Sturgeon Attacked By Author Of Hospital Cuts Plan

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon faces mounting pressure over hospital services, after the senior doctor who drew up the blueprint for the future of the health service strongly criticised her plans.

Ahead of an announcement on Wednesday which is expected to reprieve accident and emergency units in Monklands and Ayr, the minister was coming under pressure from the SNP in other parts of Scotland to reverse other unpopular decisions.

Around Livingston, Vale of Leven and Stobhill in Glasgow, the SNP campaigned locally on promises to reverse or block changes, but the new minister yesterday refused to back up those voter pledges, and warned she cannot unpick all the decisions of her Labour predecessor.

Professor David Kerr is the cancer specialist at Oxford University who wrote the report into the future delivery of health services in Scotland, and his plans were backed by the Scottish National Party in opposition, as well as the former executive parties who were implementing them.

However, since Ms Sturgeon became Health Secretary with a commitment to reverse changes for Ayr and Monklands, the Scottish consultant has quit the Scottish Executive’s implementation group, saying he has more important work in Africa and England. Professor Kerr’s criticisms signal a risk to the SNP that it could face a strong backlash from the wider medical profession, and risks rebellion from health boards.

He was reported yesterday warning that the SNP’s approach to hospital services in Ayrshire and North Lanarkshire is “sentimental, emotional and irrational”. He explained a plan designed to save patients’ lives is being “unpicked and unravelled” for no logical reason.

“There are serious ramifications across the NHS,” he told a Sunday newspaper. “This is a purely political decision. It’s an ill-thought through manifesto promise.

“Reversing the decisions on Monklands and Ayr will come at a cost. Health boards have finite budgets and Sturgeon will have to rob Peter to pay Paul.”

The professor has argued A&E needs to be reorganised so that three-quarters of cases are dealt with locally, without needing specialist care, while the other quarter have to be taken to centralised units where doctors have throughput of enough patients to give them adequate specialist skills. He said this is based on a growing body of international evidence about the best way to arrange health services.

“I would rather have folk from Monklands, from Ayr, treated at the right sort of hospital, with the right people, with the right depths of staff at the right time,” he explained yesterday. “I think we are fudging difficult decisions which in the longer term will deliver better health for the folk of Scotland.”

Ms Sturgeon said she remains committed to the principles in Professor Kerr’s report, but added: “It doesn’t mean every decision taken in the name of the Kerr report is the right decision.

“I will take into account the great pressures health boards are facing, I’ll take into account how clinicians want services to be delivered, but I’ll also give as much weight as possible to public opinion. It’s the public who fund the health service.”

With reminders coming from SNP councillors and candidates in Strathkelvin, West Lothian and Vale of Leven, she refused to say if their local election promises will be honoured.

“I’m going to look at every issue on its merits. Decisions taken by the previous administration will not always be able to be reversed,” she said.

Andy Kerr, who was the minister who took recent controversial hospital decisions, claims the SNP’s policy is now to ignore clinicians’ advice, endangering the whole health service.

“Whoever shouts loudest will now determine how the service is run,” he warned.