20 September 2001

S1M-2207 Patient Care

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 20 September 2001

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

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Patient Care

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Patricia Ferguson): The next item of business is a debate on Conservative motion S1M-2207, in the name of David McLetchie, on improving patient care, and on two amendments to the motion.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I remind members of the voluntary declarations that I have made in the register of members' interests with regard to my pension from the Bank of Scotland and my shareholdings there. I do that because I have been one of the happy beneficiaries of PFI. Bankers everywhere love PFI and, when we come to the nub of the matter, this Tory debate is about money. In fact, I am holding a bank note that depicts one of the most famous Tories of the 19th century, Sir Walter Scott, who is immortalised on our money even today.

Mr Monteith: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: We are very short of time. Perhaps Brian Monteith and I can discuss his point privately.

Let me give credit to the Tories. In their 160-word motion—quite the longest sentence that I have seen for a long time—the 15th word is "PFI". At least they are honest about PFI being their policy. In a 10-minute speech, the minister got to 10 minutes and 38 seconds before she mentioned PFI, and yet that is at the core of the policy that the Government is pursuing.

It has been said that there are three kinds of bankers: those who can count and those who cannot. Well, even a former banker like me—[Laughter.] They got it. Good. The Tories are awake. Well done. Even a banker who cannot count can see that this debate is about money. The Tory motion is about money, not health.

Richard Simpson made some interesting remarks about community hospitals, building on what Murdo Fraser said. The minister referred to the Arbuthnott formula. In Grampian, 10 per cent of Scotland's population now receives 9 per cent of health funding, and community hospitals are under threat as a result. In my constituency, the Chalmers hospital in Banff, which has been promised redevelopment for 10 years, is now under serious threat. Community hospitals are a cost-effective way of delivering health care.

Competition has been mentioned, but I have to ask whether it really drives up standards. Supermarkets, which are at the forefront of competition in this country, deliver cheap food rather than quality food by and large, and the Labour party is the McDonald's party rather than the new party. However, what concerns me most about PFI is much more long term. PFI locks us into long-term commitments—typically for 30 years—and that is a big threat to community health care. We cannot get out of paying for those large facilities that are being developed in many places through PFI.

Mary Scanlon: Will Stewart Stevenson give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I am sorry, but I am in my final minute.

If we are going to have to focus the expenditure when it is reduced by the Arbuthnott formula, as it has been in Grampian, we will be at serious risk of not delivering the health service that people want.

I shall conclude with a personal recollection of how patients feel. In the 1970s, when I was doing some parachuting, I came out of a plane, looked up and saw that my parachute had not opened.

Mary Scanlon: Had the member packed it himself?

Stewart Stevenson: Yes, I had packed it myself. I plummeted towards the ground, but the reserve parachute saved me.

David McLetchie: Aw.

Stewart Stevenson: Well, that is why I am here today.

These days, many of the people who are on NHS waiting lists feel exactly as I felt 25 years ago as I plummeted towards the ground. PFI is taking money out of the health service that we should be spending on health, not on bankers' profits.


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