benefit of a well-equipped, modern health service whose trained staff works more flexibly than ever before. That benefit is resulting in more treatment, not less, and is felt by patients right across Scotland.