The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 27th October 2017

NHS Troubles

by our Scottish political affairs correspondent

FIRST Minister Nicola Sturgeon was forced from her official residence on Monday when part of the ceiling in the 225-year-old neoclassical building in Edinburgh collapsed, forcing her to move to a nearby expensive hotel whilst costly emergency repairs are undertaken. This image of things falling about her ears is a perfect metaphor for the state of contemporary Scotland, in particular the health services.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) Government likes to give the impression that because there has not yet been an outbreak of zombies spreading bubonic plague across Scotland, their stewardship of the National Health Service has been a resounding success. At the start of this year they greeted the fact that the International Red Cross did not actually issue a condemnation of the Scottish NHS as a glorious triumph at a time when it highlighted problems in the NHS in England.

Colin Smyth, Labour’s public health spokesperson, quoting figures from the Scottish Parliament Information Centre, has discovered that 511,972 hospital-bed-days were lost at a cost of £214 per patient per day, amounting to £110 million caused by bed-blocking, ie patients medically fit for discharge being kept in hospital only because of lack of care in the community.


He blamed this situation on the SNP government’s cutting of local authority budgets by £1.5 billion since 2011, and reminded people that in February 2015 the Health Minister and best friend of Nicola Sturgeon, Shona Robison, had promised to eradicate the problem by the end of 2015, pointing out that: “The system is unsustainable. The SNP government cannot continue to slash the budgets of local services that people rely on and not expect it to have a knock on effect to our health service.”

In line with customary practice the SNP put out press releases boasting that they were going to shift care for the elderly from hospitals to the community. As is often the case, no actual plans were made for this. Audit Scotland warned in July that there was no workforce and that no plans had been made.

Patients still able to walk to their local surgery will not find much to be cheerful about. The Royal College of General Practitioners has observed that the proportion of NHS funding spent on general practice is lower in Scotland than it is in England. This is often a false economy because an efficient GP service spots problems earlier. As Graham Watt, professor of General Practice at Glasgow University, warned: “If general practice is systematically weakened, as has happened during the past decade, patients will flood through the gate, accessing out-of-hours A&E services or acute hospital admissions.”

General Practitioners are increasingly hard to come by. No less than 5,044 have applied for Certificate of Current Professional Status, a document required by those wanting to work abroad. It is likely that 3,000 have already done so since 2008. Miles Briggs, the opposition health spokesperson, said: “Of course every part of the UK has lost doctors to countries like Australia and New Zealand in recent years. But rather than point the finger elsewhere, the SNP must act on these figures and do more encourage doctors to come back — or not leave in the first place.”


In a country with world famous medical schools it takes remarkable skill to create a shortage of doctors — but the SNP have managed it. Many practices have stopped taking in new patients, 52 have effectively been abandoned with the local Health Board taking over. In rural practices nurses do the work of doctors. Early retirement or working in sunnier climes is a rational answer to increasing workloads. The British Medical Association (BMA) say that one-third of Scotland’s doctors will retire by 2020 but a government publicity drive to recruit 100 GPs last year brought a grand total of 37, so things are only going to get worse.


The SNP boast that they have increased training opportunities but have less to say about the unwillingness of medics to take up the chance of working in the service. Almost one-third of this year’s training places for GPs went unfilled in Scotland. This year 275 of 402 GP training places have been filled after two rounds of recruitment; the 68 percentage achieved in Scotland falls well short of 84 and 91 in Wales. The SNP claim that they will be spending an extra £500 million on GP services but it soon became clear that only half of it was actually going to GPs, with the rest on ‘primary care’.

Needless to say, GP services are not the only part of the NHS suffering from staff shortages. Patients can have a very long wait to get an X-ray because of a serious shortage of radiologists. Nine out of 10 hospitals say that they cannot cope with demand. The Scottish chair of the Society of Radiographers trade union said that he had never experienced such staff shortages in his 34 years in the profession: “Scottish radiology is on the brink of collapse,” stressing that: “It’s clear the SNP has fundamentally failed to train enough radiologists, and patients, including cancer sufferers, are the ones paying the price.” As with the GPs, very few people are willing to start work in an already over-stretched profession.