Two of Scotland’s leading business entrepreneurs have sparked a debate on whether wealthier people opting to pay for private medical care could, in effect, relieve stress on the National Health Service in Scotland.

Speaking on the Go Radio Business Show With Hunter & Haughey, Sir Tom Hunter said: “There has been talk recently about there being a two-tier system for the NHS, which is, after all, the largest employer in Scotland. Should it be private, should some of it be private, should it always be public?

“Well, around 39,000 patients last year were treated in Scotland privately and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said that was ‘terrible’.

I disagree. I think the customer is making a choice here.

“And here’s a statement that I really did take exception to: ‘NHS leaders are entitled to discuss what they want but they do not make government policy.’ That was our First Minister speaking. To me that was a politician saying that politicians know best – not the people who are working there on the front line. Not the people who are trying to deliver the service every day.

“We should put the customer first and ask what’s best for the customer. And this is such a sacrosanct political football, it’s a jaggy nettle and nobody’s willing to say: ‘Well, hang on a minute, it’s not delivering just now.’ Yet, from a business point of view,

we should be asking what’s best for

the customer and then creating a strategy. We shouldn’t just leave it

for politicians to decide what’s best.”

Lord Haughey agreed with his co-host, adding: “I’m glad you brought this up because I can never understand why people have a go at individuals and politicians because they decide to send their children to private schools or because, if they can afford to buy private medical care, they do that.

“I made a decision to send my son to a private school – which, by the way, he fought tooth and nail against. We lived in a catchment area for a school where the number of kids that want to get in can never get in.

“So the way I looked at it was, if I take my son out, I’m freeing a space for your kids from Toryglen or the Gorbals or Govanhill. That’s how I viewed that … and that’s how I view the NHS.

“So let’s talk about me. Forget about anyone else. I pay all my National Insurance. I pay all my money to get the use of the NHS but I choose to go private. Again, I think I’m freeing up a place here for someone who can use it.

“If you want to take private medical care and you can afford that, I think you’re taking a bit of the burden off

the NHS.”

Sir Tom conceded any narrative that was centred on how to manage the NHS was, inevitably, a “hot political potato” but added: “This needs to be taken out the political sphere altogether because if

we’re saying we could never, ever criticise or change the NHS, then that’s wrong.

“The NHS will die and patients will die. The NHS does a wonderful job, and I’m not getting at it, but I’m

getting at politicians who say, ‘We know best’.”

Lord Haughey pointed out: “When we talk about this ‘fantastic, wonderful NHS’, we can only use that phrase when we’re actually talking about the people who work in the NHS. The actual system is broken. Nobody can say we’re getting a first-class service. You get first-class people trying their hardest who are maybe not getting paid enough. So we need to have a radical think about what we’re going to do to get the NHS back on track.

“I’ll be talking to an audience in London of 400 delegates from the NHS who are all part of the procurement process. I’m hoping to stir them up, to give them ideas to look at how other people procure in the private sector.

“The one thing that has to be looked at as part of the solution for the NHS is how they procure!”