National Health Service (Winter Pressures)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 29 September 2022.

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Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

4. To ask the First Minister what provision the Scottish Government is making to cope with the anticipated pressures on the NHS this winter. (S6F-01394)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Recognising the challenge that the winter represents and the pressure that our health and care systems are under, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care will make a statement to the Parliament next week giving an overview of the wide range of work that is under way to ensure that health and social care services are well prepared for winter.

Our vaccination programme is a critical first line of defence, protecting the most vulnerable and reducing staff absences. We also seek to maximise capacity across health and social care services by expanding the workforce to manage expected demand. Public messaging is also crucial to ensure that people have the right advice and support to access the right care at the right place and at the right time.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

The disastrous economic policies of Liz Truss—the lady has indicated that she is not for turning—pile even more pressure on folk who face terrifying energy bills. The pound is tumbling in value against the dollar and the euro, so every import, including food, becomes even more costly. Spiralling interest rates will increase credit card and mortgage payments. It is an economic tsunami, except for bankers and the rich.

Does the First Minister agree that there can be no doubt that pressures on our health services will increase as a direct result of those policies? Will she consider including in discussions for her winter planning for the health service agencies such as mortgage companies, social landlords in the rented sector and Citizens Advice Scotland, which will also be on the front line and might help to prevent some of the damage that is being done to our nation’s health?

The First Minister:

I absolutely agree with Christine Grahame. She is completely correct to highlight those risks. It is important to understand that the economic and financial crisis that is being created by the Tories right now will potentially become a public health crisis in future. That will put significantly increased demand on our national health service, so it is important that we continue to work with the NHS and other partners, including Citizens Advice Scotland, to try to mitigate and manage that impact.

There is, of course, a more direct threat to the NHS for any Government that was to go down the path of tax cuts for the rich. I was struck this week by comments by the former deputy governor of the Bank of England, who, I think, is a current member of the Office for Budget Responsibility, although I will be corrected if I am wrong about that latter point. What he said was frightening. He said that the scale of the spending reductions that will be required to pay for the tax cuts would, in effect, mean the end of the NHS as we know it.

That is why it is vital that the United Kingdom Government reverses the tax cuts, but it is also why it would be wrong for anybody to demand that the Scottish Government follow suit on cutting taxes, given the risk that it poses to the NHS and other public services.

Photo of Paul O'Kane Paul O'Kane Labour

This week, it was revealed that hundreds of additional surge beds that were made available to health boards across Scotland last winter continue to be occupied, and the vice-president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Dr John-Paul Loughrey, said:

“Every hospital in Scotland just now is under the cosh.”

The bed shortage is a direct consequence of the Scottish Government’s actions. Our hospitals have 4,000 fewer beds than they had in 2010—and we know who served as health secretary in that period. The situation is unacceptable. We cannot normalise our national health service being in a perpetual state of crisis. Therefore, what is the First Minister going to do to address that crisis as well as the crisis in capacity and staffing across the NHS? Will she take action? That is something that the current health secretary seems unwilling or unable to do.

The First Minister:

Public Health Scotland’s most recent annual health figures show that, in fact, the average number of staffed acute beds has increased compared with the previous year. We also have more beds per head of population than England does. There is huge pressure on our national health service, but we continue to support it through investment, recruitment and work with the service.

It is a bit galling to hear a Labour member talk about bed reductions in the national health service. In the seven years or so of the last Labour Government in this Parliament, there was a reduction of 5,425 in the number of hospital beds in Scotland. That includes non-acute beds, but the rate of bed reductions was justified at the time for many reasons, including reducing the length of stay in hospital. Of course, many of those reasons still apply now. I think that Labour should perhaps check the facts and check its own history before it makes criticisms of this Government.