By Martin Kelly

Scottish Health Minister Alex Neil has hit back at BBC claims that the SNP has broken a pledge to reduce privatisation costs in the NHS.

Speaking on Good Morning Scotland, the MSP challenged a suggestion by BBC Scotland that the SNP had failed to meet a pledge made in 2007 to clamp down on private healthcare spending.

Interviewing Mr Neil, BBC Scotland reporter Hayley Millar pointed to a "dramatic rise" in NHS spending on private healthcare and said: "When the SNP came to power back in 2007 they promised to clamp down on such spending, but the latest figures suggest there has been a sixty per cent increase,"

Responding to the interviewer’s suggestion that the SNP, "hadn’t exactly lived up to this promise" Mr Neil said that since 2007 the SNP had indeed clamped down "very successfully" on private healthcare spending.

"Over the piece we have actually done that very successfully"

The SNP Minister explained that the temporary increase, which he blamed on a capacity shortfall left behind by the last administration, was less than 0.5 per cent of the total NHS budget.

Mr Neil also pointed to what he claimed was the biggest private drain on the Scottish NHS which was the PFI legacy left behind by Labour.

"Ironically the biggest waste of money in the private sector is the £200 million a year in PFI charges we have to make which we inherited and the contracts are such we can’t even get out of [them].

"That’s the biggest scandal in terms of NHS resources."

The issue of increased private healthcare costs resulted from a Freedom of Information request made on behalf of BBC Scotland.  Figures obtained by the BBC showed that the costs of private healthcare had increased from £25m to £40m for the last year.

According to BBC Scotland’s health correspondent Eleanor Bradford, the increased costs were due to a "waiting time scandal".  The reporter also echoed claims made earlier by her colleague and implied that the SNP had broken a pledge to invest in the NHS.

In a report for the flagship news programme Reporting Scotland, Ms Bradford said: "When the SNP came to power it promised NHS cash would be invested in the NHS, not the private sector."

Two NHS boards were named by the BBC as having been responsible for the bulk of the increase, NHS Lothian and NHS Grampian.  NHS Lothian had already predicted an increased one off spend in order to clear a waiting time backlog after it was found to have manipulated waiting times last year.  The actual cost of £12.5m was higher than the prediction of £10m.

NHS Grampian had increased its private healthcare costs to £6.5m, which was three times the previous year.

However NHS Grampian challenged a claim by the BBC reporter that it too was spending more on private healthcare because of waiting time problems.

Responding to claims by the BBC Scotland reporter, NHS Grampian said the increase in spending on private healthcare last year was "to meet the specialist needs of patients, for example for complex services that are not available in Grampian e.g. specialist mental health services - and to ensure that patients are seen within the treatment time guarantee targets introduced in 2012/2013".

It added: "We understand that waiting times are important to patients and that most patients prefer to be treated as close to home as possible.

"The NHS Grampian Board recently agreed a £16m investment programme that will increase capacity by building new theatres and employing more doctors, nurses and support staff. The additional local capacity will be available in 2014."

The row between the health board, which initially refused the FoI request, and the BBC reporter follows inaccurate claims made by Ms Bradford earlier this year when she accused the board of failing thousands of osteoporosis patients.

In January, Ms Bradford claimed that: "As many as 3,500 people at risk of bone fractures are waiting eight months for a scan to detect osteoporosis at a clinic in Aberdeen."

However, Newsnet Scotland discovered the statement was false - the 3,500 figure was the number of patients treated by the centre in a year and not the number who were affected by the 32 week delay.  It subsequently emerged that, far from 3,500 people having been affected by the scanner problem at NHS Grampian as claimed by BBC Scotland, the real figure was closer to one hundred.

Newsnet Scotland also discovered that the information had been published on NHS Grampian’s own website since October 3rd 2011 – fully 15 months before the BBC Scotland reporter revealed the 'scandal'.

NHS Grampian put out a detailed statement following the BBC report which refuted all of the allegations made by Eleanor Bradford in no uncertain terms.

Later that month, in another attack on the Scottish government, Ms Bradford claimed she had found "further evidence" of "loopholes" in the Scottish government’s waiting times policy citing breast cancer patients who waited 15 weeks for follow up radiotherapy.

