jimtoggleJim O’Neill points out some long-standing problems with primary healthcare delivery, and invites volunteers to help Louise McPhater, Labour’s candidate in the Irvine West by-election on 11 August.


Last week I quoted Harold Wilson’s famous saying that a week is a long time in politics. Reflecting on the media of the last week, that statement has been shown to be even more true today. A short time ago all the talk was about Chilcot. This report has now been relegated to a footnote with Brexit, Cameron’s resignation, May’s elevation, the Private Eye Cabinet and the Corbyn/Owen battle taking over all the media.

Similarly, I thought that my offering last week was fairly mild and uncontroversial, only to be surprised by the storm of attack it unleashed. So, I thought I would return to my usual practice of the critique of those in power. Don’t worry Jam, I will be equally critical of the Tories and their farcical struggles to rip Britain out of Europe and of the economically illiterate obsession of the SNP Scottish Government and their MPs with a second independence referendum, when they should be focusing on running my country.

So, this week I want to look a couple of issues relating to health that have bedevilled every government. Nye Bevan, when he set up the NHS, famously stuffed the consultants’ and GPs’ mouths with gold to ensure that they would sign up to the new service. The legacy of that is the ability of consultants to take on work outwith the NHS, and they have even been accused of directing work to the private sector. At the same time GPs are independent contractors who are paid by our taxes. Basically, primary care is outsourced. No government has had the cojones to take this on. We may be paying the bills but we are not in charge of the service.

During the first term of the Scottish Parliament, I worked for my good friend, the then Margaret Jamieson MSP (now Margaret Wallace). Margaret had been a union full time official in the health sector before being elected to parliament, and she had a strong view about the status of general practice. Much of this was informed by the situation in Kilmarnock where all the practices were located in the centre, where wealthy people lived, and none in the schemes, where the poorer people who were more likely to use the services of the GPs and their related services lived. Yes, including the infamous scheme.

After months of fruitless discussions, the GPs had not even agreed to provide outreach services so, without any support from the Health Board, Margaret, in line with her socialist beliefs, suggested that GPs become employees of the boards and their practices be under the direction of the board. Sadly, Margaret got nowhere with this approach and we still have problems in primary care.

We are currently fighting a by-election in Irvine, and among the most regular concerns our superb candidate, Louise McPhater, hears is that to get a GP appointment you have to phone or attend the surgery at 8 am each day to get an appointment that day, or wait up to three weeks for an appointment with a specific doctor. This is compounded with the growth of part-time GPs, and so your choice is constrained further.

We also hear of a shortness of GPs. This, of course, is partly the result of the government’s cuts in funding to university education over the past nine years, leading to cuts in training places. It takes a long time to train a GP, but good planning, as in education mentioned in an earlier piece, should have been able to take care of this. What kind of advice have Nicola, Alex, Shona et al been receiving, to have allowed this crisis to develop?

And talking of Shona Robinson, she promised in a speech in February 2015 that she would eradicate delayed discharge by the end of 2015. Kezia Dugdale has just released figures obtained by the Labour Party that there are still over 5000 cases of bed blocking in Scottish hospitals. I know how frustrating this can be. I was one of them in January. So, yet another SNP promise broken and narey an apology nor a reason.

So, if my detractors continue to get upset about my criticism of either the Scottish or Westminster Government, don’t hold your breaths. I ain’t about to let up any time soon.

If you want to help Louise defeat the SNP’s Robin Sturgeon (yes, it’s Nicola’s Dad), the Offices at 17 Townhead, Irvine are open at 12pm and 2.30pm for leafleting each day or contact Robert Foster on 07539 085628. You can find Louise on Facebook too.

The by election takes place on 11 August.