Salmond: Yes Vote Will Protect NHS

A Yes vote in the referendum will protect Scotland's NHS from privatisation taking place in other parts of the UK, the First Minister is set to claim.

Alex Salmond will warn of a "growing threat'' from an agenda of "privatisation and fragmentation'' at Westminster.

Only independence can protect public services north of the border from cutbacks imposed by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition Government, Mr Salmond will say in a speech in Liverpool today.

The First Minister is expected to say: "Scotland is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with strong public finances, but, under the Westminster system, cuts to spending in England automatically trigger cuts in Scotland.

"So if private money replaces public funding in England, our budget will also be slashed no matter what we want or need.

"With independence we will have control of both our tax system and the budget for public services, so we can protect the NHS and other vital public services from Westminster privatisation.

"We will also be a progressive beacon for those elsewhere across these islands looking for an alternative to Westminster privatisation.

"By demonstrating that a publicly-funded, publicly-run NHS is more efficient and provides a better level of patient care than a privatised service, we will provide valuable evidence for those in England campaigning against the sell-off of their health service.''

Mr Salmond will highlight concern expressed by the British Medical Association about the privatisation of the NHS during its annual consultants conference in March.

Delegates criticised the amount of taxpayers' money going to private company profits rather than patient care, with private providers winning the majority of tenders for service since the Health and Social Care Act came into effect in England in April last year.

The First Minister will say: "In the independence referendum we will have a choice between more Westminster-driven austerity or the opportunity for new prosperity.

"The Tory-led Coalition is determined to cut back the NHS and other public services because of right-wing ideological reasons. It is proposing huge cuts which will reduce day-to-day public spending as a proportion of national income to its lowest level since 1948.

"Only a Yes vote in September will allow Scotland to take control of our own finances, guaranteeing the future of our NHS and other key public services.''

Dr Willie Wilson, co-founder of pro-independence group NHS for Yes, warned thta Scotland could be "forced down'' the route of privatisation against its will.

He said: "Privatisation and commercialisation are now rampant in the health service south of the border. This means that competitive tendering is now compulsory and GPs are obliged to consider which hospital offers the best deal rather than which will give the best outcome for patients.

"In Scotland, we are not going down this road - but the more Westminster cuts Scotland's budget, and the more the state withdraws from direct NHS provision in England, the greater Scotland's budget will be squeezed as a consequence because of the way the Scottish Parliament is funded.

"That is why it is vital that Scotland is in charge of all the revenue raised in Scotland with a Yes vote and independence.''

Scottish Labour's health spokesman Neil Findlay accused the First Minister of scaremongering over the NHS.

He said: "It is a mark of how desperate the First Minister has become that he is introducing the privatisation of the NHS as a campaign issue when everyone knows it is devolved to the Scottish Parliament and the Tories can't get their hands on our hospitals and health centres.

"The Yes campaign has failed to make the case for Scottish independence and has resorted to negative scaremongering and misinformation. The people of Scotland won't be fooled and neither will the people of Liverpool.

"We are more concerned about the SNP's running of our NHS, which Scotland's top doctor described as a 'car crash'. Properly resourcing our hard-working doctors and nurses should be their focus right now.

"The real threat to our NHS is a Yes vote and the billions of pounds in public spending cuts that will come to Scotland if Alex Salmond gets his way. Cuts to our schools and hospitals are not a price worth paying for Alex Salmond's dream of independence.''

Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw MSP branded Mr Salmond "desperate'' and said the only threat to the NHS was from the SNP's plans for separation.

He said: "As part of the UK, Scotland has a record amount of money to spend on health and workers know their pensions are protected.

"Patients also enjoy the benefits of having access to specialist facilities across the UK, such as the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle for lung transplants, which are not available in Scotland.

"An independent Scotland would need cross-border agreements such as those between EU states, which are not as straightforward.

"The SNP have also failed to say how they would fund the hundreds of millions given to medical and scientific research every year.''

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