Talking point: Spinning a car crash

Written by on 3 July 2014

Ed Miliband used his speech today in Edinburgh to back up Johann Lamont’s attack on the SNP over the NHS during yesterday’s First Minister’s Questions.

“Just this week, a warning from Scotland’s doctors to the SNP that the decisions they have taken on the NHS have been like a five-year ‘car crash’,” he said.

Like Lamont, he is referring to the outgoing chairman of the British Medical Association in Scotland Dr Brian Keighley’s speech to the association’s annual conference.

This is not what Keighley said however. While Miliband is right to look at how public services have been squeezed by so-called austerity, Keighley’s point was not directed to the SNP alone.

The ‘car crash’ to which he refers is longer than five years: “What I have seen over the past five years is the continuing crisis management of the longest car crash in my memory – and it is time for our politicians to face up to some very hard questions,” is what he said – and that includes Labour.

In the chamber yesterday both Lamont and Alex Salmond used selective quotes from Keighley’s speech to fit their points, missing the very real and stark warning the doctor was making about the overall economic model all political parties seem so reluctant to step away from.

Whilst Scotland’s NHS “can be proud of the care it delivers”, said Keighley, “in Scotland, as elsewhere, what we have not avoided is a financial crisis and resource constraint that sits totally at odds with rising patient demand, an ageing population, advancing technology and burgeoning costs of pharmaceutical care.”

“What we have in common with the rest of the UK is a crisis of health provision where the current philosophy seems to be to squeeze more and more from the same resources and to apply ever increasing pressure on the workforce,” he said.

The SNP are remaining tight-lipped about the prospect of higher taxes in an independent Scotland, and Miliband himself said it will be “more necessary to get every pound of value out of services” as recently as February, when he reaffirmed Labour’s commitment to cut public spending.

Who then is able to make the decision Keighley describes as bigger than the independence referendum: a judgement on the balance between “convenience and clinical safety”, and how much taxes we are willing to spend on it?

Rather than scoring political points off Keighley’s speech, if our politicians sought to address this fundamental question, the car crash may yet be survivable.

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