CAMPAIGNERS have won a major victory in their fight against a series of proposed downgrades or closures of local NHS services after Holyrood’s opposition parties united to inflict an embarrassing defeat on the Scottish Government.
A Labour call for SNP ministers to “call in” a series of highly controversial changes, meaning the decisions would ultimately be taken at a national level rather than by regional health chiefs, was backed by MSPs.
Health Secretary Shona Robison will now have to defy Holyrood if she does not agree to the move.
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She faced immediate calls to “accept the will of Parliament” and take responsibility for plans to overhaul a range of services, largely in the west of Scotland.
The Labour motion cited “widespread public concern” over plans to downgrade maternity services at the Vale of Leven Hospital, in Alexandria, West Dunbartonshire; paediatric services at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, Paisley; maternity services at Inverclyde Hospital, Greenock; trauma orthopaedics at Monklands Hospital, Airdrie; inpatient services at the Centre for Integrative Care, Glasgow; cleft palate services at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Govan; as well as the closure of Lightburn Hospital in Carntyne, Glasgow.
A Government amendment to Labour’s Holyrood motion, which omitted any mention of public concern and emphasised “no decisions have been made” over the proposals from boards, was defeated by 64 votes to 62. When MSPs came to vote on the Labour motion, 64 backed it and the SNP abstained en masse, a move that attracted widespread jeers in the chamber.
Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar, who secured his victory after five MSPs, including leader Kezia Dugdale – who missed UK leader Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to the annual conference in Liverpool to take part in the vote – called on the Government to respect the result.
He also hit out at SNP backbenchers in areas affected by the changes for ignoring his call to defy their party line, amid claims many had been “posted missing” during the debate.
He said: “Parliament has made clear the SNP government must call in these decisions – and Labour will make the case for them to be protected. If Shona Robison doesn’t do that she is actively going against the will of Parliament. Our NHS is facing cuts to services because of the SNP – today Parliament made clear they should take responsibility.”
Although not bound to take any action following the defeat, only the second for the Government since the SNP lost its majority, it will prove uncomfortable for Nicola Sturgeon’s party.
It has sought to stake a claim as party of the NHS, trumpeting its achievements in saving local services in areas that now once again see some NHS provision under threat.
Ahead of the SNP’s historic 2007 election win, the party campaigned vigorously on a platform of saving A&Es at Ayr and Monklands Hospitals and, after gaining power by a razor-thin margin,
Ms Sturgeon as health secretary reversed the proposed closures, citing concerns of local people.
Almost a decade on, the SNP finds itself on the receiving end of criticism locally, with a protest held at Holyrood yesterday and campaigners watching from the public gallery as the Government was defeated.
Last week, Labour won a council by-election in North Lanarkshire after campaigning almost solely on opposing the withdrawal of orthopaedic and trauma services from Monklands Hospital.
However, many experts insist that the NHS has to reform if it is to survive, in light of spiralling demand and a rapidly ageing population, meaning patients may have to travel further for specialist care and politicians will have to take unpopular decisions for the overall good of the health service.
A government spokesman said: “All proposals from NHS boards for any major change to services go through a proper engagement and consultation process, supported by the Scottish Health Council.
“That process is a hugely important part of the decision making process, and it is important it is allowed to complete its work. Following the conclusion of that process, and taking account of the views of parliament, we will report back to parliament on the designation of service change proposals.”