The resignation of Bill Howatson as chair of NHS Grampian was described as honourable and so it was. It also brought home the scale of the crisis in our health service here in the North-east.
There is no shortage of people who will rightly testify to the quality and dedication of the care they received from the health service. However, that does not take away from the fact that there have been growing concerns in a number of aspects of delivery.
We have a shortage of consultants, difficulties of recruitment and retention of all levels of staff and consequent pressures in meeting patient needs. There have been scares about medical standards and waiting times have been growing and targets being missed.
There are clearly concerns to be addressed by local management but I maintain that the root cause has been chronic underfunding by previous governments and made worse under the present Scottish Government.
We now know, on information released by the Institute of Fiscal Studies during the referendum campaign, that the Scottish Government has not matched the increase in NHS funding delivered by the coalition in England. They have, of course, received
the extra funding through the Barnett formula but have chosen not to pass it all on.
On top of that, the Scottish Government has chosen the popular route of abolishing prescription charges and parking charges at hospitals, all of which has taken funding away from clinical care.
What we now need is a new management team and a constructive partnership between the Scottish Government and NHS Grampian to overcome the recruiting crisis, perhaps with a Government-backed Aberdeen (City and Shire) weighting scheme, and without appointing a chair who will seek to clash with ministers who must nevertheless acknowledge and respond to our justifiable local concerns.
Putting mental health on the same footing as physical health, which is a Liberal Democrat priority highlighted at our recent conference in Glasgow, has been widely welcomed – especially by mental health charities and NGOs.
For the first time there will be targets for treating mental health patients in England, starting this year. I have no doubt that mental health problems are just as serious in Scotland and I hope that this example will be followed north of the Border.
The Liberal Democrats have also identified a potential extra £1 billion a year for health spending by restricting some tax reliefs for the wealthy.
This will increase with improved economic performance and it is proposed that half should be directed at mental health which is the Cinderella of the NHS, even though one in four patients suffers from mental health problems.
What is particularly welcome is that the stigma attached to mental illness will be addressed. Mental illness is treatable and, indeed, curable yet, too often people are treated as outcasts or viewed with suspicion when what is required is sympathy and
understanding. This is an important step forward.
While obvious signs of construction activity are now appearing for the long-awaited Third Don crossing progress on other transport link developments are less obvious.
The Inveramsay Bridge whose completion was promised several years ago and for which the contract has been awarded, has not yet started.
Similarly, there are no major manifestations of activity on the Tipperty to Balmedie dual carriageway or the Western Peripheral Route, which should surely be visible very soon.
Frustratingly the proposed station for Kintore is in the plan but without the urgency that the growth of Kintore and traffic into Aberdeen would appear to warrant. It could help ease the situation while the by-pass is under construction.
There seem to be no plans at all to improve the rail links south where the single track section south of Montrose acts as a major bottleneck.
As always, the priority appears to be the central belt where the new Forth Bridge proceeds apace along with the extra fast rail link between Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Come on Scottish Government. It is time to deliver for the North-east.
The Scottish Government is happy to receive the benefits of the North-east business rates and with its announced stamp duty replacement is seeking to tap the tax potential of the North-east housing market but seems to be reluctant and slow to deliver investment to the region.
Uncertainty over the referendum and the threat of an early re-run undermine investment potential, with the falling oil price surely giving pause for thought to those who though independence was the pathway to riches.