Opinion: Pre-Thatcher world of the Scottish NHS

Peter Stanford

I'm just back from an Easter jaunt to Scotland, one of the few countries in western Europe that is losing population. The climate, I am reliably told by Scots, plays a large part - rain all winter (and at Easter), midges all summer. And the Scottish Parliament building seemed to make everyone cross enough to leave - not for its daring architecture, but for the huge overspend it incurred and the failure of any part of the establishment north of the border to take responsibility for it.

So, while everyone else heads south, I was tempted to go in the opposite direction. I've always liked facing away from the crowd, but in this case it was not the promise of solitude or companionship with stags and other migrating Sassenachs: it was Scotland's NHS that had me hooked.

I'm doing some work for a charity on variations in the provision for people with spinal cord injuries throughout the UK, so I travelled to Glasgow to look at the facilities in Scotland's national unit.

Devolution is plainly a good idea. In a world whose problems ever more urgently demand a global response, splitting into smaller and smaller independent units is madness. Devolution answers the need for local government without breaking up the UK. And it has meant that the sort of NHS we all aspire to south of the border now exists in Scotland.

At every turn in the Glasgow unit there were services provided free of charge and routinely that in an English spinal unit would be considered extras and would necessitate charitable funding. Specialist wheelchairs - yes, we really do make some people pay to have a decent chair - and fertility treatment for men with spinal injuries were only the most obvious examples. Each time I stumbled upon such a service, I asked where they got the money from. The Scottish Executive, came back the reply - no postcode lottery, no two-tier system and no fight to establish your entitlement to a basic level of care.

As our politicians battle it out for votes over public services, we would do well to look north of the border at what is quietly being achieved.

It felt like taking a step back to a pre-Thatcher world where natural justice was an integral part of the unique NHS mix. Admittedly, I was only looking at one small area, and staff there were anxious to tell me about other budget restraints and pressure points. But I have to admit - even if harking back is a sign of old age - that something about the basic set-up felt right.

- Peter Stanford is a writer and broadcaster and sits on various trustee boards.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus