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