HOSPITALS are at breaking point dealing with a flood of emergency cases. Around the country, 142 hospitals are at 'stress level'. The health minister thinks the situation is so critical that she has called on surgeons to delay non-urgent operations.
Sound familiar? Actually, this was France last week. And France arguably has the best public health system in Europe.
It’s not just France or the UK that is facing massive pressures on the health, hospital and GP services. The problem is common to all of Europe. In the first week of the new year, there was media outrage in Ireland when it became known that University Hospital Limerick – one of that country’s finest medical institutions – had 60 patients on trolleys, caused by pressure on the A&E department. In wealthy Sweden, December saw a hospital crisis with too few beds available for a rush of winter ailments.
My point is this: health care everywhere, including Scotland, is facing a generic crisis caused by skyrocketing public demand caused by an ageing population and rising levels of mental health problems; plus a relentless increase in the price of specialist drugs and medical technology. That does not let governments off the hook but it suggests the solution requires more than political finger-pointing or cheap tabloid headlines.
Meanwhile, I’m very proud of how the Scottish Government has coped in these difficult circumstances. Our NHS is better managed than its English counterpart, and avoids expensive bureaucracy. We also escaped the junior doctors’ strikes caused by Tory Government political gamesmanship in the English NHS. Here in East Lothian, construction is under way for the new £70 million community hospital in Haddington.
In fact, the Scottish Government has poured extra resources into the NHS, despite having its overall grant from London squeezed like a vice in the name of Tory austerity. By the end of this Holyrood parliament, heath funding will be up by almost £2 billion. Consultant numbers are actually at a record high.
The real problem is that in Britain we need to find at least four per cent extra spending every year from now on to meet the demands on the NHS. The Conservative Government at Westminster is managing to provide only one per cent. Which means the NHS will stay under pressure unless there is a change of heart by poker-faced Chancellor Hammond. From where I sit at Westminster, that’s not likely.