What’s happened to the Unionist media’s prophets of doom for Scotland’s NHS this winter?


(c) nationalhealthexecutive.com

Last year at this time, Scotland’s Unionist media and politicians were all gleefully predicting a crisis in health care as Scotland’s hospitals failed to meet, they hoped, with the increased winter demand. Here are just two of the stories from the Daily Record and the Daily Express:



Reporting Scotland ran happily with these stories in December and early January, as I remember, but then realised there hadn’t been any crisis in Scotland despite what the Red Cross described as a ‘humanitarian crisis’ in NHS England. See:



On the 12th January 2017, they seemed to realise the ba’ was on the slates and backed off if a little grudgingly with a report in which more than one phrase recognised the superior performance of NHS Scotland. It was of course a bit quiet and qualified with more than a few ‘buts’, but, nevertheless it was an absolute shock for those of us who have been monitoring them since before 2014. Read and be amazed that they said:

‘We’ve heard a lot in the last few days about the NHS crisis (emphasised) in England. I think it would be fair to say the picture in Scotland looks better…’

If we look at the figures for A&E, the figures show we’re better off, as the First Minister said, we’re 10% better off…’

‘In terms of social care, we are doing some good work on the ground….’

‘We’re maybe (!) not using the term ‘humanitarian crisis to describe the state of the NHS in Scotland….’

Now, I know all the above were followed by a ‘but’, but what followed was never a piece of evidence to cast serious doubt on the preceding good news. Mostly it was a vague comment about vague, unquantified, future challenges or the failure to meet the Scottish government’s own very high targets.

Now what’s happening this year. Are they scared this time round to predict a crisis in NHS Scotland? I searched thoroughly and could find nothing at all really predicting that NHS Scotland would struggle this winter. All my search threw up was this:

‘Will extra cash be enough to stave off a winter crisis in the NHS in Scotland? Scottish Health Secretary Shona Robison has announced an additional £5m to support winter planning across the NHS in Scotland. Although she said the Scottish NHS was well placed for winter, Ms Robison conceded that there was no room for complacency, and that the new money would give health boards and their partners an extra boost. The money is in addition to funds already allocated to tackling waiting times for treatment and A&E waits. Some of it will be used to pay for additional staff to allow more patients to be discharged at weekends.’


You’ll see the headline’s question is not tackled at all in the short text. Wonder why? No evidence perhaps?

Moving to NHS England and Winter 2017/18, the media picture is quite different. A search throws up numerous scare stories predicting another crisis this year. Here are only five from many more:






You’ll see in my previous post the threat to drop targets as one way of hiding any crisis. Perhaps worse, the astonishing idea of banning patients from going to A&E without prior permission has been floated:


So, you feel you might die, make an appointment with your GP, s/he sends an email authorising your visit, but you don’t make it?

Why did NHS Scotland cope so much better than NHS England last winter? It wasn’t higher spending. Here’s a reminder of the main reasons identified by the Nuffield Trust:

Scotland has a unique system of improving the quality of health care. It

focuses on engaging the altruistic professional motivations of frontline staff

to do better, and building their skills to improve. Success is defined based

on specific measurements of safety and effectiveness that make sense

to clinicians.


Scotland’s smaller size as a country supports a more personalised, less

formal approach than in England. The Scottish NHS has also benefited

from a continuous focus on quality improvement over many years. It uses

a consistent, coherent method where better ways of working are tested on

a small scale, quickly changed, and then rolled out. Unlike in the rest of the

UK, this is overseen by a single organisation that both monitors the quality

of care and also helps staff to improve it.


Scotland faces particular issues of unequal health outcomes, and very

remote areas. There are pioneering initiatives to address these, like the

Links worker programme and Early Years Collaborative to support

people in very deprived areas, and use of video links for outpatient care on

remote islands. These should be considered in other parts of the UK facing

similar issues.


There is much for the other countries of the UK to learn from this. While

comparing performance is very difficult, Scotland has had particular

success in some priority areas like reducing the numbers of stillbirths.

