National Health Service (Funding)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 31st October 2019.

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Photo of Monica Lennon Monica Lennon Labour

6. To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the projected £1.8 billion shortfall in NHS funding outlined in the Audit Scotland report, “NHS in Scotland 2019”. (S5F-03662)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

We did not just respond to that; we anticipated it. If Monica Lennon recalls, in the Scottish Government’s framework for health and social care, which was published last year, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport m ade it clear that because, as we all recognise, demand for our services is rising, we require reform in our health service to the value of £1.8 billion by 2023-24. That is in addition to the significant investment that is planned over that period. Audit Scotland’s report simply agrees with that assessment.

The Scottish Government continues to follow a twin approach of both investment and reform, further increasing our health investment to a record £14 billion and delivering sustainable improvements to secure better outcomes for people who use health and social care services. Lastly, on investment, as I have already pointed out to Richard Leonard, Labour’s spending plans in the last Scottish election would have seen £758 million less funding for our NHS in this year alone, which is equivalent to 19,000 nurses.

Photo of Monica Lennon Monica Lennon Labour

I would like to share the First Minister’s optimism about her investment plans, but health boards are struggling to break even at the moment. Under her Scottish National Party Government, the two largest NHS boards, Lothian and Greater Glasgow and Clyde, are predicting deficits of more than £151 million. Does the First Minister accept that those deficits are an indictment of her Government’s mismanagement of the NHS?

The First Minister:

No, I do not. It is because of the investment decisions that the Government has taken that we have record funding in our health service. That funding would be £758 million lower had Labour had its way. We work with health boards to help them to manage their financial position. The health secretary has introduced more flexibility in how health boards manage their budgets and we will continue to increase funding in our national health service.

Interestingly, I stand to be corrected if I am misremembering this or have got it wrong in any way, but my memory tells me that at no point over the past few years in the annual budget negotiations has Labour come to Derek Mackay and asked for more money for the national health service. Labour has to decide where its priorities lie. We know that, if Labour was in office, the health service would have less money to spend and that, when it has the chance to do so, Labour never argues for more money for the health service.

Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Conservative

Record funding has come from the United Kingdom Conservative Government, which the First Minister has failed to mention. However, looking at the Audit Scotland report, we see that spending on nursing agency and bank staff has soared by more than one fifth under her Government. Does the First Minister think that that is anything to do with her decision to cut the number of student nurse places while she was health secretary, or is it someone else’s fault?

The First Minister:

For the past number of years, we have increased the number of nurse students and we have record numbers of staff in our national health service. Miles Briggs should probably think about the fact that in an organisation the size of the national health service, things such as nurse banks are essential to ensure that services can be delivered. The biggest challenge for NHS recruitment right now is, of course, Brexit, and the Tories should be hanging their heads in shame that they are the ones who are trying to impose it on Scotland.

Given that I have pointed out the implications of Labour’s policy for health service budgets, it is only fair that I do the same for the Tories. If we had followed the plans that the Tories wanted us to when Derek Mackay was setting his budget—if we had handed those tax cuts to the richest earners in our society—there would be £650 million less in our national health service right now. That would be the cost of the Tory policy, which is why people in Scotland will never trust the Conservatives with the national health service.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

NHS Lothian is £90 million in debt, and that impacts on patients. What does the First Minister have to say to a constituent of mine who needs an urgent brain operation for excruciating nerve pain but who cannot get it because of the shambles at the sick kids hospital, where the neurological centre is to be located? That woman cannot work or drive. She is reliant on benefits, and she lives taking more than 48 tablets a day. That is the human face of the scandal at the sick kids hospital. What is the First Minister going to do about that to help my constituent, who lives in agony?

The First Minister:

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport gave an update to Parliament yesterday on the sick kids hospital situation. It is an important point that services that are intended to be provided in the new building are being provided on current sites.

I do not know the circumstances of the case that Neil Findlay has raised, but I would be happy to have the health secretary look into it.

What we will continue to do for all patients in our national health service is not deny the challenges that it faces, but ensure that we invest the sums of money that are required, employ the numbers of staff that are required, and undertake the reforms that our health service needs so that it can continue to be the high-performing health service that it is, thanks to the tens of thousands of staff who work in it day and daily.

Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Conservative

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. In her response to Emma Harper’s question, the First Minister failed to outline her links to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. Nicola Sturgeon has hosted lavish dinners for that US-based private health giant at Edinburgh castle. Since then, private meetings have resulted in the First Minister and SNP ministers holding more private meetings and the company being awarded a £2 million hospital contract. Through your good office, Presiding Officer, how can Parliament hold SNP ministers and their dealings with private companies to account?

The Presiding Officer:

I thank Mr Briggs for raising that matter as a point of order. As he may know, it is up to each individual member to decide whether to make a declaration on any conflict of interest. I am sure that all members will be aware of that.

I suspend the meeting to allow new guests to arrive in the gallery.

12:47 Meeting suspended.

12:48 On resuming—