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The big interview: Miles Briggs MSP, Shadow Health Secretary for Scotland

Miles Briggs MSP

How long have you been an MSP?
I was first elected, as an MSP for Lothian region, in May 2016.

What did you do beforehand and why did you choose to run for parliament?
Immediately before being elected I was working as an Adviser to the MSPs Liz Smith and Nanette Milne. Prior to that I worked for the Executive Council of the Province of Prince Edward Island in Canada.

Do you think Ruth Davidson will ever be First Minister of Scotland?
Yes I do.

The 2021 Scottish election presents the Scottish Conservatives with a realistic opportunity to become the largest party in Holyrood with Ruth as Scotland’s next First Minister. T

he SNP’s dreadful domestic record across so many areas – from education to health to policing – is becoming clearer and clearer, combined with its obsession for a second, unwanted independence referendum and the fact that Labour is drifting backwards to the failed policies of the 1970s means that there is real potential for Ruth and the Scottish Conservatives in 2021.

We can become the voice of the moderate, pragmatic, mainstream centre that understands that growing our economy is fundamental to providing the resources we need to invest in our public services.

Above all for me, and what I see in Ruth as a potential First Minister of Scotland, are the leadership qualities that can help unite our country after all the divisions of recent years. I think we will see in the coming months and years increasingly people are looking for a Scottish leader and a Scottish Government to move our country forward.

What is the most pressing healthcare issue in Scotland at the moment?
There are many very pressing issues but probably at the top of the pile would be the staffing shortages – current and predicted – that are affecting patient care right across the NHS, from GPs to nurses to consultants and radiologists.

These pressures are compounding a situation where demand for NHS services is growing exponentially because of our demographics and big challenges like increasing obesity and diabetes levels.

Does the NHS need more funding? If so, where will that come from?
The NHS will continue to need more funding in the years ahead as demand for services continues to increase and our population becomes older.

Growing the economy, at Scottish and UK levels, is vital if we are to be able to provide that investment. You will never hear it from SNP Ministers, but the fact is that the UK government’s significant extra NHS spending in England means that Barnett consequentials on health resource spending have amounted to £2.154 billion extra in money for our NHS here in Scotland since 2011/2012.

We need to see Scotland’s economy grow and our tax base increase far more than it is projected to do over the next few years under the current SNP stewardship in order to provide the funds for our vital public services.

How much does the performance of Theresa May and her government affect the perception of the party in Scotland?
While there will always be some overlap in perception, the 2017 General Election and results here showed once again that the Scottish electorate is extremely sophisticated and understands particular Scottish contexts of elections.

The 2021 election will be the chance for the public to pass their verdict on three terms of SNP mismanagement and incompetence and consider whether the Scottish Conservative opposition has the policy offering that will convince them to put their faith in us as an alternative Government.

I and my Scottish Conservative MSP colleagues are working hard to develop the policies for that manifesto and to offer the public a positive choice and the team to help build a stronger, safer, and more prosperous Scotland.

Since being appointed by Ruth as Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health, I have appointed an independent health policy advisory board which is working hard to help formulate policy ahead of 2021. Above all, what I as Shadow Health Secretary think is, it’s important to listen to people who work in our health services and my door or email is always open.

What would a Tory-led Scottish Government have done differently with healthcare?
We would have put in place years ago some of the long-term national NHS workforce plans that the SNP government is only now starting to develop, not least given health professionals and representative bodies were warning of staff shortages a decade or more ago.

I also hope that we would have done more to invest in the preventative health agenda that has so much to offer individuals and the potential to save the NHS money in the long-term. And I know we would have done more to prioritise mental health services in particular with a focus on social prescribing and early intervention.

Can the NHS survive in its current form?
Yes absolutely. I want the NHS – one of the greatest institutions in the history of this country – to be there for everyone who needs it, funded and free at the point of use. Increasing demands, changing demographics and ever more sophisticated medical and technological advances mean that funding demands will always be a challenge but with the right support and appropriate reforms and by working with NHS professionals at all levels we must rise to the challenge of securing the long-term future of the NHS.

How do you feel community pharmacists can contribute to the health of the nation?
Community pharmacists have a huge wealth of experience, and can offer advice to patients on a whole range of issues. I believe pharmacies should be at the heart of primary care as they can reduce demand for other services.

We know 1 in 10 GP consultations and 1 in 20 A&E attendances could be managed by community pharmacists through schemes such as the Minor Ailment Service. I hope that we can explore ways for pharmacists to help more patients manage chronic conditions and improve their quality of life. Increasing the role of community pharmacists is key to my vision of a sustainable NHS going forward.

For me community pharmacy should not only be asked to help when the NHS faces a crisis like we have seen over the winter months with the flu crisis – it’s about community pharmacy working hand in hand with the NHS to deliver the care and advice we all want to see people in Scotland having improved access to.

Do you think pharmacist prescribing is a concept that is helpful?
Yes, I was very pleased to see community pharmacists given the power to prescribe antibiotics for UTIs and skin conditions, and hope that the Scottish Government will look into other minor illnesses which community pharmacists can treat in this way. With our GP services struggling under increasing demand, initiatives like this must be encouraged. It makes sense for patients and our NHS.

Do you think it is a good idea for pharmacists to have access to the patient record?
Last year I called for community pharmacies to have access to GP records, as Scotland is well behind the times in this regard.

I believe allowing pharmacists this access would mean patients receive better, safer and more accessible care. I wrote to the Health Secretary about this issue, and was pleased to hear that the Scottish Government is working with the BMA and Information Commissioner on this issue. I will be continuing to keep the pressure on SNP Ministers to act.

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