Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing Alex Neil MSP SNP conference
Perth, Oct 19th, 2013
Friends, at out last National Conference I had been Health Secretary for a little over a month, and today I’ve been Health Secretary for a little more than a year.
This last year has been challenging, rewarding, and thanks to the men and woman who I meet working in Scotland’s NHS, inspiring.
My one and only overriding focus has been to do what is best to deliver safe, effective, world-class care for the people of Scotland and to support the hardworking staff of our NHS.
In the community, in hospitals and in clinics the staff of the NHS are working to heal the sick and keep Scotland well.
They are the beating heart of that precious institution that is so dear to the people of Scotland.
And under this SNP Government there are over 800 more medical consultants, including a doubling of the number of A&E consultants.
There are over 1,000 additional qualified nurses, over 2,000 more allied health professionals and over 700 more general dentists.
We’re investing in Scotland’s NHS, protecting health budgets ensuring our health service drives for quality outcomes every day.
In May this year here in Perth I launched the Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance.
This is Scotland’s only charity Air Ambulance, and the service works closely with the Scottish Ambulance Service air ambulance – the only publicly-funded air ambulance service in the UK.
I’m committed to ensuring that all communities in Scotland, urban or rural, receive high quality and sustainable healthcare services and our air ambulances have a distinct role to play.
In under six months of operation the charity air ambulance has already flown nearly 150 missions, flying from the Highlands and Islands to the Borders.
So Conference, I’m pleased to announced that I’m giving them my assurances that the Scottish Government will make up to £500,000 available to underwrite their fundraising efforts – to help keep them in the skies, saving lives.
This is just one example of the remarkable work that goes on in our NHS.
And for me, it just makes Jeremy Hunt’s attack on the pay of NHS staff all the more shocking.
For the Tories to try and steal the promised pay rise back from workers’ hands would destabilise the NHS in England and damage staff morale.
This is nothing short of bad faith from Jeremy Hunt and a betrayal of the NHS.
Let me be quite clear, the SNP Government will use our independence over the health service to block this move, and I guarantee that NHS Scotland staff will get the promised pay rise.
Hunt’s aim is clear, he wants to undermine the publicly-owned NHS. He wants to break it up for further privatisation and American-style health insurance.
My message to Hunt is unequivocal: Scotland rejects your politics, your attack on staff and your desire to destroy the real NHS.
Not only will we deliver the pay rise that has been promised, we are also ensuring that all NHS staff are paid more than the living wage.
The NHS in Scotland is on a different road to the NHS in England.
Here we will keep the service in public hands, serving the people, serving the needs of patients.
In England, the NHS is on the road to being in private hands, serving only profiteers.
We’ve already taken steps to prevent the privatization we see in England, we’ve legislated to ensure that there is no privatization of GP services in Scotland, and we banned privatization of cleaning contracts.
In England the 111 service has be broken up, sold off, and there are doubt whether a safe service will be provide across that nation.
In Scotland, 111 will be totally free to use, run by NHS24, a public service, in public hands – serving the needs of patients rather than private profit.
As long as Scotland’s finances are tied to Westminster, every cut made to pay in England, every cut to services through privatisation in England, has a direct impact on the budget available to the Scottish Government.
The only way we can protect Scotland’s NHS in the future is to put Scotland’s resources in Scotland’s hands, and only a Yes vote will deliver that.
One of the pressures on our health service is the costs of the PFI schemes forced through by both the Tories and Labour.
We’ve seen in Edinburgh that PFI contracts have become a blockage to improving some facilities.
That’s why I’ve created a group to review existing PFI contracts and contract management arrangements.
This group will identify opportunities for driving more effective management of these contracts and try to get better value for money for the people of Scotland.
Seeing off the threat of Tory cuts is not the only challenge our nation faces.
With an ageing population we must take steps to ensure that our elderly get the care they deserve and that all the support that the public services provide them operate in a co-ordinated and collaborative way.
In the coming year I will be taking the Bill to deliver Health and Social Care integration through the parliament.
I know that people’s preference is that where possible they want to be cared for at home or in a homely setting.
Creating a health and social care system which supports this and is of quality, delivered by committed, trained people must be our goal.
Enabling people to remain at home for as long as possible, and enabling complex care in that setting.
It is a challenge, but one I believe we can deliver.
That’s why today I can confirm that in 2015/16 we will implement the £10 million ‘Healthy at Home‘ fund to build on the skills, knowledge and experience of individuals and local communities to help people with care and support needs to live well at home.
The fund’s projects will be developed in partnership with our health, social care, housing and third sector partner, and will explore innovative local programmes which can be scaled-up and rolled out across the country.
It will allow us to make faster progress in our plans to bring health and social care together, improving the quality and consistency of care for people in communities across Scotland.
The creation of Free Personal Care for the elderly is perhaps one of the great achievements of the Scottish Parliament.
That’s why I simply cannot understand why Labour would say that under their cuts commission that nothing is off the table.
That they would even countenance cutting this universal benefit that helps almost 80,000 older people in Scotland is frankly shameful.
But I want to ensure that the volume of free personal care that people are assessed as needing is delivered and that the quality is no less than the people of Scotland deserve.
That’s why I’ve had the Care Inspectorate and Healthcare Improvement Scotland developing a new model of strategic inspections for adult services across Scotland.
The key focus of this new rigorous methodology is on care for older people, and it is being piloted on care at home services.
This new model of model of inspection will also include the commissioning processes by local authorities determine the volume and length of visits needed to deliver safe, compassionate care services for Scotland’s older people.
Where Scotland has the power we’ve taken better decisions for the people of Scotland.
Which is why Labour’s Andy Burnham’s statement that he’s been talking to his counterpart in Scottish Labour so that they can “get health policies that can be consistent across England, Scotland and Wales” so that they have “UK-wide policy” is so worrying.
The failed health policies of Westminster is the last thing that Scotland needs.
In Scotland we’ve acted to deliver free prescriptions, in England they remain firmly in place.
That means that people in Scotland suffering from chronic conditions get the medications their doctors think they need.
In England there are patients choosing between which prescriptions they can afford.
Prescription charges are a tax on Ill-health.
And you don’t have to take my word it – David Barker, the Chief Executive of Crohn’s and Colitis UK, is leading the Prescription Charges Coalition of 29 charities and organisations. He said:
“People with long-term conditions in Scotland do not face the barrier to effective treatment that those in England still do….research shows that many with long-term conditions in England are severely compromising their health through being unable to afford prescription charges.”
Delegates, the research by the Prescription Charges Coalition shows that there are people with serious conditions in England who end up being hospitalised as their conditions worsen as they could not afford their prescription.
We must never allow the shocking health policies of Westminster to damage Scotland’s health.
The decisions about Scotland’s future are best taken by the people of Scotland.
We must protect our NHS for the future, for our children and grandchildren.
Conference, we must ensure that there our health service is kept public hands, is free at the point of need.
Friends, we must vote Yes next year.