How ill it becomes Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, to take a swipe at the health service in England when she apologises “unreservedly” for the failures in the health service in Scotland. Hard pressed staff on both sides of the border deserve better from leading politicians, and the least they deserve is the truth.
Official statistics reveal the vaccination uptake targets in Scotland have been missed, at least four patients admitted to hospital in Scotland with the viral infection have died, and the Health Protection Scotland agency has reported an overall higher than expected mortality rate for December.
Further data shows there was a higher rate of flu-related deaths in Scotland than the rest of the UK and higher level of excess mortality during the flu season than anywhere else in Europe.
Although wards in Scottish hospitals have been closed after patients contracted the influenza A strain and some hospitals are discharging patients early to minimise the chance of succumbing to the virus, and waiting times in accident and emergency departments in Scottish hospitals are rising, Ms Sturgeon might have been expected to focus entirely on righting the wrongs in Scotland’s health service. Instead she thought it worth pointing out that “the blanket cancellation of planned operations that we’ve seen take place in England has not happened in Scotland.”
Opposition parties in Scotland are on the warpath accusing the Scottish Government of being “asleep at the wheel” after ignoring warnings in September about an impending flu epidemic. Anas Sarwar, Scottish Labour’s health spokesman, is now questioning whether this year’s flu jab can cope with even the most common strain of the virus.
Ms Sturgeon is not responsible for the flu virus. It is not even the fault of Shona Robinson, the beleaguered Scottish health minister. However, the health service in Scotland is entirely their
responsibility and how they allocate resources is down to them. They are not bound by any spending rules from Westminster, Barnett formula funding is not ring fenced, and if UK funding falls short they have the power and the resources to raise further funds from the Scottish taxpayer. Surely it’s better that tax revenue is spent on health than to reduce air passenger duty, for example.
Scottish health is but one of the problems facing Ms Sturgeon’s government this year. She has promised to reverse Scotland’s declining educational attainment. Police Scotland’s credibility is at rock bottom. The Offensive Behaviour At Football Act is problematic. There is no guarantee she can pass legislation to outlaw the smacking of children, and it may hit the buffers like the Named Person Scheme. Kenny Farquharson, a Times columnist, describes Mr Sturgeon’s predicament as a clusterbùrach entirely of her own making .
All the issues in Ms Sturgeon’s in-tray are problematic, needing immediate attention and resolution. Health is literally a matter of life and death but it should not deflect all attention from the plight of Scottish education, and the other pressing matters.
Rightly, the opposition parties are focusing on the Scottish Government’s record as Scotland’s reputation for education provision has taken a knock. Children in Moray are being educated on a part-time basis due to lack of teachers, numeracy and literacy rates are abysmal, adverts appear asking Maths teachers to return to the classroom for free, and headteachers are using a new attainment fund to start reversing the sharp decline in teacher numbers under the SNP. 500 more have been recruited but that’s still around 3,500 fewer than when the nationalists came to power in 2007.
You don’t have to spend too long in Scotland now to detect disappointment and disillusionment with the SNP Government. Increasingly it is difficult for all but the most fanatical SNP supporters to hail the SNP Government as a success. Ms Sturgeon has had her hands of the levers of power for too long and while her predecessor, Alex Salmond, may have paved the way, standards in Scotland’s public services are declining on her watch.
Ms Sturgeon has parked the Independence debate, and put the possibility of a second independence referendum on the back burner, with little chance of it being reignited until there is a chance of it being won.
Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party has upset the SNP applecart. Their faux left wing credentials, always a myth, have been called out, making it easier for traditional Labour voters to return to the fold and Ruth Davidson has made it acceptable for Scottish Tories return to their true political home.
Brexit has overtaken any other constitutional argument. Voters in Scotland, like everywhere else, are uncertain. They want decent public services, jobs and security. Good government could deliver these aspirations even in these troubled times. Ms Sturgeon’s focus should be concentrating on improving Scottish lives, not taking pot shots at England to make ill advised, misleading, cheap political points.