The NHS: The No Help, Sorry?

From a very personal perspective, I am feeling rather frustrated with the NHS. I have two ongoing health problems: a recurrent gastritis/gastroenteritis that I have suffered since Christmas 2013, and ongoing pain in my hip after a horse riding accident in August 2013 that at times leaves me unable to get out of a chair or climb the stairs.

In the first case, my GP spent a year telling me I had IBS, and trying me on different medications, many of which made my symptoms worse. I was finally referred to the hospital in December last year, and in the last six months have had two diagnostic tests, neither of which I’ve had discussed with me by either my GP or the referral doctor, as both have said the remit is with the other. And the drugs I was recommended by the doctor during one of my tests? I’m still waiting for that prescription…

In the second, I spent nine months in physiotherapy before the physio recommended my GP refer me to hospital. My GP told me to carry on with physio. Over a year after the initial accident, I was finally referred to the hospital – and I’m still waiting for an initial appointment, two years later.

And the media has been reflecting my frustration with the NHS. The Observer wrote on Saturday about the spending waste in the NHS. The Telegraph has ranted about complacency. The Herald complains about the staffing crisis and the political red tape that are heavily affecting the NHS. It seems like very day there is another story about impossible targets, failure for patients, and a bulbous and inefficient bureaucracy.

Now, I understand better than most the pressure out NHS is under. I studied my preclinical veterinary degree alongside medical students in many parts, so I know how hard those guys have to work even to qualify. Many of my friends from university are now in their Foundation years. I also happen to know a decent number of doctors working in the NHS at the moment, and whilst many of them (surgeons particularly) are arrogant sods and have no people skills at all, they are very, very dedicated to their jobs, and work very long hours saving people’s lives.

And I’m also aware that my situation is not the average. I have a pretty high pain threshold (I broke my elbow in 2012, and continued to row and do core training including pushups etc for two weeks before I realised something wasn’t right), and am quite young, so I understand I’m not a priority, especially when neither of my conditions are life threatening, simply frustrating and painful.

However, in doing my research, I cam across something very interesting. The Nuffield Trust did a study last year comparing the NHS across the UK, and came up with some very interesting results: there really isn’t all that much difference between them. All the regional NHS systems increased spending, although all four have slowed down investment since the imposition of austerity measures. All four have reduced hospital waiting times, shortened ambulance waiting times, improved stroke care, reduced cases of MRSA, and increased numbers of doctors and dentists to show an improved patient:doctor/dentist ratio. In broad terms, systems are comparable across the UK.

However the close comparison between the North of England (which does not have a devolved NHS, but had more comparable mortality rates etc to Scotland than the average of the other administrations at the beginning of the study period in 1991) and Scotland was an eye opener. The North of England had greater improvement in mortality rates, hospital waiting times, treatment rates and life expectancy generally over the course of the study than Scotland, which had been so comparable at the beginning.

However, ultimately, the systems look very similar, despite the Scottish government’s calls that the Scottish system is much superior. There is also no evidence to back up the SNP claim during the referendum that our NHS is in a spiral of doom that can only be saved by independence – all the health systems are actually improving.

The NHS could certainly be better, in my experience. But it also seems to me that, when it comes to our health service, we like to scandalise the issues, and whinge about the problems, rather than actually look at how much our patient care has improved. Further austerity cuts won’t help out NHS, certainly – but can we stop using a ‘failing NHS’ to score political points please? Because it simply isn’t true. Even if I’m still waiting on that appointment.

GE 2015: what happened in Scotland?

As you can imagine, as a non-SNP supporter in Scotland, whose excellent, experienced Lib Dem MP (who I’d dealt with a lot over the tuition fees debacle), who was prepared to go against party whip for his constituents if required, has been replaced by a 23 year old career politician (for whom politics is in the family) who has been filmed saying he will never vote against the party, I am feeling a little like politics has died. However, my personal feelings aside, here’s what’s happening here in Scotland, and how much the rise of the SNP really has to do with independence.

