Westminster accused of ‘picking the pocket of NHS Scotland’

18 Jan 19

Westminster has “picked the pocket of the health service” in Scotland, after NHS funding granted under the Barnett formula was £55m lower than promised, according to a committee of MSPs.

Scottish health secretary Jeane Freeman told MSPs on the health and sport committee on Tuesday that she was “disappointed” to find out that the central government funding for 2019-20 would be much lower than expected.

She said the Scottish Government has made up for the shortfall to ensure that it “protects resources for our frontline services.” However, she also stressed that this “puts pressure elsewhere”.

Fellow MSP George Adam told the committee: “It’s almost as if Westminster has picked the pocket of the health service to the tune of £55 million.”

Ms Freeman added if the shortfall had not been made up “we would have had more difficult decisions to make than we currently have”.

“The money has to come from somewhere. It should have come from the UK government because that was the commitment they made. They didn’t honour that commitment.”

The total budget for health and sport in Scotland next year is forecasted to be in excess of £14bn, and “includes a further shift on the balance of spend towards mental health and to social and community care”, mirroring the NHS’s commitment in England and Wales of parity of esteem’ for physical and mental health.

Some £392m of the budget will also be used to reduce waiting times, with “the aim that by 2021 95% of outpatients and 100% of inpatients will wait less than 12 weeks to be treated.”

Ms Freeman also announced a significant change in the way Scottish health boards balance their budgets. They will now be given more freedom to under or overspend in an individual year, provided they balance their budgets over three years.

Ms Freeman explained: “In every year, boards will have 1% flexibility on their annual resource budget to allow them the scope to marginally underspend or overspend in that year.”

She added: “The spending plans are supported by greater flexibility to assist boards in planning beyond one year and to consider key areas of investment such as in relation to primary care, mental health and waiting times improvements.”

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