Referendum debate dominates SNP conference
by Richard Meade Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Scotland
Thirteen hundred people packed into Perth Concert Hall on Saturday afternoon to hear the First Minister of Scotland, and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Alex Salmond MSP declare, “We are Scotland's independence generation and our time is now." With the independence referendum – now less than a year away – dominating proceedings, it was difficult for other issues to get a look in. However, on the conference fringes there were debates and discussions on key issues relating to health and social care, including on the important integration legislation currently progressing through the Scottish Parliament. In his speech to the conference, Alex Neil MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, made a number of promises and pledges including guaranteeing a 1% increase in wages for NHS staff, as well as their annual progression payments:
- He promised to continue to keep NHS spending on the private sector low, and look to reduce it wherever and whenever possible. It is currently less than 0.8% of Scotland’s £12 billion healthcare budget.
- He announced a new national £10 million fund for 2015/16, which will look at ways to improve care and support for older people and adults with complex needs.
- He promised to protect key health and social care policies including free personal and nursing care and free prescriptions.
At the conference we also took the opportunity to meet with numerous MSPs to talk about the work of Marie Curie. It was great to hear from so many MSPs how much they value the work of the charity. In a meeting with Alex Neil, we discussed future policy and commitment to end of life care and he agreed with us that, after five years, it is time to refresh the national action plan on end of life care in Scotland, Living and Dying Well. With the clock counting down to the referendum, it is becoming increasingly clear that this campaign will continue to be the focus of everything and everyone in Scotland and that other issues, including health and end of life care, will struggle to be seen the closer we get to referendum day on 18 September 2014. It will certainly be our focus over the coming months to ensure that politicians of all parties continue to think and talk about these issues so that everyone in Scotland can access the best end of life care possible.