Aide accuses former SNP health secretary of ‘lying’ over hospital cuts

Peter Owens confronts former Health Secretary Alex Neil, outside Monklands Hospital 

Aide accuses former SNP health secretary of ‘lying’ over hospital cuts

FORMER SNP health secretary Alex Neil is chased round a car park and accused of “lying” over hospital cuts by his old office manager in an extraordinary new video on YouTube.

Neil is shown being pursued by his former aide Peter Owens after a meeting with NHS Lanarkshire earlier this month and accused of trying to downgrade Monklands Hospital “by the back door”.

Neil was elected as the SNP MSP for Airdrie & Shotts in 2011 after making the A&E at Monklands Hospital in Airdrie a central campaign issue. In a party video at the time Neil shakes hands with Owens outside the hospital and promises the SNP’s “total commitment” to keep the A&E open “on a permanent basis”. He goes on: “Not only that, we will invest in the future of Monklands hospital and the A&E to make sure the people of Airdrie and Coatbridge have the service that they deserve and need.”

Read more: Iain Macwhirter: Timing is crucial … and now is not the moment for indyref2

Herald Scotland: Alex Neil said the Scottish Government would devise a "fairer" approach

However last month NHS Lanarkshire decided to move trauma and orthopaedic services out of Monklands to Wishaw and Hairmyres hospitals by the end of the year.

Campaigners say this will downgrade the Monklands A&E and force patients to make long journeys for treatment. Five orthopaedic consultants have also warned patients will suffer. Owens was Neil’s office manager during the 2011 election, but is now spokesman for a protest group Stop Monklands Orthopaedic A&E Downgrade, which has attracted 4000 signatures to an online petition.

On August 3, Owens and two other protesters confronted and filmed Neil as he left the hospital. “Your government is downgrading this hospital by the back door,” Owens says, prompting Neil to reply: “Utter rubbish! Utter rubbish!”

Read more: Scotland has little chance of staying EU member after Brexit, SNP MSP says

Neil says he is “happy to have a civilised meeting” with Owens, but not “a shouting match”. But as Neil walks through the car park, Owens reminds him that both men had stood on the hospital steps in 2011 campaigning to save its services.

Airdrie SNP MP Neil Gray is also featured in the 4-minute film tutting that Owens and other anti-cuts campaigners are “outrageous”. Coatbridge SNP MSP Fulton MacGregor can be seen watching silently in the background.

“We are not going to let the A&E be downgraded,” Neil insists, adding: “I’m not going to engage in this farce.”

Owens responds: “That [saving services] is the reason you were voted in here. So you are lying to the people of this area once again.”

Neil, who was the SNP health secretary from 2012 to 2014, responds, “This is rubbish”, then, apparently confused, starts walking back the way he came. He is joined by Gray, a former staffer who is now the Airdrie & Shotts MP. “Why are you here?” Owens demands of Gray. “This isn’t in your remit. Why are you here? This isn’t a Westminster issue. Is this party support for the party line?”

Gray replies: “The way to do this is to have a civilised meeting not to have a shouting match.”

As Owens refuses to back off, Gray tuts: “This is outrageous, outrageous.”

When a second protester asks, “What’s outrageous about democracy?”, Gray replies: “This isn’t democracy, this is a shouting match.”

Owens keeps up his harangue as Neil and Gray stride away, telling them: “Another lie from the SNP. Is it a party built on lies? You’re a disgrace!” The health board and Scottish Government strongly deny the accusation, and say 98 per cent of emergencies and 95 per cent of trauma cases will still go to Monklands.

But Owens told the Sunday Herald the loss of orthopaedic and trauma would see the Monklands A&E reduced to a “minor ailments unit”.

Read more: Rearrange health board boundaries to circumvent future patient transport problems

Labour MSP Elaine Smith said: “The SNP made the people of Monklands a promise and clearly local people are intent on holding them to those promises and won’t accept cuts to services.

“The SNP Government can still step in and stop these cuts to the Monklands, but SNP politicians seem determined to pull the wool over the eyes of local people. It won’t work.”

Neil did not respond to calls or email. An SNP spokesman said: “Alex Neil is fully committed to working to protect services at Monklands – having obtained solid assurances that there will be no downgrading of hospital and A&E services, which will both remain grade one facilities.” TheHerald

More Information Further detail about all NHS Scotland targets and standards can be found at the Scottish Government’s website Scotland Performs