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Facts not fear in debate on NHS

There are lots of ways in which the private sector can be involved in health care.

Not all of them are a threat. As long as the fundamental principle that NHS services should be free at the point of delivery is preserved, involving private providers is not necessarily wrong.

That, presumably, has been the SNP government's view. It has, after all, presided over the spending of £94.2 million on the treatment of NHS patients in the private sector in the last three years.

Anna Gregor is one of the most esteemed cancer doctors in Scotland and the UK, and argues it is wrong to assume all use of the private sector undermines the NHS.

More controversially, she also states it is a lie to argue a vote against independence will doom the Scottish NHS to privatisation.

The devolution settlement gave Scotland full control over NHS policy, she points out, and the evidence we can take a different approach to that taken south of the Border is there in the fact that we already have.

She is critical of the scaremongering she argues has taken place and the effect that it is having on some vulnerable patients.

As the leader of many patient safety policies in the Scottish NHS as well as having led on Scotland's cancer strategy, hers is a voice worth listening to.

There are noteworthy voices advancing an alternative argument, of course. Dr Philippa Whitford, a consultant breast surgeon, has been among the most prominent voices arguing for a Yes vote to safeguard the future of the NHS in Scotland. They have not proved their case.

The argument is that, as more and more services in the English NHS are contracted out to private providers, the budget will drop and,as a consequence, Scotland's health budget will suffer under the Barnett formula.

But there is a faulty logic here which cannot be ignored. Services paid for in the private sector are still bought from the health budget - no-one is proposing patients pay for NHS services. It is not a given that the budget will drop.

It is equally misleading to suggest a Yes vote threatens the NHS because Scotland currently spends £200 per head more on the NHS. This is a policy choice by the Scottish Parliament and a proper consequence of devolution.

Sadly, as with much of the debate, negativity and distortion, fear and threat appear to be the prominent features.We have heard very little from either side about their vision for a stronger, more effective NHS.

This holds for many other areas of the independence debate, but as Dr Gregor points out is particularly a problem in health policy.

One of our most pressing issues, as The Herald has highlighted, is how we organise the health and social care of older people in the face of major demographic challenges.

Whatever the referendum's outcome, the NHS needs to change and wrestle with new demands.

If the campaigns could bring this into focus and desist from reckless scaremongering, it would be greatly to Scotland's benefit.

Contextual targeting label: 
Health

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