MPs warn patients could lose cross-border service

editorial image

ALEX Salmond has been accused of jumping the gun by offering assurances about maintaining the provision of cross-border health services in an independent Scotland.

NHS patients who live on one side of the border but use services on the other would be unaffected by Scottish independence, according to Mr Salmond.

However, Borders MP and Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore argues that until Mr Salmond provides detailed answers to many questions about his plan for independence he cannot give any such assurances.

Mr Moore says the creation of an international border would cause a “bureaucratic nightmare” for the NHS, while Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith believes maintaining cross-border health care would be much more difficult if Scotland became independent.

When Mr Salmond announced the Scottish government’s consultation process on a referendum for independence, he was asked by Borders MSPs from his own party whether the existing “harmonious service-sharing” between cross-border authorities would continue, and he stated that it would.

Mr Salmond said he did not envisage a problem arising for patients with Northumberland addresses but registered with a Scottish-based doctor; patients from the English side of the border being taken to Borders General Hospital; or for elderly Borders residents being moved into care homes in England.

But according to Mr Moore, Mr Salmond is getting ahead of himself.

The Secretary of State for Scotland said: “The SNP has not spelt out any details of its independence plans, far less discussed them with bodies like the NHS in England.

“So any warm words at the moment are no more than that: if we were to become separate countries, every last one of these agreements would have to be re-negotiated.

“Compared to the strong, practical arrangements we have with each other right now, it would be a bureaucratic nightmare and a complete distraction from providing these important services.“

Fellow Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith also believes independence would create complications.

He added: “One of the bigger problems, I believe would be growing difficulty in using public services on the other side of the border like health services.

“At the moment many local people use the nearest general hospital, which is the Borders General, and many people in Paxton, Hutton and other Scottish villages use Berwick GPs.

“It makes sense to do so, and I spend a lot of effort making sure these links are kept open. An international frontier would make it much more difficult to do so.”

However, South of Scotland MSP Paul Wheelhouse, who lives in Ayton, believes the warnings from the Lib Dem MPs on either side of the border amount to scaremongering.

During the Scottish Parliament debate, Mr Wheelhouse (SNP) asked about the future relationship of the Borders with the rest of the UK and was satisfied with the answer he received from Mr Salmond.

Mr Wheelhouse said: “I was keen to ask the First Minister, and seek his reassurance, that in the eventuality of independence we, in the Scottish Borders, will still enjoy a close friendship and share a social bond.

“I was pleased the First Minister confirmed that and detailed his hopes for an equal relationship with our close neighbours.

“This consultation needs to hear the views of as many folk as possible, so I would invite all constituents, interest groups and organisations in the Scottish Borders to respond and take part in this hugely important debate. In the Scottish Government’s formal referendum consultation document it states: ‘The terms of independence would include agreement on the scope and arrangements for future cross-border bodies and cross-border co-operation, both transitional and ongoing.’

“May 2016 will see the election of the next Scottish Parliament which would become the Parliament of an independent Scotland. This election will give the people of Scotland the chance to decide the future policy direction of Scotland.”

Midlothian, South Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP Christine Grahame also asked: “Can the First Minister confirm that the current harmonious sharing of services — English patients go to Borders General Hospital and Scottish elderly people go to care homes in Berwick — will continue with independence?

“I was pleased that the answer was simply ‘yes I can’. This response will give reassurance to the people in my constituency, and indeed those further afield, that they will continue to be able to access cross-border services as this is so important to many people who have families on either side of the border.”