My recent letter to the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser about Conservative and Unionist candidate Eric Holford generated a response from the great man himself, and I have reproduced this below. He states that I’m possibly confused about his stance on the NHS, this may be down to the fact my letter was heavily edited (see HERE for submitted and printed version):
Mr Holfords views on the NHS can clearly be seen on his Facebook posts; he believes that the NHS should NOT be protected from the effects of austerity. If that’s no longer his view I’d be interested to hear why not.
Mr Holford seems to be for assisted suicide, but has concerns that prescribing medicines which “prolong life” mean that people are living longer.
It would also appear that Mr Holford would like to see a return to means testing for prescriptions because “the richest one in seven” are eligible for them. Mr Holford appears to want to bring back a prescription charge which largely pays for the administration of the system and which will hit the working poor hardest because one in seven people are judged rich enough to pay a charge. The fact they are already probably paying 20%, 40% or more of their income in tax must be lost him. It’s estimated that after administration costs this would take around £50 million. With 5 million Scots, that equates to around £10 a head. I’d rather that was spread across the nation so than everyone, regardless of income, has access to good quality medication, unlike in England where the working poor who are deemed to rich to qualify for free prescriptions are often resorted to buying cheap, knocked off and often fake medicines. It is not unusual for people in England to ask their GP “Which of the items I have just been prescribed do I least need?” Should this be the system we aspire to just because the likes of JK Rowling are able to get the odd dose of medicine without passing over some actual ready cash?
Mr Holford also says that he would prefer to use this money to employ 1000 nurses. It costs around £70,000 to train a nurse for 3 years. Is the plan to train new nurses or attract qualified staff from abroad? You can’t increase nursing staff without also increasing support staff at the same time. Given that Jim Murphy claimed it would cost £250 million for 1000 nurses, and scrapping free prescriptions would free up only £50 million, where’s the rest of the money coming from? Increased tax or cuts elsewhere?
Mr Holford says that Scottish NHS spending has been protected by the Tories and has been cut by the SNP. He then cites two interviews by Tory stalwart and formerly respected journalist Andrew Neil, where Neil claimed that Scottish budgets have been protected by the Tories. Anyone who has followed the online debate between Stuart Campbell of Wings Over Scotland and an increasingly irate and abusive Mr Neil would know that Mr Neil’s figures were slightly off, to put it charitably. Audit Scotland, Fiscal Affairs Scotland and economists Jim & Margaret Cuthbert are all of the opinion that Mr Neils reading of the figures he supplied were correct, but they are all agreed that in relation to this debate Mr Neil is using the WRONG figures, and there has been an actual cut of some 6-10% in real terms.
To put it simply, in terms even Kezia Dugdale could understand, if I have a salary of £10,000 and I receive no raise for 3 years, while my employer could reasonably say that they have maintained my wages with no cuts, if in the interim the rate of inflation has risen, tax has gone up, etc, then my real terms cash available to be spent goes down. Were Mr Neil not a paid BBC employee and journalist his online and often on screen output would be dismissed as trolling. Instead he becomes a point of reference for unionists everywhere.
Mr Holford has pointed out in both of his letters that he is disabled, and that point now needs no repetition. Every disabled person has a story to tell, some are not as fortunate in some regards as Mr Holford. He was, if I understand correctly, made redundant, and used that cash to start a successful business. If only everyone had that opportunity! Sadly they don’t, and as I said previously many disabled people would never be able to enter mainstream work and have seen employers such as Remploy who focused purely on those people closed down. Many years ago Norman Tebbit was criticised for telling workers to “get on their bikes” and go and find work. Mr Holford seems to be exhorting the disabled to get in their wheelchairs and do likewise. For some that is not, and never will be, an option. I’m positive about that.