Updated: Apr 17
With Parliament having returned to Parliament, these last few weeks have seen many debates in the House debating the agenda announced by the UK Government from the Queen’s Speech. I have watched and listened intently to these debates, but particularly those covering the topic of public health and the so called ‘Rescue Plan’ proposed by the UK Government for NHS and Social Care in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In my first contribution to the House during my maiden speech last year, I spoke about the profound impact the NHS has had on my life – and that I would not be here today as the elected MP for East Dunbartonshire had it not been for our amazing NHS in Scotland. Little did I know how crucial a role it was still to play in my journey. Once again, I am entirely indebted to the unbelievable work of the NHS in Scotland and reaffirm my commitment to being the strongest advocate I can be for our health and social care services throughout my time as an MP.
With that said, at that time, none of us could have predicted the immense struggles we would all face due the Coronavirus pandemic; nor the pressure that would be put on an already struggling healthcare service that had gone grossly underfunded after years of Tory austerity.
I know I was not the only one in awe at the work done by doctors, nurses, and all frontline staff at the height of this pandemic. To put themselves in harm’s way, during an unprecedented crisis, fearlessly exposing themselves to a relatively unknown virus all to safeguard the public and help those who needed it most, was nothing short of heroic.
I remember the collective feeling of pride, as we stood on our doorsteps clapping these frontline workers for having the courage to “lead the charge against coronavirus” – a term I believe many a UK Government Minister used at the time.
I remember the sentiment shared across all political parties, indeed across society, that for too long these amazing workers had gone without adequate support and that now, in the wake of this unimaginable crisis, things would change. Perhaps, following such immense hardship, the UK Government might finally afford the NHS and wider care staff the level of support they have long deserved.
How wrong I was – unfortunately, the measures announced for the NHS and Social Care sector in the Queen’s Speech fall way short of the mark. It is a damning indictment on the state of the UK Government that they feel they can get away so freely with saying one thing and doing another.
Throughout the pandemic, NHS staff and frontline workers across the UK were told by Conservative ministers that they had the full backing of the state. Perhaps naively, most of us would assume these promises would be backed up by policies. Of course, as has been shown time and again, that is never the case when it comes to the Tories.
What has been the reward for all the effort of frontline staff in England? A paltry 1% pay rise, a misguided public sector pay freeze that has been described by Unions as a ‘kick in the teeth’ for key workers, and Ministers using this crisis as a screen to conceal the deepening privatisation of our health and social care services.
Let us not forget, either, that the UK Government didn’t even have the decency to offer a thank you payment to NHS staff at Christmas, let alone make the £500 payment offered by the Scottish Government tax free despite repeated requests. It would appear, therefore, that Boris has plenty of money for his pals instead of patients, donors instead of doctors, but no money in the coffers for nurses.
Contrast this with the commitments made by the Scottish Government. A 4% pay rise, initiatives such as the Young Patients Family Fund which aims to remove financial barriers for families of sick children, increase to NHS frontline spending by £2.5 Billion, increase in mental health spending by 25%, and as mentioned, the thank you payment to health and social care staff for their immense efforts over this pandemic.
While I have long been thankful that such a key area of our society is devolved to Scotland, far from the reach of Conservative hands, we can of course do more. Spending commitments from the UK Government in Health would directly add to the Scottish Government’s ability to support our NHS staff and further improve public health in Scotland.
Scotland has shown time and again that we can do better; that we have the ambition to invest in our public services so that they can truly flourish. I trust wholeheartedly that the Scottish Government can, and will continue to, do better by our NHS and care staff in Scotland.
That said, if the UK Government are content to stay the current course with meagre investments in our NHS and social care services, with a continued desire to see private interests put ahead of patients’ interests and legislate with blatant disdain for a workforce which has carried this country on its back long before this pandemic – then it is clear Scotland is on a different path.
With yet another pro-independence majority being returned at Holyrood, and with another SNP Government being returned after 14 years in power, there is an inarguable mandate that the people of Scotland have a desire to take our future into our own hands once more.
Scotland must be afforded the opportunity to safeguard not just our health sectors, but our entire national recovery from this pandemic. If the people of Scotland want a concrete rescue plan for our NHS and social care sectors, then the ultimate answer is to leave this broken Union behind so we can prioritise what matters most in a progressive, independent Scotland – and I am confident we will be seeing this sooner rather than later.