Salmond’s NHS argument has been blown apart

Alex Salmond’s argument that only independence can save the NHS has been blown apart by new information leaked to the BBC and the Herald newspaper.

Independence could make it harder to protect the NHS in Scotland

Alex Salmond’s argument that only independence can save the NHS has been blown apart by new information leaked to the BBC and the Herald newspaper.

The papers, supplied by an unnamed NHS whistle-blower, described as having become frustrated by the Yes campaign’s statements on the NHS, were presented to a meeting of health board chief executives and civil servants last month.

The documents suggest that the NHS north of the border faces a funding gap of somewhere between £400 and £450 million in 2015/16, described as ‘a level significantly in excess of that previously required’.

It goes on to argue that health boards will have to consider centralising hospitals and closing some services. ‘Radical and urgent decisions need to be made regarding the shape and configuration of services,’ the document states.

Speaking to the BBC, the whistle-blower pinned the blame squarely at the feet of the Scottish Government and the policies it is pursuing.

The documents come following a similar warning on funding from the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

Last week a blog post on the IFS website, co-authored by its director, Paul Johnson noted that the Scottish Government’s decisions, rather than those by Whitehall, had led to reduced spending on health services when compared with England.

The blog explained:

‘Between 2009-10 and 2015-16 spending on the NHS in England will, on currently announced plans, have risen by about 4 per cent in real terms despite an overall fall of 13 per cent in English departmental spending.

‘Over the same period the vagaries of the Barnett formula mean that Scotland will have had to cut overall public service spending by less – by about 8 per cent rather than 13 per cent. But the Scottish government has chosen to protect the NHS in Scotland slightly less than it has been protected in England. Spending on the NHS in Scotland has fallen by 1 per cent.

‘Analysis we published last year shows this is not a new pattern. Between 2002–03 and 2009–10 – years of plenty for public services rather than cuts – real-terms health spending per person grew by 29 per cent in Scotland compared with a 43 per cent increase across the UK as a whole. This was despite overall public service spending per person growing by a very similar amount in Scotland (26 per cent) and the UK as a whole (28 per cent).

‘So it seems that historically, at least, Scottish governments in Holyrood have placed less priority on funding the NHS in Scotland (and more on funding other services) than governments in Westminster have for England.’

It continued by arguing that independence could make it harder to protect the NHS:

‘Independence would give the Scottish government more freedom to set spending and tax policies. It would also, in principle, have more freedom to borrow. That freedom would be constrained by the size of the debt it would likely inherit and the willingness of markets to lend. On most plausible scenarios it is hard to see how an independent Scotland could “end austerity” in the short run…In this case an independent Scotland would need to implement bigger spending cuts (or more tax rises) than the UK as a whole or try to borrow more. This means it would likely be harder rather than easier to protect the NHS.’

And before the SNP seek to lash out at all those who dare to disagree with them, they would probably do well to read their own manifesto from the 2011 Scottish elections which made clear that they already have the levers needed to protect the NHS. As it concludes in no uncertain terms:

‘The Scottish Parliament has responsibility for the health service and that means we can protect NHS budgets.’

 Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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