As Ni­cola toasts 5 years at helm, NHS goes from cri­sis to cri­sis

Scottish Daily Mail - - News - By Michael Black­ley Scot­tish Po­lit­i­cal Edi­tor

THE health ser­vice has lurched from ‘cri­sis to cri­sis’ dur­ing Ni­cola Stur­geon’s reign as First Min­is­ter, the Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tives said yes­ter­day.

It is five years since the Na­tion­al­ist leader took charge of the Scot­tish Govern­ment.

In her first speech as First Min­is­ter, Miss Stur­geon promised to ‘gov­ern well with the pow­ers we have now’ and said one of her main ‘daily tasks’ will be to ‘pro­tect and im­prove our NHS’.

But her Govern­ment has con­sis­tently failed to hit key tar­gets, while projects such as Ed­in­burgh’s new chil­dren’s hospi­tal are in dis­ar­ray and a flag­ship Glas­gow hospi­tal has been hit by scan­dals over in­fec­tion out­breaks.

The Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tives yes­ter­day un­veiled a ban­ner at the cri­sis-hit £150mil­lion Royal Hospi­tal for Chil­dren and Young Peo­ple in Ed­in­burgh, which can­not open due to safety con­cerns, stat­ing: ‘Sick kids De­serve Bet­ter’.

The party’s health spoke­sor

‘Con­sti­tu­tional wran­gling’

man, Miles Briggs, said: ‘Five years ago, Ni­cola Stur­geon was elected First Min­is­ter.

‘Five years on, the Scot­tish NHS is lurch­ing from cri­sis to cri­sis. Noth­ing sym­bol­ises her govern­ment’s fail­ures bet­ter than the new Sick kids Hospi­tal in Ed­in­burgh: over-bud­get and still not de­liv­ered.

‘Hun­dreds of mil­lions of pounds of ex­tra in­vest­ment for the NHS in Scot­land has been guar­an­teed by a fu­ture Uk Con­ser­va­tive govern­ment.

‘Rather than us­ing this cash to buy yet more stick­ing plas­ters, it is time SNP min­is­ters came up with a plan that en­sures we have the staff to cope with ris­ing de­mand, and build­ings pa­tients can trust.’

Miss Stur­geon was for­mally sworn in five years ago to­day.

Set­ting out her pri­or­i­ties at Holy­rood, she pledged to be ‘First Min­is­ter for all of Scot­land re­gard­less of your pol­i­tics your point of view’, be­fore stat­ing that she would al­ways ‘ar­gue the case for the full pow­ers of in­de­pen­dence for this par­lia­ment’.

and re­fer­ring to Scot­land’s health ser­vice, she said: ‘My daily tasks will be to pro­tect and im­prove our NHS.’

Scot­tish Lib­eral Demo­crat health spokesman alex ColeHamil­ton said: ‘Ni­cola Stur­geon ought to have spent the last five years work­ing to im­prove our NHS. In­stead the SNP have hope­lessly ne­glected our health ser­vice in favour of years of con­sti­tu­tional wran­gling.’

a spokesman for Miss Stur­geon yes­ter­day dis­missed crit­i­cism of her man­age­ment of the NHS. He said: ‘on a num­ber of bench­marks – things like core a&E per­for­mance which is one of the key bench­marks that the health ser­vice is judged by – the health ser­vice in Scot­land is con­sis­tently the best per­form­ing in the Uk.’

asked if the NHS in Scot­land has im­proved over the past five years, he said: ‘There has been a whole range of im­prove­ment across the NHS but we are not blind to the chal­lenges.

‘There are more staff, more doc­tors, nurses, con­sul­tants and a&E spe­cial­ists, and more fund­ing in the NHS in Scot­land than there has ever been in real terms.

‘That is some­thing that wouldn’t have hap­pened un­der the Tories.’

