NHS Deserves Better

Scotland’s NHS deserves better than being used as another excuse for nationalism, argues a Scotland in Union contributor

A new survey by Swedish think tank Health Consumer Powerhouse shows that the NHS in Scotland – like its counterpart in England – is lagging behind most other western European health services.

The research looked at Scottish performance separately for two years (2013-4), demonstrating that outcomes here are roughly the same or slightly worse than south of the Border despite higher per capita spending. The UK as a whole continued to underperform in 2015.

The study also shows that, while spending per head is some 11 per cent higher here than in England, the gap has been closing since 2000. In other words, the SNP has been presiding over relative cuts to healthcare at a time when performance has started to fall slightly behind England.

Had the nationalists kept pace with UK funding increases in health, a further £168 would be being spent per head on NHS Scotland today.

All of this is in stark contrast to nationalist rhetoric on healthcare. During the referendum campaign Alex Salmond endorsed outrageous claims that the UK posed a threat to the NHS. The opposite is the case. Powers both on financing and administering the NHS have been devolved, and the UK provides a generous financial framework that allows high levels of public service spending in Scotland. An independent Scotland would have to make drastic cuts to public services, probably including healthcare.

The Scottish Government response to the Swedish report was revealing. It denounced the findings and rejected their methodology without offering any alternative way of measuring performance against neighbouring countries.

The truth is that we in Scotland have a lot to learn from other countries when it comes to healthcare, particularly in Scandinavia, the Low Countries and Germany.

Just rejecting that and using the NHS as a political football does great injustice to Scotland. Yet another reason why we must move on from this damaging debate about the constitution and get down to the real business of government – improving lives.

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