Scotland’s system provides possible alternatives for an English system

with a tendency towards too many short-term, top-down initiatives that

often fail to reach the front line. It also provides one possible model for

a Northern Irish NHS yet to have a pervasive commitment to quality

improvement, and a Welsh system described as needing better ways to

hold health boards to account while supporting them in improving care.

Scotland has a longer history of drives towards making different parts of

the health and social care system work together. It has used legislation

to get these efforts underway while recognising that ultimately local

relationships are the deciding factor. There is much for England and Wales

to learn from this.

Research Report, July 2017, Learning from Scotland’s NHS at: https://www.nuffieldtrust.org.uk/files/2017-07/learning-from-scotland-s-nhs-final.pdf


8 thoughts on “What’s happened to the Unionist media’s prophets of doom for Scotland’s NHS this winter?

  1. William Henderson December 1, 2017 / 6:15 pm

    Hello Again, John,

    To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw “God help the English when they don’t have the Scots to do their thinking for them”.


    Liked by 1 person

      • William Henderson December 1, 2017 / 6:34 pm

        The exception which proves the rule???

        Liked by 1 person

    • Alasdair Macdonald December 1, 2017 / 11:09 pm

      Ah, but Glaswegians are dying faster than anyone else – so, good news for BBC Scotland to cheer about, especially since Glasgow is a YES city and it is the lower orders who are turning up their toes quicker than other classes and the lower orders vote YES.

      Apologies …. I am having a Calvinist flashback today, despite having forsaken it around 55 years ago!


      • johnrobertson834 December 2, 2017 / 9:05 am

        Though a Calvinist himself, my dad told me a Calvinist joke:
        Fierce minister tells his congregation: ‘I had a dream last night. I dreamt ye were all burning in the fires o hell and ye were moaning an wailing and screaming ‘oh lord we didna ken it would be like this!’. And lord in his infinite wisdom and mercy looked doon upon ye an said ‘weel noo ye ken!’


  2. Ludo Thierry December 1, 2017 / 6:24 pm

    Hi John – can’t see an appropriate thread to add this small snippet so just dropping it in here. Noticed an update from Brig (Stirling Uni student paper) reporting that the mysterious ‘Professor’ Joseph Mifsud is no longer employed by Stirling Uni (see below):

    Trump-Russia academic resigns from Stirling University
    By Craig Munro on November 30, 2017

    Joseph Mifsud, the Maltese academic who was revealed as one of the intermediaries between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during last year’s US presidential election, has resigned from his post at Stirling University.
    Mifsud had been employed full-time as a Professorial Teaching Fellow by the university since May, and part-time in the same position since 2016.
    In a statement, a University of Stirling spokesperson said: “Professor Mifsud is no longer employed by the University following his resignation on 23 November 2017.” His staff page on the university’s website has been deleted.
    The circumstances behind the resignation, which took place over three weeks after Mifsud’s involvement in the Trump-Russia scandal was revealed, are unclear. The university did not state whether Mifsud had been in contact with figures at Stirling during those three weeks.

    One hopes the extraordinarily ell remunerated Principal/Vice – Chancellor Prof. Gerry McCormac is required to do some pretty heavy duty explaining. One doesn’t however hold one’s breath in anticipation.

    (Previously the massively pay-packeted Principal/Vice-Chancellor McCormac of Stirling Uni has managed not to be overly scrutinised regarding: Having a chauffeur driven limo, international flights costing £15,000 over a couple of years, expenses paid whilst attending the north brit Lib. Dem conferences (including £60 for a dinner), and charging expenses for airport parking (what happened to the chauffeur and limo?), a local Burns’ Supper ticket, stationary and ‘Thankyou’ cards to name just a handful of ‘interesting’ items).


  3. caravan113 December 4, 2017 / 10:50 pm

    Hello, hope things going ok. I haven’t heat from your post for some time, however do you manage to access my blog?



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