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Free personal care sustainability the focus of Scotland's referendum campaigners
Date of article: 25-Oct-12
Article By: Richard Howard, News Editor
Implemented by the SNP in 2002, free personal care for older people is held up as one of the party’s key flagship policies, though for several years now critics have claimed the policy is unrealistic over the long term. An independent review conducted by Lord Sutherland in 2008 stated that the policy, for which Scotland has been a “test ground”, was not sustainable without “more strategic long-term policy planning and vision”.
Now that the UK and Scottish Governments have put their signatures to a historic referendum deal, that will see Scotland vote on whether to be independent from the rest of the UK in 2014, the free personal care debate seems to have become one of the key subplots to the state of the Union itself.
New Health Secretary Alex Neil had much to say on the issue in his party conference speech this week, in response to an attack from Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont who had labelled the policy as belonging to a “something for nothing” culture. Some excerpts from the speech follow:
“My job is to ensure the NHS in Scotland is one our children and grandchildren will be proud of. That means total rejection of the privatisation agenda pursued by both Labour and the Tories south of the border.
“It means maintaining our commitment to free personal and nursing care for the elderly and frail. Unlike Johann Lamont I don’t believe that free personal care is about getting ‘something for nothing’.
“The elderly and frail people who get free personal care have worked for it, they’ve paid for it through a lifetime of paying taxes and national insurance contributions and they deserve the best care money can buy.
“Under the SNP, free prescriptions will be a permanent feature of our NHS and are here to stay. Unlike Labour we understand the language of priorities; and a health service free at the point of use is a top priority.”
However, Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw believes that other services are already suffering because Scotland has been tied to this policy, commenting:
“The SNP has committed to free personal care, free bus passes for the elderly and free prescriptions. Unfortunately, with Scotland’s population ageing as it is, this is completely unsustainable.
“Recently we saw how the bill for free personal care had soared by more than 150 per cent, and that’s before you factor in all the other freebies the Scottish Government is set on.
“The only way to pay for this commitment in the future would be to increase taxes vastly or hike borrowing, while making even deeper cuts to frontline services.
“We have already seen the effects of the SNP’s something-for-nothing culture it wants to promote. More than 2,000 nursing posts have vanished while patients across the country are complaining about staffing levels on wards.”
Images: © Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body – 2012. Licensed under the Open Scottish Parliament Licence v1.0