Friday, 1 August 2014

The NHS and British Unionist scare-stories

As we get closer to the Independence Referendum on September 18th, the scare-stories and outright lies of the pro British Union campaign are reaching epic proportions.

Have a look at newsstands any day of the week and you will see front-page headlines screaming the latest apocalyptic scenario should the people of Scotland exercise their democratic right to govern their own country.  If we were to believe Better Together and the British media, it is only the inhabitants of Scotland - uniquely amongst all the peoples on the planet - who would turn the normality of democratic self-determination into a hell-bound catastrophe.

Of course, in reality, independence is actually the normal status for virtually every nation in the world: countries around the globe manage just fine and most of them don’t have the abundant natural resources, the highly-developed commercial and economic infrastructure or the educated and skilled population of Scotland.  Independence means governing ourselves at home and representing ourselves on the world stage.  Independence is simply being a normal country.

One of the most disgraceful examples of British Unionist scare-mongering came just last week, from the former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown.  You remember Mr Brown: he was the one who was Chancellor of the Exchequer and claimed to have ended economic boom and bust, just before the UK economy collapsed.  He was also the one who wasn’t ever elected as Prime Minister: he got the job after bullying his predecessor for 10 years – “When are you resigning, Tony?  Come on, Tony, you said you would give me a shot.  Hurry up, Tony.  When are you going, Tony.”

Last week Gordon Brown said independence would put at risk organ transplants and blood transfusions for people resident in Scotland if the donor-organ or blood came from England.  Understandably, Scots waiting for a potentially life-saving transplant (and the families of people in that position) were very concerned when confronted by media headlines repeating Gordon Brown’s assertion: but the former Labour Prime Minister was not telling the truth.  Brown was using people’s ill-health in a callous and unscrupulous attempt to scare them and others from voting to take control of their country.

Within hours of Gordon Brown making his claim about transplants and blood transfusions, a spokesperson for the NHS Blood and Transplant Organ Donation and Transplantation Directorate, based in Bristol, issued a statement, saying, “I can confirm that Scottish independence will not affect organ donation and the system will continue as it does currently.

The NHS in Scotland is already independent and always has been: there has never been a UK-wide NHS.  Scotland has always had its own National Health Service, even in the days of direct control from Westminster, before the creation of the devolved Scottish Parliament in 1999. 

The current SNP Scottish Government runs the NHS in Scotland: Scottish Ministers decide how much to spend on our health and how services should perform.  The Scottish Government decision to scrap the ‘ill-health tax’ of prescription charges is fully-funded from the Scottish NHS budget.  The Tory-Lib Dem Government in London refuses to get rid of prescription charges, which is why people in England, under the English NHS, still have to pay them.

NHS Scotland and NHS England are two separate organisations, but they co-operate fully in providing the best services possible for the people they serve.  That is why if you live in Scotland but the best specialist care in a particular field of medicine is available in England, the Scottish NHS can pay for an English health board to provide your care.  The arrangement works the other way, too: specialist care is provided in Scotland for people from England, with the English NHS paying the Scottish NHS.

The same full co-operation is already in place with regard to organ transplants and blood transfusions: as the Donation and Transplantation Directorate has made unequivocally clear, this will not be affected by Scotland voting to re-take our political independence and govern our own country.

Cross-border co-operation also exists with the Health Service of the Republic of Ireland.

Gordon Brown knows the NHS in Scotland and the NHS England are already independent bodies but co-operate to provide care.  Mr Brown knows his comments of last week about transplants and blood transfusions were not true.  To his shame, the Labour politician was attempting to use some very ill people in a political fight.

In reality, the best way to safeguard Scotland’s independent NHS is for us to re-take the full political powers that only come with independence.

In England, the Tory-Lib Dem Government is increasing the pace of privatising the NHS, handing-over large parts of healthcare provision to private companies whose main priority is making as much money as possible.  Privatisation of the NHS is not happening in Scotland, but because the Westminster government is spending less on Health south of the border, there is a consequential cut to the overall block-grant provided to the Scottish Government.  So, while Scotland remains part of the British Union and while England continues to privatise its NHS, there will be continuing reductions in funding available to Scotland.

Already, a full 6% of the health budget in England is spent hiring private, profit-driven companies to deliver services – that translates to around £10bn.

Things are so bad in the English NHS that they now have a situation where three hospitals are entirely owned by the HSBC bank.  Profit and the bottom-line are now the overriding priority rather than healthcare and patient need.

Of course, the Labour part of Better Together argues that if they ever get back into power in London then things will be different, but fairly-recent history tells another story. In the final four years of the last Labour Government at Westminster – with Gordon Brown as Chancellor of the Exchequer and then Prime Minister – use of private companies in the NHS in England doubled.  Labour is every bit as committed to privatising the NHS in England as the other British Unionist parties.

Scotland has avoided this because the Scottish NHS is already independent and the Scottish Government has different priorities, reflecting the wishes of the Scottish people.  We now need to re-take our political independence to safeguard what we have and prevent further erosion of the funding we require to deliver a health service to meet the needs of people in Scotland – publicly-owned and operated, free at the point of need, from cradle to grave.

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