However, Newsnet Scotland discovered that according to specialists, there is in fact no definitive medical evidence to suggest that a delay in radiotherapy treatment after surgery hampers recovery.

The latest attack on the Scottish NHS follows claims last week by BBC Scotland that waiting times in Accident and Emergency were the longest ever.  It followed publication of statistics showing that in December 2012, A & E waiting times for treatment within four hours was 89.7% - well short of the Scottish government target of 98%.

However Newsnet Scotland discovered that a limited survey on waiting times from April 2006 indicated a target for four hour treatment of just 88% - lower than December 2012.


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# springster 2013-06-04 18:17
Watched Reporting Scotland and Jackie Bird blamed the increase on a "series of waiting times scandals".

There have beeen two waiting time scandals I believe - at Lothian and Ninewells in Dundee, and only one led directly to this increase in private healthcare costs.

I simply cannot fathom why professional journalists would risk damaging their reputation by embelishing a story in this way. Do they despise the SNP that much?

Bradford appears to have desperately hoped for more waiting times scandals that never materialised and she has spent her time trying to create mini related issues. I seem to remember Scottish Labour claiming the waiting time scandal was nationwide. Whatever happened to that claim?
# Jimmy The Pict 2013-06-04 18:26
Could the PFI debt incurred not be classified as odious debt
# Ben Power 2013-06-05 06:55
Possibly one way. Usually you can drive a mack truck through the administration of these contracts due to lack of dedicated pernickety staff administering them.

The best way I have ever seen of equalising an onerous contract is to appoint an adequate rigid and scrupulous contract administrator team who audits relentlessly and enforces every major AND minor aspect of the contract.
Then you get the maximum value from the contract and frequently the contractor cannot fulfill the scrupulous administration points and bails out as unprofitable.

Either way we get a better deal. It all relies on an incorruptible auditor (certainly NOT a big private accounting firm)and very rigorous administration of every item on the contract.

Scrupulous documentation of breaches and compliance also provide opportunities to further enforce penalty aspects of the contract and puts further pressure on the provider to comply or quit.
# Hugo 2013-06-05 08:00
I like your thinking.
# Marian 2013-06-04 19:54
Judging by her less than well researched claims Ms Bradford appears to be on a politically inspired mission to find fault with the NHS in Scotland.

It would be interesting to know what and who is behind it.
# rickdebrux 2013-06-04 20:03
Is BBC Scotland now a subsidiary of TRT (Turkey Main Televisual Media)? Because it seems to be following their lead in making up and/or not reporting news.
# Hirta 2013-06-04 20:37
Quoting rickdebrux:
Is BBC Scotland now a subsidiary of TRT (Turkey Main Televisual Media)? Because it seems to be following their lead in making up and/or not reporting news.

Yes, but how often do we keep reading these types of articles about the BBC and nothing is actually done, nor improved.

How many articles has NNS done about the failings of the BBC, one way or other, and still they keep pedalling out the same old tosh, daily.
# rickdebrux 2013-06-05 16:02
I agree. I used to work in Germany in the 90s and was always impressed with ARD (das Erste) News reports. I am sure it was established under strict laws of neutral reporting of the FACTS, after WW2. It's a shame BBC in Scotland was not forced to do the same.
O/T Have a look at Der Spiegel's english language site for pretty straight reporting.
# rickdebrux 2013-06-05 19:21
I agree. I used to work in Germany and always was amazed at the fairness of the news reporting on ARD, dasErste, main German TV sender. They are bound by laws that do not allow bias and cannot be changed by the government. Set up after World War 2, it was a very good idea. Now can we get a similar setup here after independence?
# Angry_Weegie 2013-06-04 20:34
The BBC report omitted both any comment on PFI or any indication of the level of spend relative to the health boards' budgets. Grampian's £6m spend was much less than 1% of their budget, Lothian's £12m spend was just over 1%, and the total £40m spent by all boards was just over 0.5%.

I wonder how that compares with other parts of the UK.

Update. PCT's in England spent 6.5% of their budgets on private care in 2011-12. Don't know about hospital trusts.
# weegie38 2013-06-04 21:05
Bradford, as with Glen Campbell, is following a trend in journalism at BBC Scotland, which is symptomatic of the dumbing down which has caused many to despair of it.

