Ruth Davidson opened First Minister’s Questions yesterday with an attack on the Scottish Government over the performance of the NHS, citing a report that the service faced “pockets of meltdown” this winter.
But later in the session, alert backbench SNP MSP Clare Haughey claimed that the report being quoted by the Tory leader had only in fact examined THREE Scottish hospitals. So we thought we’d better check.
The source of the quote was Monday’s edition of the Guardian:
It referred in turn to an article in the previous day’s Observer, which was written by the chief executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson:
That immediately set alarm bells ringing in our heads, because NHS Providers is “the association of foundation trusts and trusts”, and Scotland doesn’t have NHS trusts – they’re a part of the management structure in the English NHS. Trusts were abolished in Scotland in 2004.
The second paragraph of Hopson’s article said “hospital accident and emergency performance is now the worst it has ever been”, which also sounded a bit off as NHS Scotland has been posting record-breaking stats for A&E treatment for some time.
And sure enough, the link pointed to a story about NHS England.
Two paragraphs further on, Hopson notes that “we ended the last financial year with trusts reporting the largest deficit in NHS history”, with a link to another article making it clear that by “we” he meant England:
The rest of Hopson’s article continues with more references to trusts and stats applying only to NHS England. It’s obvious that his comments aren’t meant to refer to NHS Scotland in any way, where most of the alarming stats he highlights are in fact moving in the opposite direction.
The study mentioned in the Holyrood chamber by Clare Haughey is the Society for Acute Medicine Benchmarking Audit (SAMBA) 2016, which hasn’t actually been made public yet, but we gave the Society a ring and got them to send us a copy. It lists 94 participating units, 91 of which aren’t in Scotland, and of those that are (Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, Ninewells in Dundee and Raigmore in Inverness) none are in the central belt where most of the population lives.
Responses aren’t broken down by individual hospitals, so we can’t separate out the Scottish stats from the rest. However, the most recent A&E figures on the Scottish Government website for their respective health boards showed NHS Grampian doing even better than the Scottish average at an impressive 96.7%, NHS Highland better still at an excellent 97.5%, and NHS Tayside on a frankly phenomenal 99.2%.
It seems unlikely, then, that they contributed to the report’s fears of a crisis.
What Ruth Davidson did yesterday was take the havoc being wreaked on the NHS in England by her own Conservative government at Westminster and pretend that it was the SNP’s fault, even though the Scottish service has in fact been bucking the trend south of the border, resisting privatisation and posting a long series of improvements in all the stats that are plummeting fast in England.
There will always be pressures on the NHS, particularly in the winter and particularly in Scotland, where colder temperatures and more snow and ice lead to more injuries and illness, and a heavy budget squeeze coming down the line from the UK Treasury can only make things tougher. But the devolved service under the control of the Scottish Government is coping remarkably well compared to its counterparts in the rest of the UK. Despite the cuts, staffing levels and patient satisfaction are both at record highs.
Furnished with these facts, readers could be forgiven if they concluded that the only thing melting down in Scotland is Ruth Davidson’s credibility.