Hands off Perth Royal Infirmary

Hands off Perth Royal Infirmary

by Elizabeth Smith
article from Wednesday 11, July, 2018

LONG BEFORE I became an MSP in 2007, I became acutely aware of just what a special place Perth Royal Infirmary has in the hearts of thousands of residents across Perthshire and Kinross-shire—and rightly so. The staff who have worked and who currently work at the hospital have provided first-class care—life-saving care in many cases – to the local community over the past 104 years.

Unquestionably, our public health services have come a very long way in the intervening century. Life expectancy, for example, has increased from 49 and 45 years for women and men respectively at the turn of the last century to 80 and 76 for women and men today; the infant mortality rate has fallen by over 100 per 1,000 births; and if, in 1914, pneumonia, influenza and tuberculosis were among the most common causes of death, they are now among the least common.

Recently, we heard about a quadruple amputee being accepted for a pioneering operation in Leeds to provide her with two new hands, and not a week goes past these days without the announcement of some ground breaking treatments or research. The NHS, including Perth Royal Infirmary, has become a victim of its own success. 

Last week, the 70th anniversary of the NHS was marked by a huge injection of new investment from the Westminster Conservative Government but everyone knows that the additional challenge is not just about finding enough money. It also comes from pressure to change the structures of the NHS so that it can meet modern medical needs, most especially the need for integrated health and social care.

And it is these issues that are at the heart of the current controversy over Perth Royal Infirmary. No-one denies that some of its services need to adapt to modern demands and, in some cases, this means services need to be located at Ninewells in order to protect the delivery of best patient care.  Most of the clinicians are clear about that.

Most of them are also clear however, that Perth Royal Infirmary should not be pared back to a basic minimum. This makes no sense at a time when the population of Perth and Kinross is due to increase by 24 per cent by 2023, with particular growth in towns like Auchterarder and Kinross, and when current statistics show that May 2018 was the busiest period for A&E at PRI in the last eight years. 

Not surprisingly, the public outcry over the weekend at the Scottish Government’s announcement that A&E at PRI will now be downgraded is seen as a step too far and it is why the reaction to the Scottish Conservatives’ “Hands Off PRI...for good” campaign has had such a strong response. 

The public knows that in the last two decades PRI has lost maternity services, paediatrics, pathology, emergency surgery and now it is to lose most of its A&E services. Indeed, it is very hard to see how the SNP can claim that A&E will exist at all when it will not be dealing with emergencies. 

But the anger is about more than this. It also relates to the broken promises from the Scottish Government and indeed from NHS Tayside itself, neither of which has had a happy time on health matters in recent months. The SNP’s former health secretary, Shona Robison, twice accused my colleague Murdo Fraser of scaremongering when he raised questions in parliament about the future of A&E at PRI. It turns out, he was absolutely right to do so.

Of course, this is all happening at the exact same time as there are cuts to out of hours care and when GP surgeries are having recruitment difficulties. It is no accident - forgive the pun - that it is many of our rural constituents who are most upset about the issues at PRI. If you live in Kinloch Rannoch or St Fillan’s you already face a journey of over an hour to PRI so the additional half hour to Dundee in an emergency is unwelcome to say the least.

If the original Hands off PRI campaign – which protested against the withdrawal of maternity services from PRI – taught us anything it was the fact that there is an exceptionally strong bond between the hospital and the local community. The Scottish Conservatives want to protect that bond and that is why we will be fighting against this latest decision.

If you want to sign up to the campaign please use this link:


Liz Smith, pictured right, with Murdo Fraser outside Perth Royal Infirmary.

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