Last week the country came together to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the NHS – considered by the vast majority of us to be our most precious and cherished institution.
The NHS is now envied the world over for its universal coverage and the quality of the care it provides – indeed, since its birth in July 1948, the NHS has endured many changes and has been at the forefront of delivering significant healthcare advances.
The NHS has helped to ensure that we have now all but eradicated diseases such as polio and diphtheria. It delivered the world’s first IVF baby. And it has pioneered many lifesaving treatments including the world’s first ever liver, heart and lung transplant.
Scotland in particular has a renowned reputation for healthcare innovation – it is here at home that ultrasound was established, the UK’s first successful kidney transplant took place and advances in the use of keyhole surgery were developed.
But the real success story of our NHS lies at the very heart of it – its staff. Every single achievement celebrated last week would not have happened without the hard work and commitment of doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, cleaners, administrators and many more.
I’ve been privileged over the years both as Cabinet Secretary for Health and now as First Minister to meet hundreds of people working in health and social care and I know we can never thank them enough for the work they do and for the care and compassion they show in looking after us in times of need.
The NHS is an integral part of the fabric of our country and it must always be protected.
At its establishment Aneurin Bevan said this and his words still resonate today – “Illness is neither an indulgence for which people have to pay, nor an offence for which they should be penalised, but a misfortune the cost of which should be shared by the community”.
That is why the SNP is very clear – we will always uphold the NHS’s core values and principles. Its key foundation principle is access to healthcare free at the point of need to all who need it, regardless of ability to pay. Our abolition of prescription charges illustrates our commitment to protecting that principle.
Taking steps to improve healthcare and the NHS is a priority for the Scottish Government and always will be.
As well as abolishing prescription charges, we have increased health funding by £4 billion over the past decade – taking revenue spending to over £13 billion for the first time ever.
We have also increased staffing by over 10% and just in the last few weeks, we have offered 147,000 staff working in the NHS a 9% pay rise – if accepted, this will be the highest pay rise for NHS staff across the whole of the UK.
Despite rising demand, Scotland’s A&E services have also been the best performing in the UK for over 3 years – by some considerable distance.
In fact, overall per head of population, the Scottish NHS has more staff, higher pay, higher health spend and more beds than is the case in England – and we are determined to keep it that way. Crucially, patient satisfaction with the care provided by the NHS is at a very high level.
But for all these success, we know that our NHS is facing many challenges and working under severe pressure. It’s a great thing that so many of us are healthier and living longer and much of that is thanks to the care of the NHS – life expectancy has risen by over 10 years since the NHS was established – but of course this puts huge pressures on services. It means that the NHS is treating more patients – often with more complex conditions – than ever before.
That means we must continue to invest in the NHS – which the Scottish Government is committed to doing. But we must also reform how the NHS delivers services, with more patients treated in the community rather than in hospital.
There is no question that health and social care in Scotland must evolve to deliver services sustainably in the future. Our vision is for Scotland to be a world leader in improving public health, both mental and physical, and tackling health inequality. Our aim is to build a country where everyone can achieve their potential. The NHS cannot do this alone – wellbeing is created across all public services and in communities – but the NHS will always be central to achieving that aim.
Together with NHS boards, local councils and health and social care partners across the country, we are focused on developing and implementing policies which will improve health and care and tackle the inequalities we continue to face.
The NHS will always remain at the heart of this work and the SNP government is determined to ensure that Scotland’s NHS continues to be a world-leader in compassionate, quality healthcare for generations to come.
But as we celebrate its 70th birthday, we should all take the time to say a heartfelt thank you to the NHS for all that it does.
This article originally appeared in the Evening Times