HOSPITAL WAITING LISTS: Labour leader tells SNP that people are sick of the same old excuses

By Bill Heaney

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, right,  took Nicola Sturgeon to task over NHS waiting list figures at First Minister’s Questions in the Scottish Parliament today.

He accused the FM of letting the country down by failing to achieve treatment waiting time lists after Ms Sturgeon once again quoted Covid as a reason for this.

She added: “We have had further waves of Covid, and the pressure on our national health service here and in other parts of the country continues.

“However, we are focused, through the recovery plan, on treating the most urgent patients and the longest waits.

“Just this morning, information has been published about performance against the target to eradicate, in most specialties, the numbers of those waiting two years or more.

“We are seeing progress, but this is an extremely challenging time for the national health service, which is why it is so important that we continue to focus on investment and the action that we are taking.”

But Mr Sarwar, flanked by his deputy Jackie Baillie, the Dumbarton MSP, was far from happy with Ms Sturgeon’s answer.

He told parliament: “Catch-up surely means that waiting lists come down rather than go up. In August 2021, 603,000 were on a waiting list; now—14 months on from the First Minister’s so-called catch-up plan—the figure is nearly 750,000 people.

“The First Minister should stop pretending that that is all down to Covid. When the Scottish National Party came to power, there were 260,000 people on NHS waiting lists. Immediately before Covid, the figure was 420,000 people. Now, it is 750,000. That is one in seven Scots on an NHS waiting list, and that has consequences.

“Listen to the staff. Dr Lailah Peel from the British Medical Association said this week that ‘patients are now presenting at A&E because of complications developed while waiting for treatment and scans’.

“Week after week, this Government has been breaking records for the worst A and E waiting times ever.

“Can you tell us how many people have waited more than 12 hours for A and E treatment since you launched your so-called NHS recovery plan?”

Ms Sturgeon looked unfazed: “The number of people waiting more than 12 hours has increased, but more than 95 per cent of patients are seen in accident and emergency within 12 hours. Of course, the target that we want to meet in accident and emergency is the four-hour waiting time target.

“More generally, waiting times have been increasing. There has been a two-year pandemic, which has had a significant impact on waiting times in our national health service. However, there are other, pre-existing factors, the changing demographics of the country being one of those.

“Over the past two months, there has been a focus on treating the longest waits in our national health service. The figures published today show the progress in that.

“We are also seeing an increase in the number of in-patient and day-case patients who have been seen. In the most recent quarter, there was a 7.6 per cent increase in those seen, which demonstrates the recovery of the NHS from Covid.

“These are difficult challenges—there is absolutely no getting away from that. Almost every country—certainly every country in the United Kingdom and most countries across the world—are grappling with these challenges, but the investment that we see in our national health service and the steps that we are taking to redesign care are what need to continue.

“Lastly, we do listen to staff. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care (Humza Yousaf) meets staff, unions and professional organisations regularly. There are many more staff working in our national health service today than was the case when this Government took office. More than 20,000 additional staff have been recruited in that period.”

Mr Sarwar replied: “The health secretary might listen to staff, but he is not hearing what staff are telling him and taking the necessary action to help people across the country.

“On my question to the First Minister, the answer that she was looking for is that 38,255 people have waited more than 12 hours in A and E since the recovery plan was published.

“Frankly, people are sick of the same old excuses and of the SNP Government always looking for someone or something else to blame.

“Across Scotland, people are getting the same inadequate answer from this Government: wait—wait in fear for a cancer diagnosis; wait in pain for a hip replacement; wait for hours in an ambulance outside A and E; wait anxiously for their child to get mental health treatment.

“Today, we discover that life expectancy has dropped again for a second year running—all on Nicola Sturgeon’s watch.

“After 15 years in power and 15 years of running our NHS, how long will the people of Scotland have to wait for you and your health secretary to do your job?”

The First Minister hit back: “We will continue to do our jobs. Ultimately, as it always has been, it is for the people of Scotland to decide whether they want us to continue to do our jobs.

“A two-year pandemic has presented real and very significant challenges for Scotland, as it has for every country, and every day we seek to address those challenges and support those who are on the front line.

“We will continue to do that in our NHS. We will continue to take action—albeit in this regard with one hand tied behind our back—to tackle poverty in Scotland, to have a positive impact on things such as life expectancy—[Interruption.]”

When the noise calmed down, the First Minister said: “Unfortunately, Labour still wants us to have one hand tied behind our back on these issues.

“Although I take full responsibility for performance across all of these things in Scotland, the reality in terms of the national health service in Scotland is that, whatever the challenges we face, thanks to the dedication of those who are working in our national health service, it is performing better than its counterpart in England, where the Conservatives are in power, and better than its counterpart in Wales, where Labour is in government.

We will continue to address these challenges, we will continue to take the steps that are necessary to do so, and we will continue to ask the Scottish people to put their trust in us to do exactly that.”

Meanwhile, the LibDems got their oar in over drugs deaths, a subject on which the SNP are taking an ongoing hammering.

Following the news that there were 277 suspected drug deaths between April and June 2022, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP said:“This will be a painful day for hundreds of grieving families.  The Scottish Government must go much further and faster to stop people dying.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats are calling for the urgent introduction of specialist drug and alcohol commissions, similar to the situation in Portugal. We must stop imprisoning people for misusing drugs and make safe consumption spaces available across the country.

“The Scottish Government owes it to families to do everything within its power to put an end to these dreadful deaths.”

Top picture: The FM flanked by local SNP MPs Martin Docherty Hughes and Brendan O’Hara.

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