Scotland’s health secretary Alex Neil will today face a vote of no confidence in the Scottish Parliament over alleged conflicts of interests over changes to mental health services in his Lanarkshire constituency.
Scotland’s health secretary Alex Neil will today face a vote of no confidence in the Scottish Parliament over alleged conflicts of interest over changes to mental health services in his Lanarkshire constituency.
In 2012, Neil’s predecessor as health secretary, the now deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon, supported proposals submitted to her by Civil Servants for the removal of 48 acute mental health beds from Monklands hospital, in Mr Neil’s constituency, as part of a restructuring.
Documents since published by the Scottish Information Commissioner have made clear Neil’s objections to the plan.
By September 2012, Neil had been appointed to the position of health secretary. At the time, he made public statements stating that he had decided to remove himself from making decisions about the issue to avoid any potential conflicts of interests with his work as a constituency MSP.
During last week’s First Minister’s Questions, however, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont quoted from an email provided to the Labour MSP John Pentland, under the Freedom of Information Act from Alex Neil’s ministerial office to civil servants, which read:
“Mr Neil is clear in his view that acute mental health facilities should be retained in both Wishaw and Monklands. The cabinet secretary has asked that you seek agreement from NHS Lanarkshire to reconfigure their plans accordingly.”
Accusing the health secretary of deceiving the Scottish Parliament, Lamont called for his sacking which Alex Salmond duly refused to do.
The Labour MSP for Lothian, Neil Findley has, as a result, tabled a vote of no confidence for consideration today, which reads:
“That the Parliament has no confidence in the cabinet secretary for Health and Wellbeing as a result of his failure to disclose his involvement in the decision to reverse the planned closure of mental health services at Monklands Hospital.”
Commenting on the motion, the first of its kind for 13 years in the Scottish Parliament, Neil Findley has said:
“Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Alex Neil and Alex Salmond continue to blindly claim that no wrongdoing has taken place with the health secretary’s involvement in mental health services at NHS Lanarkshire.
“Nearly a week after these damning emails were released under Freedom of Information, Alex Neil’s explanation as to why he meddled in local services and then claimed he had excused himself from the decision have not been satisfactory.
“Medical experts stated that keeping Monklands wards open would result in a ‘less than optimal service’ for patients.
“Yet Alex Neil has been unable to provide any clear rationale or evidence for changing the decision, which is contrary to his own health policy of delivering health services in communities wherever possible.
“Now that it has emerged the wards he ordered to save contain asbestos, his position has been made even more difficult.
“His failure to come up with answers to the questions being asked of him mean he is not fit to be running our health service.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish government has sought to defend Mr Neil’s position. Responding last night to the motion to be considered today, they said:
“The health secretary has acted entirely appropriately at every single stage of the process regarding mental health service provision across NHS Lanarkshire and all of the key information in this case has already been in the public domain for a very long time. We look forward to using the opportunity tomorrow to once again outline that position.
“That will ensure the health secretary can continue to focus on ensuring our NHS — one of Scotland’s greatest success stories — goes on delivering high quality care for thousands of people, day in, day out.”
It has been reported that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will support the motion, although with the SNP’s majority it’s probably not worth anyone holding their breath on this one.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by becoming a Left Foot Forward Supporter today.