We have the opportunity to build back a fairer society for all – let’s not waste it

Tuesday January 11th 2022


Sarah Boyack, Labour MSP for the Lothian Region, writes her first monthly column for Midlothian View.

Cuts to budgets across local government and social care have left our NHS in crisis. We’ve known for decades that factors such as income and education affect not only the quality of our lives but also our health. Investment in preventive care and decisive action against health inequalities, and ensuring health and social care workers are paid a decent wage are all within the gift of the SNP-Green Scottish Government, but this year’s budget doesn’t deliver.

We don’t live in silos and our public services don’t work like that either. Cuts and short-term planning have had a knock-on effect on our NHS which predates the pandemic.

In June 2021, NHS Lothian had the second highest number of bed days occupied by delayed discharges in Scotland – in other words the second highest number of people stuck in hospitals when they’re ready to go home. In the quarter to September 2021, 22,000 people were waiting for psychological therapy treatment, with over 40% waiting over 18 weeks. Patients going to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary were stuck waiting for help outside the hospital in ambulances for up to 7 and a half hours. Across Lothian, almost 2,000 young people have waited over a year to access much needed mental health support. In just this past year, three women tragically died because they hadn’t received their cervical screening.

Constituents have reported long delays in accessing NHS dental care, with those who have the financial means going private but those who don’t being forced to wait for months.

In December it was revealed that critical failings in children’s audiology services in NHS Lothian have hit hundreds of children and resulted in delayed identification of a hearing loss and poor management of cases. This scandal is a result of 10 years of tragic failings.

So, we need action.

We need to support those who’ve supported us through the pandemic: the fantastic social care workforce who provide essential services every day, putting concerns over their own health and safety aside and our healthcare staff who, after that 12-hour shift, are still giving their all.

We’ve clapped for them, but now it’s time to pay them. The SNP’s derisory pay offer of 48p an hour will not solve the staffing shortages that increase pressures on staff and are forcing trained and dedicated staff out of the sector. Scottish Labour are calling for an immediate rise in wages to a minimum of £12 per hour in social care, increasing to £15.

During the election campaign, Scottish Labour Leader Anas Sarwar said “never again can our NHS be forced to choose between treating a virus or treating cancer”. As we start a new year, it’s time to focus on rebuilding our NHS.

Right now, we are facing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: the opportunity to build back a better, fairer, greener society for all. It is up to us to use it.

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