February 19, 2020 Blog

I’m a lifelong NHS worker. We need #SafetyNotSecrecy in Scotland’s health service

In the Scottish Parliament today, Labour is leading a debate raising the alarm over the governance, leadership, performance and financial sustainability of Scotland’s NHS.

With many of Scotland’s health boards in special measures, this debate should be a wake-up call to support the staff who work tirelessly to deliver our health service, often at the expense of their own health and wellbeing. And it should be a call to action to support patients and their families, who, quite frankly, deserve better.

Before I became Deputy General Secretary of Scottish Labour last autumn, I worked for over 30 years in the NHS. Leading a team of health visitors, in recent years I witnessed a notable increase in the number of families clearly suffering from the impact of government policies.

I saw the impact of Universal Credit sanctions, poor mental health, children going hungry and families at the brink of despair using foodbanks and charities on a regular basis. Health visitors are finding it increasingly difficult, despite their skills and knowledge, to differentiate between poverty and child protection. Referrals to charitable organisations have increased exponentially, to the point staff feel they are a stand-alone charity providing reactive care rather than preventative work.

This is just a small snapshot of the pressures our NHS is facing. But rather than investing in our health service and ensuring good quality governance, a culture of excuses and secrecy has developed in the SNP Government’s stewardship of it. As we approach a public inquiry into the scandals at NHS Lothian and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, it’s time to demand that this culture of secrecy must end.

At First Minister’s Questions, Richard Leonard has repeatedly raised the failings of mental health services in Tayside, where families have repeatedly raised concerns about the quality of care for their loved ones. David Ramsay tragically took his own life after he was turned away by the Carseview Medical Centre in Dundee. A recent independent report into the health board made an astonishing 51 recommendations to turn its health service around. As Richard has argued, the failings are not a systemic – not a one off.

NHS staff are suffering too. Scottish Labour’s own research last year revealed that the proportion of stress or mental health related absence among NHS workers has been increasing – in 2018/19 it accounted for 3.5 million lost working hours. Surveyed by the Royal College of Nursing, 60 per cent of nurses said they are under too much pressure at work and too busy to provide the level of care they would like. Seventy per cent said they work over their contracted hours at least once a week – with around half (53 per cent) saying these hours were unpaid.

We need the Scottish Government to invest to support staff and patients. And we need transparency and openness, so our health service can learn from past experiences to provide an NHS we continue to be proud of.

That’s why we’re calling today for Parliament to have the power to take evidence from all departing health board chairs and chief executives. We can’t go on seeing the same mistakes and mismanagement repeated at one health board after another.

So today we are counting on your support. Labour created our NHS, and we will always be here to defend it.

– Anne is Deputy General Secretary of the Scottish Labour Party, having worked in the NHS for over 30 years