Speech by Health Secretary Shona Robison to the 2017 SNP Spring Conference

Below is the speech delivered by Health Secretary Shona Robison to the 2017 SNP Spring Conference in Aberdeen. Check against delivery. 

Conference, our National Health Service is a remarkable institution.
 
And I am proud to have served firstly as Minister for Public Health, then Sport and now as Cabinet Secretary for Health for just over two years.  During that time, I have met the most amazing people working in our health and care services.
 
But recently, like many of you here, I have had real personal experience of all that they do for our families.  So I want to say a huge, heartfelt thank you on behalf of my family and everyone here to our amazing health and care staff for the work they do day in, day out.
 
The NHS has cared for our people for nearly 70 years now and in that time, it has continually evolved to reflect advances in medicine, and the changing needs of our people.
 
That evolution has continued in the last ten years where in Government we’ve had the privilege of guiding the course taken by our NHS.

As we look to the future, our NHS will continue to evolve as it works to meet the, very welcome, challenge that our people are living longer lives than at any point in our history.
 
We live in a time where medical advances mean new treatments are available now in a range of specialisms that simply weren’t available even a decade ago.
 
As our NHS evolves I give you this commitment – that as long as the SNP is in Government our health service will stay true to the founding principles of Nye Bevan – publicly-owned, publicly-run, and free at the point of need.
 
It’s through these principles that we are committed to standing against the tax on ill-health that prescription charges represent. Conference, just this week prescription charges in England were hiked yet again to £8.60.
 
Research by the charity ‘Rethink Mental Illness’ has shown that 38 per cent of people with severe mental illnesses in England have had to choose between paying household bills and paying prescription charges. That is simply shameful.
 
The Tories want to impose this tax on sickness here too. It’s bad enough applying charges to people who fall ill for a short while, but the Tories’ plan would also see those with long term conditions being hit.
 
This would mean two million people with long term conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Crohn’s disease, Asthma, MS, Arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and many more conditions, would be forced to pay for their prescriptions.
 
Prior to our abolition of charges even Cancer patients had to pay for prescriptions that helped them manage their illness.
 
That is the Tory vision for health in Scotland – tax cuts for the wealthiest, and a tax hike on pain and illness for the vulnerable.
 
Conference, I’m proud to say today that under the SNP, prescriptions are free and will stay free.
 
The integration of health and social care is one of our most ambitious reform programmes and sees services working together more efficiently.
 
More than £8 billion of health and social care funding that was previously managed separately by health boards and local authorities has been allocated to integration.
 
In next year’s budget, we’ve ensured that there will be almost half a billion pounds of NHS investment in social care and integration. This is part of our desire to shift the balance of care through increasing investment in social care, primary care and mental health services.
 
Integration is still in its infancy but in many parts of the country we’re already seeing results, including the reduction of delayed discharges in most areas.
 
This May, people across Scotland will choose their local councillors. The SNP is committed to high quality social care and with more SNP-RUN councils, That is exactly what we will deliver.
 
In our time in Government, we’ve protected our health service from the austerity agenda driven by the Tories in Westminster.
 
Despite swingeing cuts to Scotland’s budget we’ve increased health funding to record high level levels. In 2017-18, health spending will rise to over £13 billion – that’s £3.6 billion more than when the SNP took office.
 
And conference, we’re going to increase it further – delivering a further boost of almost £2 billion by the end of this parliament.
 
As I’ve already set out, our NHS does face challenges and the staff of the health service deliver fantastic care in the face of significant pressure – and we thank them deeply for their service.
 
Just increasing funding is not enough on its own. Late last year I put forward our delivery plan for the future of health and social care in Scotland. This plan for reform is twinned with our commitment – the highest of any party in Scotland – to continued record investment in our NHS.
 
Our plan will see dedicated funding of over £125 million in the coming year to help deliver change on the ground.
 
It is extremely important to us that patients who are waiting for treatment such as surgery, a diagnostic test or an outpatient consultation, are seen as quickly as possible.
 
We’re investing substantially in social care and community care, with a view to keeping people healthy at home for as long as possible. This will, in time, help prevent the need for many people to go to hospital.
 
And when someone does require specialist care in hospital we want it to be delivered in a centre of real expertise that is underpinned by our unswerving commitment to patient safety.
 
These changes won’t happen overnight but they are part of a clear, long-term strategy of matching increased investment in our NHS with reform to ensure our health service is providing care to the people of Scotland long into the future.
 
The Scottish Government funds many worthwhile projects that not only bring benefits to Scotland but also to the people involved.
 
One of the projects I’m most proud that we support is the ‘New Refugee Doctors Project’. This excellent scheme takes trained doctors who have come to Scotland as refugees and supports them to re-enter the medical profession in Scotland.
 
Access to training and employment is crucial to integration, and it can be devastating for those who had a skill in their home country to be unable to use that in their new country.
 
By giving people a helping hand to utilise their skills we’re supporting them to make connections and friendships, and to build a better life. And we all benefit from those skills too.
 
One of the refugees who has participated is a Syrian Doctor, Mohammad Helmi. He said that “Getting back into medicine is what I have been looking for since my first day in Scotland, and I cannot imagine myself being anywhere else. It is my passion where I will be able to contribute the most to humanity.”
 
Conference, I want to say this to Mohammad and other medical professionals who have found refuge here in Scotland – you are welcome here, we cherish you and value the contribution you want to make to our nation.
 
Friends, patient safety is one of the real success stories of our time in Government.
 
