Conference, it’s an absolute pleasure to be talking with you as the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care.
I can’t tell you how much of an honour it is to have been asked by our First Minister to play a part in the future of the National Health Service – undoubtedly our most precious institution.
As you can imagine, the Government’s immediate and overriding priority is to help guide the county through the pandemic, which unfortunately we are very much still in the midst of.
This terrible virus has cost thousands of lives, but its effects are felt much more widely by our health service and by people waiting for care. The pain and grief that so many families have endured because of this virus is unimaginable.
Through this, the biggest crisis our Health Service has ever had to deal with, our NHS has been there for us every step of the way.
In my short time as Health Secretary I’ve already seen first-hand the amazing dedication of our health and care staff.
In fact, such is my dedication to seeing the NHS up close that I ruptured my Achilles only last week, playing badminton of all things…I will need to come up with a more exciting story about how I got injured! I cannot thank the NHS staff who looked after me enough.
Staffing in our NHS has increased by over 25,000 under the SNP – a 20% increase – and is now at an all-time record high.
These women and men have been incredible throughout the pandemic and have exemplified why we love our NHS. They went above and beyond before the pandemic, their efforts over the last 18 months have been nothing short of heroic.
Conference, we are putting out money where our mouth is. We don’t just clap for our Health and Social Care workers but ensure they are appropriately recognised and rewarded for all they have done for us. That is why I am proud our NHS workers are the best paid in the UK – our 4% pay rise for NHS Agenda for Change staff was the highest single year pay award in the devolution era.
And we invested over £64 million to ensure our Social Care workers are paid at least the Real Living Wage.
I follow in the footsteps of Jeane Freeman, whose work was so vital in protecting our NHS when Scotland was hit by the pandemic.
I know I speak for us all conference when I thank Jeane for her contribution to our NHS, and her ongoing commitment to our national cause of independence.
Building on her work we’ve brought forward our £1 billion recovery plan for the NHS – to help our health service recover from the impact of Covid and to address the backlogs in care.
The aim of the recovery plan is to substantially increase NHS capacity – we’ll increase inpatient and day-case capacity by 10% over the next 18 months and by at least 20% over the next five years. We are also going to increase out-patient capacity by at least 10% by the end of this parliament.
In May’s election it was the SNP who committed to the highest level of investment of any party in our NHS and social care services.
That’s just one of the reasons the people of Scotland, once again, backed our party to lead the Scottish Government and delivered such a cast iron mandate to implement our manifesto.
We’re committed to increasing investment in frontline health services by 20% over the lifetime of this Parliament so by 2026-27 that health investment will be at least £2.5 billion higher than it is now.
Through this we’re increasing the investment in all aspects of our health services – not least our community health services in primary care and in mental health.
Free access to health at the point of need is one of the pillars that Nye Bevan built the NHS on. It’s a principle we will never abandon.
That’s why it was our First Minister who scrapped prescription charges – as they were nothing more than a tax on illness. Meanwhile in England the Tories are actually looking to increase the number of people who pay for prescriptions.
We’re now going further by removing the last part of the NHS where charging can occur – NHS dental charges.
I was delighted just a few weeks ago to take the first step towards this by scrapping NHS dental charges for everyone under 26. And by the end of the parliament we will have scrapped NHS dental charges for everybody.
My colleague Maree Todd will be leading the charge to improve the public health of the nation. That’s why this week’s programme for government sets out actions to cut tobacco use, tackle alcohol misuse and reduce obesity.
Maree is also our sports minister – which is probably sensible given my badminton-related Achilles injury last week. Over this parliament Maree will oversee a doubling of our investment in sport and active living to £100 million.
Conference, I am proud to be part of a Scottish Government that has achieved so much for the people of Scotland over the last 14 years.
The people of Scotland have put their trust in us for a fourth successive term because of our track record, but also because of our honesty. And where we have fallen short we are committed to redoubling our efforts.
Scotland’s drugs deaths are shameful. That is why the Scottish Government has made it our National Mission to tackle drugs deaths in Scotland. Angela Constance as our minister for Drugs Policy is taking forward urgent work in tackling Scotland’s drug death crisis.
Angela has secured additional funding of £250 million to deliver better outreach, treatment, rehabilitation and aftercare across our nation. This is helping deliver access to same-day treatment and a wider range of treatment options.
The effects of the pandemic have not just been on physical wellbeing, it’s taken a toll on mental health too.
I’m working with Kevin Stewart as our mental wellbeing minister to ensure that our recovery plan for our NHS has mental health front and centre.
That’s why we’ll be increasing the investment in mental health in every year of this parliament to at least 10% of frontline health spending.
Among the improved this will help deliver is in access to Child and Adolescent mental health services – not least through doubling the budget for community based mental wellbeing services for children and young people to £30 million.
Through our Mental Health Recovery plan will fund almost 320 additional staff in CAMHS over the next 5 years, with the potential to increase capacity for CAMHS cases by over 10,000.
Perhaps the most ambitious plan we have for this parliament is to deliver a new National Care Service. Kevin is leading this work and will be bringing forward the National Care Service Bill in this parliamentary year to have the service up and running before the end of the parliament.
Be in no doubt, the creation of the National Care Service is the most substantial reform of public services since the creation of the NHS in 1948.
Absolutely central to our plans is listening to the real lived experience of service users. It is for them that we are making this change.
Conference, we are going to end the postcode lottery in the delivery of social care in Scotland.
That will take both investment and reform – which is why we will increase funding for social care by at least £800 million – 25% – over the lifetime of this Parliament.
In this most recent week the mask really has slipped for the Tory Government. Bluntly they do not respect devolution and they will not hesitate to try and interfere with Scotland’s NHS.
This week they’ve brought forward plans to hike national insurance on the backs of the lowest paid and struggling businesses – rather than ask for the likes of their wealthy donors to pay a little bit more.
They’ve said this week they want to bypass devolution, to bypass the Scottish Government and dictate to us how that money should be spent.
So the question is, why?
Because they are testing the water.
Whether through the UK Internal Market Act, or the Health and Care Bill, the Tories are trying to make it easier to do trade deals that could include how the NHS operates and how NHS Scotland protects patient data.
Our very own Philippa Whitford has been pushing hard against the UK Government’s plans in their Health and Care Bill that would undermine Scotland’s NHS.
The Tories say they can be trusted to protect our NHS in any trade deals – no they can not.
They have so spectacularly damaged the economy with Brexit they’ll agree to just about anything to get a deal.
Just this week it emerged that so desperate to do a trade deal with Australia that they jettisoned vital environmental protections.
Do you really believe they won’t sell out the NHS at the first chance they get?
Never forgot that the former Tory Prime Minister John Major said of Boris Johnson and his cronies that “The NHS is about as safe with them as a pet hamster would be with a hungry python”.
If we are truly going to protect our NHS from the worst intentions of a Tory government desperate to do trade deals then there is only one solution.
We need independence.
We need independence to ensure that never again can the actions of a Tory government – that we did not vote for – jeopardise our NHS.
That’s why we will give a choice to the people of Scotland.
Do you want to protect our precious NHS for the future with independence, or do you want to just hope that the Tories won’t throw our health service into a trade deal at the first chance they get.
Conference, I choose an independent future where our NHS is protected and invested in.
And it’s a future I think the people of Scotland will choose too.