Yes Campaign To Focus On NHS

19 August 2014, 06:15

The future of the NHS will be at the heart of the referendum debate today, with Health Secretary Alex Neil insisting a Yes vote next month is a "golden opportunity'' to protect the service from privatisation.

Pro-independence campaigners have claimed if Scotland votes to stay in the UK, this could have a damaging impact on healthcare.

But those who want the country to remain part of the UK dismiss such arguments, saying health policies and funding are already fully devolved to Holyrood.

Mr Neil will this afternoon give a statement to MSPs at the Scottish Parliament on the future of the NHS after the referendum on September 18.

Speaking ahead of his address, he said the "privatisation and cuts agenda of the Westminster Government will have severe consequences in Scotland''.

Mr Neil claimed the "very real'' prospect of charges being introduced for some services would mean less public cash being spent on the NHS as whole, with a subsequent knock-on effect on health spending in Scotland.

He said: "All across the country, Labour politicians have been warning of the threat to the NHS from Tory privatisation, and the very real prospect of charges being introduced - and they are absolutely right to do so.

"Yet now, with less than a month until the referendum, Labour in Scotland are suddenly claiming that the future of our NHS funding is best left at the mercy of these very same Tories.

"The impact of the privatisation and cuts agenda of the Westminster Government will have severe consequences in Scotland - and as the referendum approaches, people are waking up to this threat, and to the opportunity in the referendum for Scotland to chart a different course.

"With independence we have the golden opportunity to enshrine Nye Bevan's founding principles for our NHS in the written constitution for Scotland - publicly-owned, clinically-driven and freely-delivered equally for all - a guarantee that not only will the NHS be kept in public hands, but that the services that are free to access today will be free to access in the future.''

But a spokesman for the pro-UK Better Together campaign branded Mr Neil's comments as "yet another misleading attempt by the nationalists to scare people into voting for separation''.

He said: "Everybody knows that all decisions about our health service in Scotland are made here in Scotland. The only person who can privatise the NHS in Scotland is the First Minister of Scotland.

"The real threat to our NHS in Scotland is the £6 billion worth of cuts the impartial Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said would be necessary if we leave the UK, over and above anything happening today. It is a vote for separation that is the biggest risk to our NHS.''