Today the UK Parliament supported Theresa May's proposal for a general election to be called on June 8th 2017. Whilst the party-centric argument is clear - that she is hoping to shore up her support ahead of what is likely to be a tough Brexit negotiation - there are political ramifications beyond this that have the potential to have damning consequences for our NHS in Scotland.
We acknowledge the NHS in Scotland is relatively well protected behind a government that is committed to a publicly-run service, free at point of care. The current government in Westminster, however, has allowed creeping privatisation of services - with enormous amounts of money being put into private-sector contracts to provide 'NHS' care. This move away from complete NHS delivery of services may threaten the Scottish NHS budget through reductions in the block grant.
While there will be many arguments in the weeks ahead to the general election, one which we must not allow to drift from public focus is the current UK Government's treatment of the NHS in England and impact this could have on services under the devolved administrations. We have already seen, in this parliamentary term, the biggest walk out of medical staff in modern memory over the junior doctors’ contract fiasco. This has been coupled with progressive failings on waiting times targets, patient and staff satisfaction and the insidious deconstruction of one of the most important principles of the health service: that the NHS is committed to providing the best value for taxpayers’ money and the most effective, fair and sustainable use of finite resources. Any model of healthcare which involves a significant proportion of private sector buy-in cannot be seen to do so when the focus of that private sector company is primarily to provide profitability/financial sustainability to investors.
There are other factors to consider too - in Scotland, the protection of the nursing bursary has led to a 5th successive year in increasing applications into the professional degree program; in England the number of applicants has fallen sharply in response to the UK government's abandonment of the scheme - a move which has been highly criticised by the RCN. This decision, along with the potential for immigration limits through Brexit presents a worrying set of circumstances that could lead to staffing crises in several sectors.
All of these factors, and many more, should be at the front of our considerations as we move towards the general election on June 18th. Scotland must send a clear message to Westminster when we head to the polling booth; that we value our NHS and that any attempt to cash-grab out of healthcare services must be strongly opposed. Whilst the Scottish Government will continue to run health services here, we should not forget that larger decisions on healthcare spending and work-force planning across the UK have a tendency to cause ripples which ignore borders, and voters across the UK need to think long and hard about who to trust to be the caretaker of the health service in England for the next 5 years.