THE UK Government should pause all negotiations on leaving the EU to ensure all efforts are focused on tackling the coronavirus pandemic, the SNP’s health spokeswoman has said.

Dr Philippa Whitford called for ministers to immediately seek an extension to the transition period, with the need for governments to work together to try to halt the impact of the virus.

However she told the Sunday National she believed the UK Government could have responded to issues around the Covid-19 crisis earlier and there had been a sense of “complacency” over the impact in this country.

She said: “I thought there was complacency and a bit of arrogance – saying well, look at China, but when it gets to us we will manage much better.

“If you actually read the research coming out of China, what they had – the infrastructure they put together, the equipment they were able to buy incredibly quickly, the way they

treated people – was incredible.

“It was the same with northern Italy, a sort of looking down our nose as if somehow Italy is a slightly third-world country.

“Italy has twice the ratio of critical care beds the UK has and yet they were utterly overwhelmed. Yet at the February break, people were flying in from Milan airport, not being told to self-isolate or anything like that.

“So there was a lot of that sort of language and atmosphere, as if that is kind of the state Italy has got into but that wouldn’t happen here. I think that has led to lost time in terms of getting things in place.”

Whitford also said there had been frustration for opposition parties having to drag the UK Government into taking action on providing financial help for the nation in the face of the devastating economic impact resulting from a lockdown.

She said: “I think it is quite interesting that there is no free market

answer to where we are.

“We have probably the most right-wing government we have had certainly in three decades – but probably even in some ways a bit more right-wing than Margaret Thatcher – yet enacting an utterly socialist


“If Jeremy Corbyn had proposed something like this, they would have been screaming blue murder.”

Whitford, a former breast cancer surgeon, and her GP husband are among thousands of former NHS staff who have volunteered to return to the health service to help out. “Although we volunteered into a central system, we haven’t been contacted by our health board yet,” she said.

“I don’t know yet whether they will want to use us or how they might use us, but we have both put our names forward as soon as it opened.

“They are not going to be sticking me in an intensive care ward looking after Covid-19 patients, but there will be even quite mundane tasks that have to be done.

“One of the great things about working in a hospital is that it is a huge team – whether you are the professor or the dinner lady, it’s all a big team which works towards one goal and I don’t really care if I am in a store cupboard.

She added: “There will be something I can be doing that will be freeing up someone else who is able to do useful clinical work.”

Whitford said she hoped this crisis might lead to the public valuing the NHS in the longer term in a “practical sense” – for example making sure they turn up for appointments.

She added: “I have spent my adult life in the NHS, I know what it does at all times, but right now this generation of doctors and nurses have never been through anything like this, as indeed this generation of citizens have never been through anything like this.

“It will be really difficult times ahead.”