SCOT­LAND’S premier growth in­dus­try un­der the SNP is the public in­quiry – and be in no doubt that busi­ness is boom­ing. In­sti­tu­tional child abuse, a trams fiasco, the death of a man in po­lice cus­tody: all have been, or will be, sub­ject to for­mal probes.

Now the NHS is un­der the spot­light as in­quiries are promised into the con­struc­tion of two flag­ship hos­pi­tals, built at a com­bined cost of more than £1bil­lion.

These are the Queen El­iz­a­beth Univer­sity Hospi­tal (QEUH) in Glas­gow and the Royal Hospi­tal for Chil­dren and Young Peo­ple in Ed­in­burgh, which is at the cen­tre of a row over its de­layed open­ing.

At the QEUH, it emerged ear­lier this year that three pa­tients, in­clud­ing a ten-year-old boy, had died af­ter con­tract­ing in­fec­tions, two of them linked to pi­geon drop­pings.

In the lat­est tragedies to hit the £842mil­lion hospi­tal, which Ni­cola Stur­geon had pledged ‘will trans­form health­care for pa­tients and pro­vide world-class train­ing for staff’, de­tails of two fur­ther deaths have been re­vealed: ten-year-old can­cer pa­tient Milly Main and a three-year-old boy. A whistle­blower has claimed that con­tam­i­nated tap water could be a fac­tor in Milly’s death, while her dev­as­tated mother Kim­berly Dar­roch be­lieves there was a ‘cover-up’.

Health Sec­re­tary Jeane Free­man, who is fac­ing calls to quit, ad­mits it was ‘not ac­cept­able’ that Milly’s mother only found out that at least ‘one of the fac­tors in her daugh­ter’s death was an in­fec­tion when she read the death cer­tifi­cate’.

Con­tam­i­na­tion

Mean­while, Po­lice Scot­land is in­ves­ti­gat­ing the death of the boy. His mother has said two wards, in­clud­ing one where her son was treated, were closed due to water con­tam­i­na­tion, though the board in­sists they were shut to al­low for ex­am­i­na­tion of the drains.

Last week it emerged Miss Free­man had known about Milly’s case for two months, but kept quiet. Her po­si­tion, which sounded as though lawyers may have had a hand in draft­ing it, was that ‘not re­veal­ing it is not the same as not act­ing on it – and I acted on it’.

It’s a state­ment that leads to some un­com­fort­able ques­tions: what else does Miss Free­man know, and what else is she re­fus­ing to dis­close?

True, govern­ment can’t be ex­pected to pub­lish de­tails of ev­ery death in med­i­cal care, but when there are al­le­ga­tions about a tainted water sup­ply at a hospi­tal that opened amid much fan­fare only four years ago, trans­parency should be non-ne­go­tiable.

The uned­i­fy­ing bout of blame-shift­ing that has char­ac­terised so many sim­i­lar con­tro­ver­sies has be­gun in earnest, and Miss Free­man hasn’t ruled out min­is­te­rial in­ter­ven­tion in the run­ning of the health board – a devel­op­ment that might not suc­ceed in shoring up public con­fi­dence.

Miss Free­man’s highly eva­sive per­for­mance aside, NHS Greater Glas­gow and Clyde has in­dulged in PR ac­ro­bat­ics of its own, even crit­i­cis­ing the whistle­blower in Milly’s case for adding to the fam­ily’s dis­tress.

The truth has had to be dragged out, much as it was in Jan­uary when a Sun­day news­pa­per re­port­ing on the pi­geon drop­pings row said the board told its re­porter the pa­tients had ‘re­sponded to treat­ment’ – the same day news of their deaths was made public.

Sep­a­rately, 23 chil­dren con­tracted blood­stream in­fec­tions in can­cer wards be­tween Jan­uary and Septem­ber 2018, while a Health Pro­tec­tion Scot­land in­quiry found ‘widespread con­tam­i­na­tion’ of bac­te­ria in taps and drains.

The board, pre­par­ing for the launch of a clinic where ad­dicts will be handed free med­i­cal-grade heroin, be­trays ev­ery sign of deeply en­trenched dys­func­tion­al­ity.

