Our health ser­vice de­serves the fund­ing it needs from Holy­rood to im­prove chronic pain care

The Press and Journal (North-East) - - FEATURES - Tom Ma­son

“The SNP has been in charge of health ser­vices in Scot­land for 10 years now. It is about time that they took full re­spon­si­bil­ity for this poor per­for­mance

This week, the P&J re­ported the shock­ing statis­tic that three chronic pain suf­fer­ers died while wait­ing for spe­cial­ist treat­ment in the NHS Grampian area. Th­ese hor­ren­dous cases emerged as part of a wider pat­tern of long de­lays af­fect­ing an in­creas­ing num­ber of pa­tients.

Of­fi­cial fig­ures from ISD Scot­land showed that the num­ber of peo­ple with chronic pain wait­ing for longer than the 18-week tar­get for treat­ment in­creased from 18% last June to 54% in March 2018.

This was par­tic­u­larly frus­trat­ing for me as I had raised this is­sue in Jan­uary at first min­is­ter’s ques­tions. I asked Ni­cola Stur­geon when peo­ple in the north-east might ex­pect to see some im­prove­ment in wait­ing times.

At that point, only 32% of pa­tients re­ferred to a pain clinic in Grampian were seen within the 18-week tar­get – less than half the Scot­tish aver­age of 67%.

In re­sponse, about a month later, I re­ceived a let­ter from Health Sec­re­tary Shona Ro­bi­son in which she said she “fully ex­pects there to be im­prove­ment this year”.

Ms Ro­bi­son went on to say there would be ad­di­tional clin­ics on of­fer in the Grampian area, that clin­i­cal re­cruit­ment had been “ad­vanced” and that a ser­vice plan­ning re­view would be com­pleted by March 2018.

How­ever, this week’s sta­tis­tics show the problem is get­ting worse, not bet­ter.

Given the di­rec­tion of travel of the past 12 months, and the fact that the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple still wait­ing for treat­ment at the end of March had waited longer than 18 weeks, it seems un­likely that there will be any sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in wait­ing times this year.

This is quite clearly a fail­ure on the part of the SNP gov­ern­ment to live up to the as­sur­ances made by se­nior min­is­ters to turn things around.

It is also yet another ex­am­ple of pub­lic ser­vices strug­gling in Scot­land while the SNP fo­cuses re­lent­lessly on in­de­pen­dence.

The crux of this is­sue in Grampian is around fund­ing.

Although money is by no means ev­ery­thing when it comes to health­care, the north­east re­ceives the low­est amount per head of pop­u­la­tion in Scot­land.

Re­search by my of­fice has found there is a di­rect link be­tween this low level and poor per­for­mance in mea­sures such as wait­ing times for op­er­a­tions.

This is no crit­i­cism of our hard­work­ing and ded­i­cated staff at NHS Grampian.

But the sim­ple fact is that our health board has been un­der-re­sourced by this SNP gov­ern­ment for far too long.

The fi­nan­cial chal­lenge is then com­pounded by staff short­ages.

For some time now, the health board – and in­deed other pub­lic sec­tor bod­ies in this area – has strug­gled to re­cruit and re­tain key staff.

The health board has tried ev­ery­thing in its power to at­tract more peo­ple to come and work in this area, but there must be more sup­port from the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment.

The SNP has been in charge of health ser­vices in Scot­land for 10 years now. It is about time that they took full re­spon­si­bil­ity for this poor per­for­mance.

Fo­cus on pol­icy

The 2021 Holy­rood elec­tions are a long way off – and I’m sure most vot­ers will be happy if they are not asked to go to the polls again be­fore then.

How­ever, the Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive team is hard at work de­vel­op­ing new poli­cies in ad­vance of that elec­tion.

That means look­ing at ways in which we would im­prove things in this coun­try.

We feel the SNP gov­ern­ment is too fo­cused on in­de­pen­dence and is fail­ing in a num­ber of ar­eas – on ed­u­ca­tion, the NHS and the econ­omy in par­tic­u­lar.

We are pre­par­ing a de­tailed pol­icy platform for an al­ter­na­tive gov­ern­ment for Scot­land.

Per­son­ally, I be­lieve so­ci­ety flour­ishes when we put per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity, tra­di­tional val­ues and strong fam­i­lies first. We should al­ways look to re­ward those who work to make their own and their fam­i­lies lives bet­ter, while pro­vid­ing a safety net for those that are un­able to do so.

I also think there is a grow­ing con­sen­sus – across all par­ties – to take fur­ther ac­tion to pro­tect our en­vi­ron­ment.

Fi­nally, any pol­icy should be de­vel­oped with a view to fix­ing prob­lems.

We need so­lu­tions, not half-baked ideas thrust upon the pub­lic with­out first as­sess­ing the im­pact they will have.

Winged beauty

This week­end I will visit Cas­tle Fraser, which is one of the few spots in Scot­land where you can re­li­ably see a very beau­ti­ful and rare crea­ture.

The North­ern Dam­selfly is on the En­dan­gered Bri­tish Red List and can only be found in Dee­side, Spey­side and Perthshire.

You may have seen one – the blue and black male has an ace of spades at the top of the ab­domen, while the fe­male is pea-green and black.

Their lar­vae live un­der­wa­ter for two years and the adults are on the wing in June and July.

I’m sure Sun­day will be an ex­cel­lent time to see them.

Re­cently I spoke to the Bri­tish Dragon­fly So­ci­ety’s Scot­tish con­fer­ence about what we in the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment can do to pro­tect th­ese pre­cious habi­tats.

Scot­tish En­vi­ron­ment LINK has since launched its 100-day ‘species cham­pi­ons’ ini­tia­tive and I’m de­lighted to take part.

One in 10 Scot­tish species are en­dan­gered in some way and it’s our re­spon­si­bil­ity to make sure the pub­lic re­alise that, and to put strate­gies in place to al­low them to flour­ish.

So, what needs to hap­pen? More sur­veys to check on the con­di­tion of known sites, im­prov­ing de­graded ones, and lo­cat­ing new ar­eas where the north­ern dam­selfly can be found.

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