SNP Conference address by Alex Neil MSP

Delegates as this is my first speech to Conference in my new job as Health Secretary I want to begin by congratulating Nicola on her outstanding record as Scotland’s longest serving Health Secretary.

Nicola inherited the mess left by Andy Kerr and in the last 5 years she has nursed the NHS in Scotland back to health.

Just two of her achievements have been keeping the Accident and Emergency Departments at Ayr and Monklands open; and introducing free prescriptions for everybody in Scotland.

These two measures alone have already alleviated unnecessary suffering for thousands of people and saved an unquantifiable number of lives in Scotland.

Nicola, on behalf of the people of Scotland we say to you thank you for all you have done for the NHS in Scotland.

My job now is to build on Nicola’s success and ensure the NHS in Scotland is one our children and grandchildren will be proud of.

That means total rejection of the privatisation agenda pursued by both Labour and the Tories south of the border.

It means maintaining our commitment to free personal and nursing care for the elderly and frail.

Unlike Johann Lamont I don’t believe that free personal care is about getting “something for nothing”.

Johann do you not realise the elderly and frail people who get free personal care have worked for it, they’ve paid for it through a lifetime of paying taxes and national insurance contributions. And they deserve the best care money can buy.

Labour also wants to end free prescriptions for all, claiming we can’t afford them. Rubbish.

Under the SNP, free prescriptions will be a permanent feature of our NHS and are here to stay. Unlike Labour we understand the language of priorities. And a health service free at he point of use is a TOP Priority

Unlike our opponents we have a vision for the NHS in Scotland.

By 2020 we intend that everyone in Scotland is able to live longer and healthier lives at home, or in a homely setting.

We intend building a health system where we have integrated health and social care, a focus on prevention, anticipation and self-management.

When hospital treatment is required, and cannot be provided in a community setting, care will be provided to the highest standards of quality and safety, with the individual at the centre of all decisions.

The NHS in Scotland faces three major challenges:

Firstly an ageing population means an increasing demand on the health service.That’s why our top priority is the integration of adult health and social care.

It is totally unacceptable when an elderly person or a disabled person suffers because of a bureaucratic battle between a local authority and the local health board.

We are determined to put an end to such nonsense and ensure that everybody gets the quality of both health and social care they need when they need it.

The second major challenge is from the consequences of poverty and deprivation, which the Labour/Tory welfare changes and benefit cuts will make much worse. It’s projected that the actions of the UK Government could mean that over 50,000 additional children would be in relative poverty by 2020. We must do all we can to stop that from happening.

That is why we are doing so much to increase the social wage in Scotland, so that our poorest people get the help they need.

The third big challenge arise from the Westminster cuts .

That’s why we’ve made our money go further by re-investing every penny of the three quarters of a billion pounds already saved from improved efficiencies made by the NHS into improving quality and frontline services in the NHS.

And conference, today I can announce a new initiative to further drive efficiencies to release cash for frontline services for years to come.

We are investing £24 million in the ‘NHS Scotland Carbon Reduction Programme’ which through a number of energy saving schemes will reduce energy costs for Scottish health facilities by £4 million per year.

£4 million per year that will be reinvested in provision of patient care.

The new 3 year programme also has the added benefit of reducing carbon emissions in hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

Friends, research shows that the single biggest contributor to improving the health of a nation is to have as many people in good, well paid jobs as possible.

That’s why Jobs and Growth are at the heart of all we do. Not only are jobs and growth good for the economy, they are essential to improving the health of our country.

But delegates, no matter how much we do with our existing limited power and resources to create jobs and improve public services we will be able to do far, far more with a YES vote in 2014.

For example, we will have a benefits system that genuinely helps people into work rather than drive them further into poverty; we will have a fair tax system that places the heaviest burden on the broadest shoulders.

But as well as spelling the positive case for a YES vote over the next two years we have to explode the myths being perpetrated by the “Better Together No” campaign.

The No campaign claims that the UK has been a raving success:

Tell that to every family who have lost a young son or husband or brother because of the illegal war in Iraq

Tell that to the young men who have been serving in Afghanistan without the proper equipment to keep them safe and protected – many being the same young brave men who on their return from Afghanistan are now being rewarded with a P45.

The UK hasn’t been a raving success for them

It hasn’t been a success for the two and a half million unemployed people in the UK

Or the millions of children, disabled and elderly people living in dire poverty in the UK

What they promise is “Better Together”. What they mean is:

“Poorer Together”

“More People Being Forced To Rely On Food Parcels Together”

“Unemployed Together”

“More Debt Together”

“More Unwanted Wars Together”

Delegates they must think our heads button up the back.

As the SNP Government has proved we have achieved much more over the last five years than Westminster did over the previous fifty years of London rule over Scotland.

The only way Scotland will be “Better Together” is by being an Independent nation:

If people want jobs only Independence can deliver

If they want an end to austerity only Independence can achieve it

If they want rid of nuclear weapons that can only happen in an independent Scotland

While the Scottish people see the SNP Government as a model of competence, they also know that this lot in London couldn’t run a whelk stall never mind a nation.

Delegates the choice facing the Scottish people is clear in 2014. Turn backwards and undo all the progress our nation has made in the last five years with a No vote or leap forward to a better future for us, our children and our grandchildren by voting YES. Yes to Independence.