Like other or­gan­i­sa­tions mired in crises, the de­fault re­sponse is rep­u­ta­tional man­age­ment: its cen­tral pre­oc­cu­pa­tion has been the min­imi­sa­tion of dam­age to its public im­age, which has al­ready taken a sig­nif­i­cant bat­ter­ing.

The prac­tice of highly paid bu­reau­crats craft­ing le­gal­is­tic lines for the Press se­verely lim­its the level of ba­sic hu­man em­pa­thy on dis­play, and the over­rid­ing im­pres­sion is of a body caught in the head­lights of a scan­dal that is spi­ralling out of con­trol.

It should go with­out say­ing that no one’s neck ap­pears to be on the line, as it is now an un­writ­ten law of the public sec­tor that no one should pay for their mis­takes – in­stead the like­li­hood is that they’re qui­etly pen­sioned off.

In 2014, we re­vealed that a for­mer boss of NHS Greater Glas­gow and Clyde, then at the cen­tre of a fa­tal su­per­bug out­break, had taken early re­tire­ment with a £1.4mil­lion pen­sion pot. Tom Divers ad­mit­ted at the time that ‘ul­ti­mately’ he was re­spon­si­ble for in­fec­tion con­trol and even claimed he took a ‘keen in­ter­est’ in hy­giene on wards.

But his salary was in­creased by 5 per cent to more than £147,000 only weeks be­fore he gave up work – a pay in­crease that was ap­proved de­spite an on­go­ing po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion into deaths at filthy Vale of Leven Hospi­tal.

Cul­pa­bil­ity

For her part, Miss Stur­geon, Health Sec­re­tary when con­struc­tion of the QEUH be­gan in 2010, has re­sisted calls for Miss Free­man to go.

It may be that she cal­cu­lates that no one else in her lack­lus­tre cabi­net, or on the back­benches – stuffed with place­men and loy­al­ists par­rot­ing the party line – could do a bet­ter job than the for­mer card-car­ry­ing Com­mu­nist.

No govern­ment can have its cake and eat it, as much as it may long to do so: if you boast about health­care tri­umphs when they hap­pen, you have to ac­knowl­edge some cul­pa­bil­ity when things go wrong.

Miss Free­man is right to voice con­cern about the board’s abil­ity to sort out the mess, but ul­ti­mately these are con­tro­ver­sies that played out on her watch.

And the in­quiry may find that Miss Stur­geon, in her for­mer role run­ning the NHS port­fo­lio, presided over early struc­tural flaws, sow­ing the seeds for the slew of prob­lems now com­ing to light.

Bar­ring fur­ther damn­ing rev­e­la­tions, we may well find Miss Stur­geon hang­ing onto her Health Sec­re­tary as a hu­man shield to de­flect scru­tiny from her own in­volve­ment in the QEUH fiasco.

The im­pend­ing in­quiry also serves as use­ful cover: de­tailed anal­y­sis, and awk­ward ques­tions, can be placed in tem­po­rary cold stor­age.

The SNP has at­tempted to por­tray it­self as the true cus­to­dian of state-funded health­care, boast­ing ahead of the 2014 ref­er­en­dum that only in­de­pen­dence could pro­tect it from the machi­na­tions of ma­lign, pri­vatis­ing Tories.

This stance is now ex­posed be­yond any con­ceiv­able doubt as a cha­rade; we can ex­pect to hear much less about the party’s pas­sion­ate sup­port for the NHS for the rest of the elec­tion cam­paign.

A cul­ture of se­crecy now en­demic across the public sec­tor has been fu­elled by the SNP’s fix­a­tion with mask­ing its own myr­iad fail­ures.

But these lat­est tragedies show that blun­der­ing min­is­ters, and the in­com­pe­tent fat cats nom­i­nally in charge of our be­lea­guered health ser­vice, are fast run­ning out of places to hide.

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