Jenny Marra NHS Waiting Times (Speech in the Scottish Parliament ) 

6 March 2013 

I found the first half of this debate and the SNP’s response to Labour’s motion extremely limited at best.

Labour is using its parliamentary time to shine a light on some of the realities in our NHS and the best that the SNP can do is accuse us of flirting with reality and rehearse arguments that were settled six years ago.

The SNP has had six years; it is high time that it took some responsibility for the health service and for what is going on.

As the Royal College of Nurses said:

“It can become easy to forget that behind every statistic is a person who needs quality and timely care and a nurse or healthcare assistant who wants to care for him or her to the best of their ability.”

That should never be far from our minds.

This debate is not just about the statistics; it is about how the Government is responding to the pressure that our NHS staff are under and the toll that that is taking on patient care the length and breadth of Scotland.

In Tayside, we have 14,000 dedicated NHS workers who are meeting the needs of more than 400,000 people.

It is clear, from recent inspections and audits, that that challenging task is becoming harder. As a result, corners are cut and standards fall well below what is expected.

A December 2012 audit report into NHS Tayside waiting times revealed that over half of staff interviewed raised concerns about the environment in which they were expected to perform their duties—an environment, the report states, in which staff

“felt pressured into entering unavailability they considered to be inappropriate.”

The report went on to detail how that resulted in the routine allocation of up to three weeks’ unavailability in circumstances in which questionnaires were issued to patients. Unavailability had been added because equipment was unavailable in hospital, not because “unavailability” meant that the patient was unavailable.

However, just one week after that report was published, Alex Neil came to this chamber and said:

“waiting times ... published by boards are reliable and accurate.”

In justifying himself, he said that

“more ... needs to be done”

to address

“consistency of recording and the quality of waiting times information.”—[Official Report, 20 December 2012; c 15052-3.]

He went on to say in a radio interview that computers were to blame for the problem.

We do not accept, in the face of overwhelming evidence and overwhelming reports from Audit Scotland, that the problem was the computer systems.

That was proven by the Auditor General just the other week. Instead, what is becoming abundantly clear to everybody but the SNP is that our NHS workers are being forced to try to deliver under intense pressure by a Government that has ignored the warning signs and that continues, this afternoon, to ignore and turn a blind eye to them.

John Mason: Is Jenny Marra arguing that more resources should be put into health and taken away from some other sector of the Scottish budget?

 Jenny Marra: I am arguing that the SNP needs to wake up and smell the coffee, and listen to what we are saying.

There is overwhelming evidence from the Auditor General that the figures are not reliable and that waiting times have been hidden.

I am arguing for clarity.

The warning signs include the August 2010 Audit Scotland report that warned the Government that availability codes were being applied differently in each health board, and the Auditor General recently putting the NHS on amber warning.

Another sign is the fact that between April 2011 and March 2012 NHS Tayside lost nearly 250,000 hours, because staff were suffering from stress, anxiety or depression.

With facts like that, it is little wonder that the pressure mounts.

The problem will not be resolved or avoided by a Government that seeks to deny that the problem exists or justifies it by telling the nation that it was worse under the previous Government.

As I said in my opening remarks, the cabinet secretary’s Government has had six years.

That attitude does nothing to relieve the burden on the staff in NHS Tayside, who feel like they do not have the equipment or resources that they need to do their jobs.

The attitude that “It’s all fine” did nothing to help the patients and staff in Ninewells who were inspected by Healthcare Improvement Scotland in September 2012.

The inspection resulted in a report that was never released.

It will do nothing for those who have been marked as socially unavailable for treatments that they desperately need.

We need a Government and a health secretary that are not only prepared to accept responsibility when things go wrong, but a Government and a health secretary responsible enough to reap the advice of experts and their own auditors on how to make things right.

Until then, we will not see the real change in the NHS that we need to give NHS staff the support that they need to give patients the levels of care that they deserve.

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