INDEPENDENCE is “key to protecting” the NHS in Scotland, the SNP has said ahead of the health service’s 75th anniversary.

Ahead of the monumental milestone on Wednesday, SNP MP Dr Philippa Whitford has insisted that the “NHS is not safe at the mercy of financially damaging Westminster decisions".

The NHS breast cancer surgeon pointed to the catastrophic impact of Brexit, thirteen years of Tory cuts, austerity measures and underfunding, as well as the “creeping” privatisation of the NHS in England.

Whitford added that Labour leader Keir Starmer, who has previously suggested further privatisation of the NHS, has refused to commit to reversing this if the party comes to power following the next General Election.

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It comes as a report from health think tank King’s Fund, based predominately on data for NHS England, concluded that the UK has “below average” health outcomes because it spends a “below average” amount per person on healthcare.

“The NHS … trails behind its international cousins on some key markers of a good healthcare system. We are not by any means where we should be,” said Siva Anandaciva, the author of the report and the King’s Fund’s chief analyst.

The report said: “Ultimately, it should be a serious concern for political leaders and policy-makers that the UK health system continues to fall behind so many of its peers on health care outcomes – on health care outcomes specifically, our health care system is unfortunately more of a laggard than a leader.

“The UK performs worse than many of its peers on several comprehensive measures, including life expectancy and deaths that could have been avoided through timely and effective health care and public health and preventive services.”

The National: A general view of staff on a NHS hospital ward at Ealing Hospital in London. Picture date: Wednesday January 18, 2023..

The report also revealed that UK survival rates for the most commonly occurring cancers are below average, people who have a heart attack or stroke are more likely to die, the number of hospital beds is the second smallest, there are fewer CT and MRI scanners, and access to NHS dental care is "worryingly threadbare".

It also said that the UK has “strikingly low levels” of key clinical staff, such as doctors and nurses, with the country above average for the share of doctors and nurses trained in other countries. The report added that compared to other countries, doctors in the UK were paid above average while nurses were paid below average.

The think tank recommended that the NHS should be sufficiently funded, rather than changing to a different model of healthcare provision.

And, research by the Nuffield Trust, published last November, found Brexit had worsened the UK’s shortage of doctors in key areas of care.

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This led to more than 4000 European doctors choosing not to work in the NHS including 394 fewer anaesthetists, 369 fewer cardiothoracic surgeons, 288 fewer paediatricians and 165 fewer psychiatrists from the EU and EFTA [European Free Trade Association] than if pre-Brexit recruitment trends had continued.

"As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of NHS Scotland, it's essential that we face up to the damage of catastrophic Westminster policies - and the risk that remaining under Westminster control could prevent our NHS surviving another 75 years,” Whitford said.

"Thirteen years of Tory austerity cuts and underfunding have harmed all four National Health Services in the UK, and meant services were under pressure even before the unprecedented challenge of the covid pandemic.

“Brexit and the loss of Freedom of Movement have compounded the problems, with workforce shortages now the number one issue undermining all four Healthcare systems.”

The National:

Whitford (pictured above) said that the recent King’s Fund research, where she said the UK data was “dominated by England”, showed the strengths and weaknesses of the NHS.

She added that it emphasised the issue was not with the public service model, but with a lack of funding and the NHS in England having fewer beds, doctors, nurses and medical equipment than comparator countries.

"Unfortunately, there is little light ahead as the Labour Party are wedded to Brexit, more outsourcing to private providers and refuse to commit to increased funding - showing the NHS is not safe at the mercy of financially damaging Westminster decisions,” Whitford added.

"While the NHS in England has faced creeping privatisation and fragmentation, NHS Scotland remains a unified public service under the SNP Scottish Government, with greater health and social care funding and higher levels of NHS staffing.

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"The Scottish Government has also done more to invest in the wellbeing of everyone in Scotland, throughout the course of their lives: from the baby box, which welcomes our newborns, free prescriptions, eye tests and progress towards free dentistry; to help us manage our health, to free personal care which allows older people to live with dignity.

"UK Government powers in the Internal Market Act mean that devolution isn't enough to defend our NHS from damaging decisions being imposed by the Tories and pro-Brexit Labour Party at Westminster.

“Independence is key to protecting and strengthening NHS Scotland, for the next 75 years, and investing in the health and well-being of our people - it is only with full powers we can build a fairer, healthier country in the future.”