“It cannot be seen as a political issue either, all parties should unite to support this campaign” says Brian Schulz, chair of Lochgelly Community Council about the campaign for a new health centre in Lochgelly. Of course nobody can deny Lochgelly needs a new health centre, and I don’t think anybody does from the Scottish Government Health Minister down.
So why are Mark Hood, Linda Erskine and Brian Schulz putting on such a visible campaign for the bleeding obvious? Could it have anything to do with the fact that Scottish Labour is facing electoral wipe-out in this May’s Holyrood election and next May’s Council elections? Their colleague Alex Rowley is now so insecure in his Central Fife constituency, a traditional Labour stronghold which booted out Gordon Brown’s successor in last year’s general election, that he reneged on a promise to stand only as a constituency MSP to bag the top slot on Fife Labour’s regional list.
The campaign’s instigator and front man, Mark Hood, a Labour Councillor for Lochgelly who has his work cut out to hang on to his seat, has directed his allegedly non-political action at the SNP Government as the authority responsible for denying Lochgelly a new health centre. Yet he knows this is absurd because the Scottish Government has already allocated £6 million for 2018/19 for a new health centre despite failing to receive a formal request for funding from NHS Fife, which for years has failed to prioritise Lochgelly’s need. Since at least June NHS Fife has been in the process of ”developing a business case” for a new health centre for submission to the Scottish Government, but apparently this still hasn’t materialised.
As a senior councillor, Mr Hood knows full well the Scottish Government cannot suspend due process for dishing out public money and lob Lochgelly £6 million to start building a new health centre tomorrow just because he’s organised a petition. His campaign for a new health centre recalls a similarly rhetorical request by the then-leader of Fife Labour Alex Rowley to the Scottish Government for a moratorium on wind turbines just before the last Council election. Mr Rowley knew his request could not succeed but that wasn’t the point. Its purpose was to hold out a carrot to potential voters.
Hard questions clearly need to be asked of NHS Fife, of Fife Labour who has run the Council since 2012 and of Councillor Hood himself, who has represented Lochgelly since 2007. The existing health centre has been recognised as not fit for purpose since at least 2007. Much more critically, health outcomes for people in Lochgelly are substantially worse than the Scottish average, which is entirely predictable given the area has suffered from multiple deprivation for generations.
A shiny new building on its own will not make much difference, beyond affording photo-opportunities to politicians desperate to look good. The lack of doctors and other health personnel adequate to the needs of the people in Lochgelly is the fundamental issue.
Instead of pointless bluster about a new building, it would be good to hear from Mr Hood and his colleagues in Fife Labour about their track record over the last twenty years in reducing the appalling health inequalities in Lochgelly. Perhaps, then, their plans to improve services in the future would carry more conviction.