The Scottish Patient Safety Programme is the first national programme of its kind in the World. International experts mark it out as the global benchmark for safe care.
 
Through it, NHS staff have made fantastic progress. Hospital standardised mortality is down to its lowest levels since records began. Cases of C. Diff and MRSA in the over 65s have fallen to among their lowest levels on record.
 
People involved in healthcare from around the world beat a path to Scotland’s door to learn how it’s been done.
 
And given some of the problems they’ve had recently I’m happy to let the Tory UK Government into our secret – Listen to the staff.
 
Listen to your frontline nurses, doctors, and support staff – work with them.
 
You could start with paying NHS staff in England at least the real Living Wage – we deliver it here in Scotland, which is why our support staff start with pay almost £900 higher than their counterparts in England.
 
You could deliver in full the pay uplifts recommended by the independent pay review bodies – just as we have here in Scotland.
 
While the increases are modest they do mean our frontline nurses are paid between £200-£400 more than their counterparts in England.
 
You could introduce a policy of no compulsory redundancies – as we have in Scotland. While there have been no compulsory redundancies in the NHS under the SNP in Scotland, there have been over 20,000 in NHS England under the Tories.
 
And you could guarantee the rights of EU nationals and stop using them as bargaining chips in your desperate hard Brexit negotiations.
 
The huge contribution to social care and our NHS by staff from EU countries cannot be overestimated.
 
Doctors, nurses and care workers from across Europe help to staff our GP surgeries, our hospitals and our care homes.
 
Conference, 1 in 20 of our NHS doctors comes from the EU.
 
With Michael Russell, I met NHS staff from the EU recently to ensure they knew they had our support and thanks.
 
One doctor I spoke to was sad and angry that after giving over 25 years of service to our NHS he felt he was no more than a pawn in Theresa May’s Brexit game.
 
Fellow delegates, Scotland must have the opportunity to protect these European nationals – our friends, neighbours and families – and have the ability to attract their successors in years to come.
 
Conference, let’s send a clear message today to the staff in our NHS and care services from EU countries, and those from other parts of the UK and further afield – Scotland is your home, and we will do everything we can to ensure your future here.
 
Frankly, rather than pursuing their hard right Brexit agenda, it’s time that Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt got on with the day job.
 
Just as we’re doing.
 
Our new national workforce plan will build on the substantial increase in NHS staffing delivered under the SNP.
 
In the last 10 years, we’ve seen NHS staff numbers increase to record highs – with more consultants, nurses and midwives now delivering care for the people of Scotland.
 
There are over 12,200 more staff working in our NHS since we came to power, with nearly 1,000 of these recruited in the last year.
 
To try and give you some context that means that today the workforce of Scotland’s NHS is roughly the same size as the population of Dundee.
 
Conference I hope you’ll forgive this wee bit of Dundonian bias in the Granite city!
 
We are also committed to preparing our NHS workforce for the future by increasing student nursing and midwifery intakes for five consecutive years. That’s helped to see almost 10,000 nurses and midwives in training last year.
 
We’re also protecting bursaries and free tuition for nursing and midwifery students – unlike the Tories in England who have scrapped both.
 
Between the prospect of a hard Brexit hitting staffing and tuition fees saddling nurses and midwives with huge debts, you have to wonder just what Jeremy Hunt’s long-term plan for the NHS in England actually is.
 
Our commitment to supporting refugees, our commitment to our European staff, and our dedication to ensuring record investment and reform – are all examples of the kind of NHS we choose for the kind of Scotland we want to be.
 
We want dental care to continue to improve – and thanks to our investment there has been a dramatic turnaround in community dentistry. A record nine in ten people are now registered with an NHS dentist – up from just 52 per cent when we took office.
 
We want to transform primary care – so we announced last week £71.6 million in direct support of general practice as the first stage of our commitment to provide an extra £250 million by 2021 to transform the way services are delivered in the community.
 
We want our NHS to help catch cancer as early as possible – that’s why we’ve invested almost £40 million to raise public awareness of cancer, to catch it earlier, driving earlier diagnosis.
 
We want our NHS to be as accessible as possible – which is why we scrapped parking charges at all NHS-run hospital car parks, saving patients and staff around £27 million.
 
And we want the right infrastructure to be in place – that’s why we’ve invested over £5 billion in Scotland’s health infrastructure since 2007, including the Emergency Care Centre here in Aberdeen.
 
And there’s more to come with investment of £150 million for the Baird Family Hospital and Anchor Centre here in Aberdeen, due to commence next year.
 
Elsewhere, we’ve brought forward plans for a £5 million expansion of the Golden Jubilee Hospital, the first part of our plan to invest £200 million in a network of elective and diagnostic treatment centres.
 
Fellow delegates, we’ve made real progress in the last decade in improving our NHS and social care, thanks to our health and care staff doing fantastic work up and down our country.
 
But thanks to the Tories’ folly at Westminster we now find ourselves at a crossroads.
 
One road leads to a hard Brexit, where the future of our EU staff are threatened and with it the very fabric of our NHS, and there is a clear path towards yet greater Tory cuts to Scotland.
 
The other road offers us choice – the ability to choose a different future for our country.
 
Conference I choose Independence – I choose the road where we can protect our European staff, deliver our vision for the future, and ensure the future of an NHS that is publicly-owned, publicly-run and free at the point of need.
 
It’s a choice that is our right to make and that we must be allowed to make when the shape of Brexit is known.
 
And conference, it’s a choice that we can and will deliver.