DOUGLAS Cowe (Letters, April 20) asks why we should have faith in the First Minister and her Government to successfully manage the recovery of NHS Scotland from the devastating effects of the Covid pandemic. Perhaps we should consider her record during the seven years she served as Cabinet Secretary for Health from 2007 to 2014.

Last month the Ockenden Report detailed the failures in maternity care at the Shrewsbury and Telford Trust which resulted in the deaths of more than 200 babies and mothers who might have survived had they received accepted standards of care. This episode, however, does not stand alone but joins a sad list of NHS tragedies which have resulted in unnecessary loss of life due to organisational, managerial and professional failures.

These range from the Morecambe Bay Maternity Services failures to the Mid Staffordshire Trust scandal and include the wicked psychopathy of rogue doctors such as Harold Shipman and Ian Paterson, the Birmingham breast surgeon who subjected hundreds of women to unnecessary or inadequate surgery. These failures alone account for more than 1,000 deaths, but perhaps the worst aspect of these disasters is the fact that they went undetected and unchecked for years, while patients continued to die or be harmed. In the case of the recent Royal Shrewsbury Hospital maternity unit, substandard care encompassed 19 years up to 2019.

Perhaps Mr Cowe might wonder why such deadly healthcare disasters have not occurred in Scotland over recent years. Certainly we have experienced international healthcare failures such as HIV-contaminated blood products and pelvic prolapse mesh implants, but we have have avoided locally-generated, large-scale avoidable harms such as those listed above. This is not because NHS Scotland is immune from poor management or incompetent professional staff. Unfortunately these probably exist in all health systems and will flourish if given the opportunity.

When Nicola Sturgeon became Health Secretary 15 years ago, she and the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sir Harry Burns, introduced a raft of frequent surveillance benchmarks to closely monitor the performance of NHS Scotland and rapidly address any evolving problems. These include quarterly collation of mortality ratios (SMRs) for every hospital in Scotland with rapid investigation of any unexpected deviation from the expected mean. They also promoted and developed Health Improvement Scotland, which has a wide-ranging remit to examine all aspects of healthcare delivery in Scotland and has introduced initiatives such as the Scottish Patient Safety Programme.

In my 39 years working in NHS Scotland I felt the governance of our health service was at its best under the direction of Nicola Sturgeon and Prof Burns and I remain convinced that the First Minister is well qualified to lead the recovery.

Iain Gunn FRCS, Consultant surgeon (retired), Elgin.


PROFESSOR Douglas Pitt (Letters, April 21) argues that there’s equivalence between Nicola Sturgeon’s momentary forgetfulness with her face mask and Boris Johnson’s repeated breaches of Covid rules at the various parties he attended in Downing Street. Prof Pitt thunders: “Breaking of rules and regulations, however brief in terms of timing, is de facto a breach of the law and should be condemned as such.”

Technically, Prof Pitt may be correct. However, in practical terms, he’s spouting nonsense. As Dr Hamish Maclaren writes (Letters, April 21), there’s a hard core of motorists who believe laws don’t apply to them. You see them charging up behind you in your rear-view mirror, tailgating you until you get out of their way and allow them to rocket by. On a drive down to London recently, we saw three such idiots swerving into inner lanes to get round cars in the fast lane that weren’t getting out of the way quickly enough.

I’d rather the police put more effort into apprehending these dangerous drivers, rather than pursuing those who are a mile or two over the speed limit. Prof Pitt may well disagree and feel that the full force of the law should come down on the individual who was driving at 31mph in a 30 limit. I hope Prof Pitt is entirely blameless in everything he does; otherwise, best not to cast stones.

I also remind Prof Pitt that Boris Johnson has a long record of ignoring the law. Worst, perhaps, was his prorogation of Parliament in 2019, an act ruled unlawful in a unanimous decision by the Supreme Court. Subverting democracy is rather more serious than forgetting to put your face mask on for a few seconds, though I do agree with Prof Pitt that both are, technically, breaches of the law.

Doug Maughan, Dunblane.

* PROFESSOR Douglas Pitt (Letters, April 21), perhaps not naively, completely overlooks essential differences between the apparent "coronavirus misdemeanours" of the First Minister and the Prime Minister.

While both should rightly be criticised for their "personal lapses", the condemnation of Boris Johnson is not simply about possible inadvertent breaking of the law but about denials, deflections, deferrals, distractions and seemingly deliberate lies, even in our supposed bastion of integrity and democracy, the House of Commons.

Furthermore, only one of these heads of government has presided over an apparent culture in their own offices of disregard of the rules that they set, and which the general public were repeatedly requested to obey, and only one of these two has been independently assessed as actually having committed at least one offence necessitating a Fixed Penalty Notice by the police.

Stan Grodynski, Longniddry.


STRUAN Stevenson ("It is no wonder voters despair over ineptitude of SNP", The Herald, April 21) provides a list of the problems he sees besetting the SNP. This is nothing other than a litany of hackneyed tropes straight out of the Better Together handbook of fear mongering, tinged with envy at the enduring success of Scotland’s most popular political party.

In a lengthy tirade, Mr Stevenson does not take the opportunity to provide even a scintilla of evidence of how things are better or could be improved within the Union, such as the UK pension being increased from being the lowest in Western Europe. This would help many people in these straitened times.

Of course there are problems, but half-truths serve no purpose other than to bring politics into further disrepute. Mr Stevenson avers that Scottish tax payers face the highest income tax bills in the UK” but it is half a story and he does not want the facts to get in the way of his message. The majority of Scottish tax payers pay less than the rest of the UK. Certainly the better-off pay more but in return, many public services are provided free, which reflects a more egalitarian society than the grasping greed we read and hear about in UK politics.

If a choice were available in Scotland for the better-off to pay the UK rate of income tax instead of the higher Scottish rate but forego free tuition fees for their university-attending children, free prescriptions, free hospital parking and a host of benefits across society too many to mention, only a financial clown would do so. Let’s leave these clowns to Westminster.

Alan M Morris, Blanefield.


I WAS privileged on Monday last (April 18) to chair a local authority election hustings meeting in Rothesay – democracy at its basic and indeed, very best. Worryingly, the following is some of what I gleaned from the discourse between the five prospective candidates and the audience.

* Local authorities have largely been neutered by Holyrood.

* What limited powers they now have are decided/dictated by the officials rather than the elected members.

* Police Scotland has all but abandoned the streets in our rural communities. If you doubt this observation, look around you.

I do hope that those individuals who are elected on May 5 have the character and courage to reverse those dangerous trends, which are a real threat to the local democratic process.

Dan Edgar, Rothesay.


GERMANY’S government says that to supply Ukraine with the heavy weapons it needs would “leave the German military under-equipped and unable to fulfil its obligations on Nato’s eastern flank”. What on earth does it think Ukraine is doing, as well as defending its own territory, but fighting to defend the Nato democracies’ eastern flank despite not being a Nato member?

Instead, it offers Ukraine the money to buy the weaponry itself. Can it not understand that Ukraine needs the weapons now, not in several months’ time after suppliers manufacture new orders?

Sadly, despite all its fine words and promises, Germany continues its 30-year policy of myopically and naively indulging Russia – and funding the aggressors.

John Birkett, St Andrews.

* UKRAINIAN flags everywhere: understandable. Palestinian flags nowhere: why not, what’s the difference?

I would say the main difference is media coverage. If moral outrage is the motivation, I think Palestine deserves a few flags too.

James MacLaren, Glasgow.

Read more: How can anyone still have faith in Nicola Sturgeon?