Our health service is seeing more patients than ever before. If we look just at accident and emergency services for the country overall, we can see that, despite the pressures, so far this year more people are being admitted, discharged or transferred within four hours than in the previous year. We have record funding and record numbers of staff.
Of course, we want to encourage patients to seek help and treatment in the best place for them. That is not always in hospital; it is often in primary care or in the community.
The health service is doing more now than it has ever done, for which it deserves our grateful thanks.
There was not one recognition of the problem at Raigmore hospital from the First Minister. Not one. That is astonishing.
Telling people just to go away seems to be a pretty shabby way to deal with waiting times.
That is happening not just in the Highlands but in the Borders, in Paisley, in East Kilbride and in every part of the country—and that is before the winter crisis hits.
People rely on the NHS, but they are being let down by the Government. Thousands of people are—despite the solemn promise from the Government—stuck in hospital even though they are fit to go home. Audit Scotland says that the NHS is critically short of staff. The Royal College of Emergency Medicine says that we are hundreds of A and E beds short. The waiting time guarantee is broken every hour of every day. After 12 years in power, has the First Minister got any more excuses?
The Audit Scotland report said that the NHS is treating more patients than ever before and that performance against most of the waiting times targets is improving.
I want to challenge Willie Rennie very directly, because I think that some of his language was deeply regrettable. The NHS does not tell anyone to “go away”. It is deeply irresponsible for any member of Parliament to suggest that it does. What the NHS does—it does so in the interests of patients, in which, frankly, every member of this Parliament should support it—is encourage patients to seek treatment in the place that is best for them. That might be at a general practitioner surgery, a pharmacist or another community service. Hospitals and accident and emergency departments are not always the best places to seek treatment.
At the start of this week, I visited a community pharmacy in Rutherglen, which is expanding its services and getting the benefit of seeing more patients who would otherwise go to GPs or acute care. That is the sensible and responsible way to redesign our health service, as we make record investment in it.
That a representative of the party that was the co-architect of austerity gets up here and talks about spending in our health service really takes the biscuit.