This SNP leadership election will, for the first time in almost a decade put a new face at the forefront of Scottish politics.
While independence is unsurprisingly at the top of the agenda for the candidates, healthcare is a key battleground: a recent Ipsos poll found the NHS is the issue of greatest concern for Scottish voters.
Scotland is facing a healthcare crisis. The gap in life expectancy between the least and most deprived areas now stands at 13.3 years for men and 9.8 years for women, A&E waiting times are increasing, and the Government is set to miss key targets this year in NHS recruitment and tackling elective waiting lists.
How do the leadership candidates plan to address the healthcare crisis?
With almost two years of health and social care experience under his belt, Humza Yousaf expectedly has the most developed set of healthcare policy goals, stating that he will make the NHS a priority as First Minister. As such, his ability to follow through on campaign commitments will be closely scrutinised if he is selected at the end of March.
- A proponent of progressive taxation, Yousaf would raise taxes on high earners to generate a billion pounds for health and social care by 2024.
- His ambition for the healthcare system starts with the workforce; ensuring that healthcare workers remain the highest paid in the UK and improving working conditions for front-line staff.
- Yousaf also wants to invest in GP practices in deprived areas, increase GP training places and expand the Hospital at Home model to combat record NHS waiting times.
Kate Forbes has also leant on her experience as Finance Secretary for the policy basis of her campaign.
- Forbes has placed emphasis on an ambition for growth to support investment in public services should she succeed in the leadership contest.
- She has also suggested an overhaul of the health service would be necessary and has ambitions to:
- lift medical school caps;
- improve delayed discharges; and
- empower front-line workers through improvements to working conditions.
Uniting both Forbes and Yousaf is their commitment to delivering the controversial National Care Service, an NHS-style centrally managed care service pitched as a solution to social care. Scottish Labour has framed the plans as a ‘power grab’ from local authorities; however, given the state of the social care sector across the rest of the UK, the SNP’s ‘top two’ are eager to promote Scotland’s solution.
Despite being the clear underdog in the contest, the third and final leadership candidate, Ash Regan, proposes solutions that demonstrate the political breadth of the SNP.
- Regan has taken a leaf out of Steve Barclay’s playbook, announcing a desire to cut red tape in the NHS by reducing the number of managers and dropping targets.
- She also intends to hold an ‘NHS summit’ to understand the issues facing front-line staff.
While Ash Regan is unlikely to triumph in the contest, she represents the scale of the challenge that Kate Forbes or Humza Yousaf will have in uniting the Party to tackle the issue of greatest concern to Scottish voters, and the broad spectrum of policy ideas that lie within it.
Regardless of who is voted in as Party leader, the Health and Social Care in-tray will be busier than every other department. Before the next General Election, the incoming First Minister, and their new Health and Social Care Minister will need to drive significant improvements in healthcare if they want to have any chance of matching the flawless electoral performance of their predecessor.