WHEN NICOLA STURGEON delivered her 2016 ‘Priorities for Government’ speech, the tone was optimistic. She spoke professionally about the sort of Scotland she was pledging to usher in. Speaking of the importance of greater equality of opportunity she said, “it will boost our economy, and enhance the equality of life of all of us. It will help to create not just a fairer nation, but one that is wealthier, healthier and happier.”
But her rhetoric on health has not matched reality. If we take a detailed walk through the data, it is impossible to conclude the First Minister has created a ‘wealthier’, ‘healthier’, or ‘happier’ never mind ‘fairer’ nation.
Even a cursory glance indicates the appalling state of health in Scotland. A Glaswegian man has a healthy life expectancy of just 54.6 years. (Healthy life expectancy (HLE) is an estimate of the number of years lived in ‘very good’ or ‘good’ general health, whereas life expectancy is the number of years an individual is expected to live). There is a huge gap in healthy life expectancy at birth between the most and least deprived areas of a staggering 25.1 years for males and 21.5 years for females.
Healthy life expectancy in Scotland is the lowest in Europe. National Records of Scotland states that “it is estimated that a baby boy expects to live 61.7 years in good health and a baby girl 61.9 years in good health”. By contrast, according to WHO data, the average healthy life expectancy in Europe is 68.3 years with all other European countries having higher HLE than Scotland. At 69.1 years even Albania has considerably higher healthy life expectancy. Scotland fully qualifies for the sad title of ‘Sick Man of Europe.’
And be under no illusions, the SNP carries the can for this situation.
Life expectancy itself in Scotland had been increasing since the early 1980s until 2012-2014. Since the 2012-14 period, Scottish council areas have experienced slowing or stalling improvements in life expectancy. Data also indicates that many areas are now witnessing decreasing life expectancy.
Julie Ramsay, Head of Vital Event Statistics at National Records Scotland (NRS) said in January this year, “The decrease in healthy life expectancy coincides with a stalling of growth in life expectancy in recent years, and has resulted in a lower proportion of life being spent in good health”
Need I remind anyone that the SNP has held power since 2007, and health is a devolved competency? The first SNP Health Minister was none other than Nicola Sturgeon.
We do not need to look far to begin to understand how this situation has occurred under the nationalist administration. If we examine ScotGov’s own data on childhood diet and health, getting boys to eat healthier is even harder than before.
Fewer boys eat the recommended five a day now as compared to the second year of SNP rule. If you look at figure 1, you see the mean portions of fruit & vegetables per day eaten by boys was 2.7 in 2008; and in 2019 a lower 2.6. Not merely no progress, in fact outcomes have deteriorated.
Overall obesity levels in Scotland also reveals a picture of deteriorating individual health throughout the life of this nationalist administration. Figure 2 shows that two in three adults were obese or overweight including obesity in 2019. This is the highest prevalence in the Scottish Health Survey time series since 2003. Also shown is the rise in obesity, up from 27% in 2008 to 29% in 2019. That entire time-period is within the life of the current nationalist administration.