Health has been making front page news again this week with the UK Government taking the draconian decision to impose a new contract on Junior Doctors working in NHS England after the two sides failed to reach agreement in their negotiations. One of the most disappointing aspects from my perspective is that a great deal of progress had been made in recent weeks and the UK Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, himself said that 90% of the content had been agreed. Yet, he has opted to take such drastic action when many were hopeful that further discussions would have led to a resolution. Now there is a possibility of further industrial action and a real risk that far fewer trainee doctors will opt to go into acute areas of specialism, such as A&E and Maternity, which are already struggling to recruit, because of the implications this new contract has for those who work in specialities with a high proportion of unsociable hours and weekends.
It is important to note that these contracts will not apply in Scotland. Indeed, the approach of the Scottish Government couldn’t be more different; developing a 7-day service has been evolving over many years and has been done through co-operation with staff, not coercion. Indeed improvements were led by clinical staff themselves in response to audits in the 1990s which suggested that, in some cases, the outcome might have been better with Consultant surgeons and anaesthetists involved in the sickest cases. As a result, in Scotland we already have access to diagnostic scans or operating theatres at weekends if required. The First Minster has condemned the actions of the UK Government, saying it is no way to treat health professionals, and I know that my colleagues in NHS Scotland will appreciate the Scottish Government working with doctors, nurses and other NHS staff in the best interests of patients.
Staying with health and last week saw the launch of the Report on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Health in All Policies, of which I am a member. The Report highlights the stark reality that the deep cuts delivered by the Bill will fall squarely on the shoulders of the sick and the poor with the very real likelihood that poverty will increase having a hugely detrimental impact on the health and wellbeing of children up and down the country, including here in North Ayrshire. The SNP has long called for the regressive measures in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill to be revisited; we cannot continue to have a situation where those who can least afford it are punished for the failings of the banks and the failed economic policies of recent UK Governments. Apart from the fact it is immoral, it is incredibly short-sighted given the long-term implications for society in terms of the health and life chances of the many thousands of children who will be pushed into poverty. Without full control over Welfare, (control of only 14% will be devolved to Holyrood) the Scottish Government can only help mitigate the results of the measures in the new Bill, as we have done with the Bedroom Tax, but this diverts valuable resources away from other areas which could be freed up if we just had the ability to introduce a system that is fair from the outset.
Back in the constituency and I was delighted to hear that Towerlands Sports Club received a £10,000 Awards for All grant from the Big Lottery Fund to upgrade and replace the club’s inefficient heating and lighting systems that are no longer fit for purpose, and that Ayrshire Community Media CIC received a grant of £8,012 to provide equipment and staff for broadcasting a cooking show, which will be aired online locally to promote healthy living.