Q&A: Donald Cameron on the health of the nation
Dealing with COVID-19 and its knock-on effects will continue to be the priority for the health service for the foreseeable future. But what do you think is the most pressing concern on terms of the country’s health at this particular stage of the pandemic?
Our NHS had to deal with the immediate threat and crisis of COVID-19. We have to remain vigilant but now the peak of the pandemic has passed, our NHS is facing a worrying backlog of patients that has built up. Cancer patients, those waiting for elective surgery, and mental health patients have all been put in long queues. The SNP government must tackle this at once and avert what could very easily become another health crisis.
What are the key questions you believe should be addressed by any inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of COVID-19?
There are a number of questions the COVID-19 inquiry should address but chief among them has to be the transfer of COVID-19 positive patients from hospital to care homes, the shocking lack of PPE, and the failure to organise an effective testing regime.
It is quite clear that care homes have borne the brunt of this virus with almost 2,000 deaths occurring in them. This appears to have been caused, in part, by some very questionable decisions by the Scottish Government.
In addition, the lack of PPE, despite warnings months in advance, raises serious questions about the SNP government’s competence.
And lastly, the failure to organise an efficient and effective testing regime has obvious consequences for the spread of the virus.
There are many more questions that must be asked but these major failings contributed to the spread of the disease and the failure to protect key workers. They must be investigated.
The NHS is treasured across the country by people of all political persuasions but does that put it beyond criticism and can you see areas that need to change?
The NHS is rightly treasured but it is also an institution which has had to adapt to our modern challenges. The weekly ‘clap for carers’ was a completely appropriate way to thank our tireless NHS workers for the effort and bravery they always demonstrate.
The NHS is, however, capable of change. The COVID-19 experience has demonstrated just how robust and flexible it is. The issues that we now face are how to continue to treat COVID-19 patients effectively and safely, how to ensure the treatment of non-COVID-19 patients is also a priority, and how we continue to integrate health and social care, something that has again been highlighted as an ongoing challenge during this crisis.
Unfortunately, under the SNP government, NHS capacity has significantly fallen and dealing with a pandemic was particularly difficult due to the shift from hospital care to care in the community. Serious thought and planning must now be put into how we manage these competing priorities, and whether the pre-COVID-19 model of focussing on multi-disciplinary primary care is still appropriate.
What should the future of elderly care look like?
The future of elderly care needs to put the person at the centre of that care – it must be flexible, needs-based and dignified. It has been tragic to see the effect of isolation on elderly people, in care homes and in the community. While many of us want to keep our loved ones in their own homes, it isn’t always possible. Residents of care homes must not be forgotten about or abandoned in this way ever again.
Mental health issues have clearly come to the fore in recent times and only exacerbated by the pandemic, do you think more could be done to bring parity of care for mental health in line with physical health?
While the SNP government has promised parity for mental and physical health this has clearly not been realised. Prior to the pandemic, Scotland had the longest ever waiting times for young people to access mental health services; that is obviously now significantly worse. The SNP can talk a good game by suggesting Scotland needs more mental health services, but they need to make this happen. Mental health services have to become more readily accessible. We are storing up significant problems for the future if we don’t get this right.
Before the pandemic, the drug death crisis was regarded as one of the most urgent health challenges facing the country. What can be done to make up for lost time in addressing this?
The SNP must replace the drug rehabilitation beds that they have withdrawn from service and stop focusing only on maintenance of addiction.
Former and current drug users have asked for rehab beds to be more accessible. This kind of immediate intervention would help problem drug users finally take control of their lives but without the services in place it is impossible.
For many drug users intervention is key and parking them on methadone simply denies them the opportunity of living a full life.
The pandemic has shown how compliant Scots can be in terms of public health messaging, do you think we should use that lesson to know address issues such as obesity?
I think it’s extremely important that the pandemic is not used as an excuse to introduce draconian health measures unless they have overwhelming public support. Ultimately, we have to allow people to take decisions for themselves when it comes to their personal health and wellbeing.
What the pandemic has shown, however, is that the vast majority of Scots are extremely caring and will inconvenience themselves for the benefit of themselves and others.
There is a greater awareness now of some of the dangers of obesity but the reasons for obesity are extremely complicated. Our approach should be focused on facilitating healthy choices, increasing access to physical activity, and making sure Scots understand what they are eating and how it affects them.
In order for our economy and our society to recover, we must enable Scots to live full and healthy lives, not reduce their freedom.
Donald Cameron is the Scottish Conservatives shadow health secretary