It's a sort of "narrative journalism": set up a long-term story, then provide individual little stories to support your narrative line. Want to say Scotland couldn't join the EU? Find a few foreign politicians to give you handily vague quotes that you can twist. Want to invent a crisis in NHS Scotland? Cherry-pick some statistics and use them out of context.

Sometimes narrative journalism is good. When used honestly it builds up a devastating wall of evidence which can't be denied by the reader. John Pilger's good at it.

The particularly nasty thing about Bradford's narrative journalism is the political collusion going on. Many of the stories seem to be set up to feed into Baillie or Lamont's antics at Holyrood. I suspect Bradford is in regular contact with both.
# Massacre1965 2013-06-04 21:32
Final straw for me with the disgraceful BBC. Tomorrow i will cancel my licence get a refund and ignore the shallow demands from Capita
# theycantbeserious 2013-06-04 21:33

I'm sure there would be a good story if your last comment was to be pursued!
# weegie38 2013-06-04 23:27
Quoting theycantbeserio us:

I'm sure there would be a good story if your last comment was to be pursued!

Indeed. There are plenty of examples of BBC Scotland running stories which "just happen" to coincide with a Labour line of questioning in Holyrood.

The trick is, firstly, in proving it. I'm sure there will be some dynamite emails going around - all that's needed is a whistleblower in Pacific Quay. The second problem is publishing it - the Daily Mail might do it in order to bash the BBC, but perhaps they hate independence even more.
# balgayboy 2013-06-04 21:41
I reckon the BBC are the last organization to challenge the SG regarding breaking promises....they need to go back and read their own charter and then hang their heads in shame.
# From The Suburbs 2013-06-04 21:43
Spending on private services by the NHS in England reached a record £8.7bn last year, a jump of more than £3bn since 2006, according to research.

A study by the Nuffield Trust and the Institute of Fiscal Studies reveals that the role of non-NHS providers in delivering NHS-funded care in England has increased dramatically from 2006, with the result that in certain areas of healthcare the independent sector is now a fixture in the NHS.

The report gives as an example the proportion of hip and knee replacements delivered by private companies and funded by the NHS, which rose from "negligible" in 2003 to a fifth of all such operations today.

The report says choice and competition were embedded into the NHS in 2008 with a significant effect on local hospitals.
# cjmasta 2013-06-04 22:21
Can pay, won`t pay!
We need a campaign and we can present the evidence to the public that way.
# Adrian B 2013-06-05 02:05
Alex Neil answers every question with quality easy to understand information. He explains in great detail and depth, always going beyond the original question so it is understood. I have every confidence in the Scottish health service and Alex Neil.
# Diabloandco 2013-06-05 06:36

Seems our wee NHS is doing OK in comparison to big brother in England.
ITN also broadcast this "devastating" information so it must be true!
# UpSpake 2013-06-05 12:08
PFI is just another contract. No different to any other. I studied Contract Law for 10 years and drafted many thereafter. I know of no contract that cannot be ended either by mutual agreement or default.
If the 'experts' at the Scottish Government can't find a way to get out of these onerous contracts then they show their inexperience.
Nevertheless, assuming that the contracts were written in such a way as to enrich the providers at the expense of the general population then the ultimate sanction availible to the Scottish Government is to nationalise the asset. Simpules.
# Aplinal 2013-06-05 16:55

I agree AN did a good job. The only thing I wish he had made clear was the actual amount involved. Percentages are one thing, but if he had said,"let's not kid ourselves about this 60% increase - it went from 25 million to 40 million, which is only 0.05% of the total budget" I think it would have got some rational into the discussions.

BBC in Scotland trying to make it look bad with the 60% INCREASE shrill at the beginning. That should have been swatted away IMHO. and it wasn't. But as I said, overall a strong performance. We need more of these
# cuckooshoe 2013-06-05 17:06
Responding to claims by the BBC Scotland reporter, NHS Grampian said the increase in spending on private healthcare last year was "to meet the specialist needs of patients, for example for complex services that are not available in Grampian e.g. specialist mental health services - and to ensure that patients are seen within the treatment time guarantee targets introduced in 2012/2013".

I thought this a dead good reason.. The treatment guarantee times introduced in 2012/2013 has had the desired effect. As a result BBC Scotland and Labour are forced to look elsewhere for an NHS story..

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