New Health Secretary to ‘up the pace’ of health and social care integration in Scotland

Scotland’s new Health Secretary has said she wants to increase the speed at which health and social care services are being brought together.

Jeane Freeman (pictured) insisted efforts to make the two services work more closely are going in “absolutely the right direction”, but she added more focus is needed to provide visible improvements.

Speaking about the reform process, she said: “It is, in terms of its pace, just finding its feet, relatively new, bringing together health and social care.

“I now want to increase the focus on that and up the pace on it so we move a wee bit faster to begin to deliver the intent in a way that is more visible to people.”

Ms Freeman, who was given the health brief by Nicola Sturgeon in a reshuffle just over a week ago, said she was “delighted” at her new position – a move which saw her promoted from social security minister to part of the Scottish Cabinet.

Her predecessor Shona Robison left the post after coming under fire over the Government’s failure to meet a series of waiting times targets.

Ms Freeman accepted there is an “immediate challenge in terms of waiting times”, resulting in a “backlog” in the NHS.

She said: “We need to deal with the backlog, but we also need to have a sustainable way of delivering on waiting times that sees us into the future.”

But medical leaders have warned the current NHS model may not be sustainable, with a survey by the British Medical Association in Scotland showing just 3% of doctors think the NHS is adequately resourced, while only 6% feel it is sufficiently staffed.

Peter Bennie, outgoing chair of BMA Scotland, has called on Holyrood ministers to act to “ensure we have an NHS in Scotland that we can celebrate for many birthdays to come”.

When asked if the NHS would survive until its 100th anniversary, Ms Freeman said: “I certainly intend to work to ensure that that is the case.”

But she also warned that Brexit poses a “significant risk to the quality of our health service and our ability to continue to provide the quality, compassionate care that we always do”.

Scottish Government ministers having repeatedly accused Westminster of leaving them in the dark over the UK’s European exit plans, with Ms Freeman saying this is making her job more difficult.

“Brexit is the card on the table we have to deal with but you can only deal with it if you know what is going to happen,” she said.

“If you are locked out of it and can’t influence it or contribute to it as we repeatedly are, then it is hard to plan.”

Ms Freeman made clear her opposition to private sector involvement in the NHS – saying while it is legitimate for private firms working in the health service to seek to make a profit, she could “not see how that circle can be squared” with a system which provides free care at the point of delivery.

In this regard she hailed the NHS as being an “absolute exemplar of values that are important”.

She continued: “They were important in 1948, they are important now, so the job of someone like me, but also people who work in the health service, is to look and see what we need to do, how do we need to adapt and change in order to meet those expectations of a changing population and how do we fund that model of care, much of which will be as we currently know it, some of which will be new.

“We’ve started that, that is what integrated health and social care is about, that is what our health delivery plan is trying to do.”

While she said she is “not dismissive of the challenges” the health service is facing, she is clear that “I don’t think those challenges should take us to ‘what we’ve got can’t last’, because I don’t agree with that.

She added: “On integrated health social care, it is absolutely the right direction we should be going in, and we’re going in a direction that goes with the grain of what people tell us they want – that is they want healthcare as close to home, or in a homely setting, as possible.

“So integration of health and social care, alongside the investment in acute services, is exactly the right way to go.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Jane Barlow / PA Wire.