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Charles Bannerman: 'Will NHS warning be a wake up call for government?'

By Charles Bannerman

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Dr Iain Kennedy, BMA Scotland chairman.
Dr Iain Kennedy, BMA Scotland chairman.

It’s almost 40 years since Iain Kennedy was one of my top Higher chemistry pupils at Inverness Royal Academy before progressing to Edinburgh University’s prestigious medical school, writes columnist Charles Bannerman.

Our paths next crossed in the late 1990s as fellow Inverness Caledonian Thistle shareholders and Iain, by then back home as a young GP, was a man with a mission. That particular mission was his conviction that all was not well at the Caledonian Stadium and he spoke out many times.

Initially, very few believed him but eventually his diagnosis proved to be spot on when Tulloch Homes had to intervene to save the club from over £2 million of debt.

Read more: Charles Bannerman: 'I’m deeply worried that Highland sports facilities may be in firing line'

He therefore already had a sound reputation as a whistle-blower when he later led the campaign against bullying in NHS Highland and again he was absolutely right. Being a whistle-blower can be difficult and you frequently encounter initial disbelief because an errant establishment often enjoys assumed credibility, simply because they are the establishment.

Iain is now chairman of the British Medical Association in Scotland so, knowing his past record, I became extremely worried last week when he bluntly stated that the Scottish NHS will be unable to survive in its current form and that its staff are “broken”.

If someone with Iain Kennedy’s track record, speaking with the authority of BMA chairman, is saying this, I’d take his words very seriously indeed.

Charles Bannerman.
Charles Bannerman.

Intuitively, we’ve all been watching this crisis materialising before our eyes for years and the decline continues steadily.

Statistics fly around relentlessly and have material consequences. Last month only 45 per cent of A&E referrals to a flagship Glasgow hospital, so beleaguered that its staff want it declared a major incident, were being seen within four hours.

At a minimum, patients are condemned to interminable waits outside in ambulances which can’t go anywhere else, but NHS failures seem to be leading to deaths. There’s a disturbing claim that A&E delays alone have caused 50 deaths in a week, and A&E is just the tip of the iceberg.

So, might Iain Kennedy’s warning at last provide a wake up call for a Scottish Government which appears to be largely in denial? It’s simply not good enough to deflect the problem with some crass and predictable statement, abruptly demolished by opponents as not even comparing like with like, about England being as bad or worse.

I always thought that governments’ fundamental responsibility was to make life the best they can for the people, rather than self-protection by engaging in some sorry game of politically motivated one-upmanship.

Politicians need to understand that they are there to optimise Scottish people’s living conditions and not to fixate on some fatuous, unsubstantiated comparison with the English. Take responsibility, for goodness sake! Otherwise, what’s the point of devolution in the first place? The people of Scotland demand and deserve better. This is about life and death, not political self-interest and survival.

One Scottish health secretary after another has been entrusted with the responsibility of delivering urgently needed first-class healthcare, but the service has been in worrying decline for years.

So when someone as clued up as Iain Kennedy, speaking from the position he occupies, tells us that the NHS is now terminally ill and past any hope of recovery, we should all be extremely worried for ourselves, our families and our communities.

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