Blaming icy roads for the rise in hospital waiting times is about as convincing an excuse as “leaves on the line” is for your train being late.
Yet that’s exactly what Health Secretary Shona Robison did when questioned on our NHS’s ability to cope with winter.
And here’s the thing about winter, it’s not unexpected. It’s not like we walk about in Scotland at the end of November and wonder what the frosty stuff on our cars is, or why we’re suddenly cranking up the central heating and leaving it on all night. You can bank on winter coming. It’s as close to a dead cert in life as you are going to get. That matters because it should mean the government are planning for it, but each year they act like it’s some sort of surprise.
No Shona, the NHS in Scotland isn’t facing a “winter crisis” – it’s facing a funding crisis and that’s down to you. Throw those sharp realities at the Health Secretary and what you’ll get back is a defensive rant about how much worse things are in England.
There’s no denying the NHS in England is in dire straits. Just as it’s no surprise that the Tories are starving it of resources and seeking to privatise at every turn. It’s what they’ve always done. But turn and deflect is not a strategy that’s going to help anyone who has just had an operation cancelled, is waiting over a year for a new knee, or over 18 months for a mental health appointment. It’s not going to help my constituent who spent 13 hours on a trolley in a corridor last week. It’s just not an excuse and it’s certainly not a plan for action.
The Daily Record was right to devote its front page in the new year to thanking all our NHS staff for the work that they do. The NHS is one of the most precious things we’ve built together as a nation. It’s part of who we are and how our country is perceived around the world. We should cherish it at every opportunity. Sometimes that means being honest about the problems it faces. So rather than blame ice for the additional pressures, the Health Secretary should be honest enough to say there aren’t enough staff and that the staff we do have are over-worked and underpaid.
I’ve had lots of emails over the Christmas period with people recounting their experiences of visiting A&E or visiting an elderly relative in hospital. Every single one has praised the staff in our NHS for going above and beyond. Yet almost all of them also remarked in some way about how tired the staff looked, or how aware they were of how much they had to do.
People work in our NHS because they believe in it, because they care about people and their health. That’s why they are so prepared to go the extra mile, but we can’t keep asking them to do that and brushing aside the reasons why their job is as tough as it is.
We owe them so much more than to blame the weather and point at England.
This column first appeared in the Daily Record newspaper on the 9th of January 2018.