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Shona Stay or Shona Go Now?

By Henry Anderson

Over the last few weeks, the health of Scotland’s NHS has never been far from the headlines – from missed A&E waiting times to failing mental health services to the fallout from NHS Tayside’s financial problems, health has occupied much attention at Holyrood. At the centre lies the beleaguered Cabinet Secretary for Health, Shona Robison, who has faced calls to resign.

After the NHS Tayside scandal, there had been talk that opposition parties were considering a vote of no confidence. It was revealed that the board, which covers the Health Secretary’s constituency, had been engaging in some creative accounting to portray its finances in a better light. It was then discovered to have been using charitable donations to cover spending on an IT project, prompting Labour leader Richard Leonard and Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie to call for Shona Robison to consider her position. In response, she said that she was “not going to be distracted.”

There is precedent for a vote of no-confidence. Alex Neil, who was Health Secretary from 2012 to 2014, survived one after allegations he intervened to protect mental health services in his constituency. The difference now is that the SNP stand a chance of losing such a vote – if all the opposition parties agree.

The Scottish Conservatives, however, had a debate on NHS finances last Wednesday, did not add their voices – or their votes – to the calls for her resignation. Instead, health spokesperson, Miles Briggs, said he was putting the SNP “on notice” over its handling of what he called a “financial crisis” facing the NHS in Scotland. He also queried whether repeated calls for resignation from Labour health spokesperson Anas Sarwar constituted “effective opposition”.

Pressure continued to mount on Thursday, when Richard Leonard used his slot at FMQs to raise the case of David Ramsay, a 50-year old who took his life after being turned away by mental health services in NHS Tayside. He called for an urgent public inquiry into deaths and asked “how many more families need to suffer before the First Minister finally recognises that now is the time for change?”

Unfortunately for the Health Secretary, it doesn't look like this week is going to be any easier. The Scottish Government has been accused by Labour of planning to “scrap” some cancer targets after it “sneaked out” a report on cancer waiting times. In a letter to the Health Committee, Shona Robison stated these targets “will remain” and noted that Cancer Research UK had welcomed a commitment to “refining” current standards. Labour has two debates on health scheduled for Wednesday this week - one on waiting times and one on NHS Tayside - and it is likely the party will again call for the Health Secretary's resignation. The key question is - what will the Conservatives do?

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