The SNP have been out to destroy Labour’s support in Scotland since the referendum last September. The cries of ‘red Tories’ and ‘Liebour’ (even with the most left wing Labour leader in 40 years!) have been loud for months. It was accepted by most of Scotland that certainly Glasgow and the majority of the central belt at least would fall to the SNP. I think the SNP managed to outdo even their wildest hopes with the result they achieved, though.

However, that sentiment of Labour not being left enough (regardless of truth) has been pervasive, and has turned many stalwart Labour supporters to the SNP. A decent proportion of No voters also voted SNP, on the belief that the SNP would push for Scottish interests in a Labour government, as Sturgeon has repeatedly claimed.

However, the voices since the result have been mixed. I’ve heard ‘I wouldn’t have voted SNP if I’d thought the Tories would win’, ‘Labour is as dead as the Tories in Scotland’, ‘now we have a mandate for UDI’, ‘it doesn’t matter how Scotland votes anyway and didn’t affect the Tory win, so why not vote for a Scottish party rather than a branch office?’, and of course the Lamentations of the Left, who see the rejection of old style left wing Labour by the Scots as pushing a move back to middle-England-pleasing centrist politics and the legacy of Blairism.

What do I think? I think communication has gone out the window and fear is rife. The English electorate see voting in the SNP as an anti-English move, when it is an anti-Westminster parties protest vote (think UKIP, but generally left wing and progressive, with an actual record of arguably successful government). The Scots on the other hand see the anti-SNP rhetoric spun by the mainstream UK media as being anti-Scottish thanks to criticism of our chosen representatives, and the Scots are well known for being stubborn (or as we say, ‘thrawn’) as hell and determined to have what we’re told we can’t. Ultimately, both sides are perpetuating the division that Scotland voted against in September.

So the political picture here is an odd one. It’s been historic; jubilant for some whilst desperately sad for others; there is the threat of nationalism but more so there is hope for the socialism that Scotland desperately believes in.

Personally, I’m heartbroken, and have just joined the Labour Party ahead of next year’s Scottish elections so that I can cast my vote for the new leaders of Labour and Scottish Labour. I guarantee that a different result will be seen next year – no FPTP means Scottish government is much more representative than Westminster, thankfully, and 50% of the vote will produce closer to 50% of the representation. If Labour can pull themselves together and find something worth standing for again, they might even start to make a comeback.

The SNP got just over 1.45 million votes on the 7th of May. The losing Yes campaign in September got over 1.6 million. So support for independence has absolutely not increased in real terms. And the SNP MPs have made it clear that they are not pushing for independence with this result. Except for Alex Salmond. But he’s a bit fishy anyway.

I don’t think they will either. Ultimately, they lost in September – why try again until they have increased their popularity, and the support for independence, or else they start to become a running joke and lose the real momentum that they have gained.

Wait until 5 years of a majority Tory government has hammered Scotland.

Regarding the role the SNP will take in Westminster itself: thanks to the Tory majority the SNP can only be part of the opposition at best, and more likely only unofficial opposition bench seats rather than shadow government. So in actual fact, they have very little actual say, other than filling the role they already fill on Scotland’s eyes of shouting a lot at the Tories. Unfortunately, a role as the opposition rather than the smaller party in coalition government will probably increase support for them – a role in government would have thrown up their mistakes, rather than their objections, and would have forced them to accept responsibility. Look what it did to the Lib Dems. However, England was having none of it – and may have done more harm than good.

So what happens next? The SNP will soon realise that flouting parliamentary rules on applause and photography are about as much rebellion as they can create, and Labour will have to analyse what the SNP are providing for the people of Scotland that they aren’t – and quickly. Personally, I’d love to see a split of Scottish Labour from the main Labour party, and Scottish Labour becoming an affiliated party like the SDLP in Northern Ireland.

But we may yet see another referendum before we see that.