The NHS has been let down by leaders who fail to build its defences in favour of a divisive cause

WITH some justification, we tend to point out that the NHS, for all of its flaws, is far superior to the healthcare system in the U.S.

It may not be perfect, but it does in theory provide a cradle-to-grave service that is free at the point of access — you won’t go bankrupt if you get sick.

But consider the critical condition of the Scottish NHS in the 21st century, where new guidelines mean patients will be ‘re-directed’ away from overwhelmed A&E departments, and told to go to the chemist or the GP instead (good luck with that).

It’s now the National Diversion Service, a dynamic new re-brand under the auspices of a Health Secretary who appears hopelessly out of his depth.

And yet soon enough your National Insurance payments will go up, supposedly to fund social care south of the Border, with Scotland getting a share of the revenue raised.

Yet it’s not clear that more billions are what the NHS requires, because money has been thrown at it for years and it’s still struggling to cope — Covid created new problems while exacerbating existing ones.

Now the NHS is on the cusp of meltdown, and it was in a severely weakened state before the pandemic piled unprecedented pressure onto it.

Incidents where people were hurt or risked being harmed due to paramedics being delayed have doubled so far in 2021 compared to the whole of last year, and have more than quadrupled since 2018.

There have been 43 euphemistically named ‘significant adverse events’ this year including 26 where the time taken to reach the patient was a factor, compared to 13 for the entirety of 2020, including ten involving delays.

The figures were uncovered after Gerard Brown, 65, died at his Glasgow home while waiting 40 hours for an ambulance to arrive.

Unite, the union which represents ambulance personnel, says health workers are ‘stretched beyond breaking-point, contributing to stress, fatigue and anxiety’.

Armed forces were drafted in to support the ambulance service in September amid spiralling response times, after a surge in seriously ill patients requiring hospital beds increased the number of 999 calls.

Meanwhile, the Royal College of Nursing has published a new analysis showing there are 3,400 fewer nurses than required.

And dentistry is in utter disarray, increasingly accessible only to those with the ability to pay, with 80 per cent of dentists admitting they could reduce the number of NHS appointments, while more than a third may quit or retire in the next year.

In the midst of this turmoil, the SNP has pledged to extend free dental care to all under-26s — while the very existence of dentistry is on the line.

That fact alone encapsulates the Nationalists’ approach not only to dental care but also to health provision in general: a combination of wishful thinking and outright denial.

They have presided over the deterioration of the NHS to the point where it is a hollowed-out shell, pleading for people to stay away.

In primary care, patients were locked out of GP surgeries at the start of the pandemic — and many doctors seem reluctant to let them back in.

(Health Secretary Humza Yousaf: can he steer the NHS out of crisis?)

I’ve had almost no meaningful communication with my practice apart from a blizzard of text messages highlighting how busy they are — and suggesting that I might not want to bother them.

The image of Humza Yousaf crashing to the floor of a corridor in parliament from his knee scooter proved to be something of a metaphor for his stewardship of the NHS.

But you can’t lose control if you never had it in the first place, and nor can we expect Mr Yousaf to steer the kind of urgent reform the service so badly needs.

In the short term, his task is stabilisation — and getting back to the point where the NHS has a more credible response to patients than ‘don’t bother us, we’re busy’.

But his most notable contribution has been to urge people to think twice before trying to summon paramedics, and doubtless many took his advice to heart.

Mr Yousaf was similarly uninspiring in his previous job as Justice Secretary — he freed hundreds of criminals early as the pandemic took hold in prisons and many of them, not surprisingly, went on to re-offend.

He talked of radical reform that was never enacted, a trick now being deployed by his low-profile and deeply uninspiring successor Keith Brown.

And Mr Yousaf’s unfathomable move to the health brief came shortly after he had advocated ‘delegitimising the rule of UK law’, while still Justice Secretary.

He was more at home tub-thumping for independence at separatist rallies — a natural activist but by no stretch of the imagination a credible government minister.

You’d have thought that ‘Calamity Jeane’ Freeman wouldn’t have been a tough act to follow, but remarkably Mr Yousaf has succeeded in making her look competent, or at least more competent than she was.

Now the vital Covid booster programme is in danger of running into the sand, with nearly 900,000 people waiting for a third dose despite getting their second jab more than six months ago.

The number of deaths among double-jabbed pensioners is increasing as immunity wanes.

The SNP is fond of presenting itself as the only worthy protector of the NHS, guarding it from malign Tories — but without the Tories’ vaccine scheme, many more would be dead.

While money isn’t a panacea, the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) states that in Scotland ‘the NHS has been prioritised to a lesser extent than in England’.

And ‘as a result, Scottish health spending per person is now just 3 per cent higher than in England, versus 22 per cent at the start of the devolution’.

The SNP has promised a ‘transformational’ 2.1 per cent increase in health spending, but the IFS points out that this is less than the 3.4 per cent agreed in England — and is unlikely to cover increased demand on the health service post-Covid.

And take a look at the horrifying allegations emerging from the inquiry into the Glasgow super-hospital fiasco if you want a reminder of the SNP’s track record on managing healthcare.

Let’s not kid ourselves that coronavirus is solely responsible for the tragedy unfolding in our NHS, even as we acknowledge that medics are working flat-out and deserve immense praise for their stamina and dedication.

They’ve been let down by a government that has talked up the merits of the NHS while doing nothing to build its defences against public health emergencies such as Covid, which has brought it to its knees — while choosing to prioritise its fight for independence instead.

Mr Yousaf is the latest in a long line of failed SNP health ministers — including Nicola Sturgeon — with no clue how to sort out the mess that threatens to claim many more lives this winter.

  • This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on November 9, 2021.
  • Follow me on Twitter: @GrahamGGrant