A rare experience for me this week as I experienced an NHS hospital at the sharp end – as a patient.
My reaction is the same as most patients - no I was not a ‘customer’. Excellent facilities staffed by highly professional and caring staff who did all they could to ensure everything went smoothly for me. This reflects the formal patient surveys that regularly report satisfaction levels that most marketing managers in a commercial setting can only dream of.
I was in hospital when the Scottish Government launched their Quality Strategy in a bid to drive up standards. Under the new plans the Cabinet Secretary wants patients to become “partners in their own care” with hospitals and GPs scored on their services.
The language ‘Partners’ is absolutely the right one because that is what I and thousands of patients who use the service every day are. I am a little more sceptical about scoring systems. They tend to lead to league tables and management responses to ‘play the system’ that can distort real priorities.
The main problem facing NHS Scotland in the coming years is budget cuts. As we indentified last week in local government there is a major disconnect between the Scottish budget and those of health boards. At a national level the health budget is going up, yet most health boards are planning to make major cuts next year. Not a lot of detail as yet, but it is something we will be monitoring closely and building into our cuts campaign.
In the meantime my personal thanks to the NHS and its staff. Labour’s finest political achievement, the embodiment of the solidarity society, and a service well worth defending.