In the long dark nights of the soul, Jeane Freeman must take comfort in the knowledge that, however bad things have got and may yet get, she is not, after all, a rodeo clown.
There cannot be many worse jobs than Health Secretary but, this one might whisper to herself, at least she is not asked nightly to leap into a storm of dust and danger wearing stripey trousers and face paint to distract rampaging bulls from fallen cowboys.
The Holyrood minister might get paid more than a few hundred bucks a time, but, then again, those guys at least have a rubber barrel to jump into when 1,500lbs of brahma bull decides they don’t like clowns.
There have, of course, been plenty of times in recent months when Ms Freeman has needed far more than a rubber barrel to protect her from the pelting criticism.
She might have been particularly unlucky to be in the hotseat when it emerged the spec for one of Scotland’s so-called super hospitals was so shonky that the building itself is putting patients in peril, while, on the other side of the country, another new hospital remains shut and still unsafe.
She might have been unlucky to be in situ when that particular music stopped but Ms Freeman herself has taken ill-advised decisions worthy of criticism. However, it is foolish and too easy to land every problem with the NHS in Ms Freeman’s in-tray.
There are problems which the Health Secretary and her big-thinkers can and should be tackling with every ounce of drive, determination and imagination, from stroke treatments and rural GP services to the calibre of health board managers and their abject lack of transparency.
However, the most serious problems facing NHS Scotland are problems which cannot – and, for all our sake, must not – be left with politicians as we demand something, anything, is done. These are not problems for Ms Freeman to solve, even if she could, they are issues that we, as a society, have to debate like grown-ups.
Issues like an ageing and growing population; the relentless advances in science and available treatments; and the billions of extra pounds needed each year just to keep the NHS more or less on its feet.
These are big, intractable issues which is why, with a very few exceptions, our politicians run a mile. They hope to be long out of office before the balloon properly goes up on the NHS and, for that matter, Britain’s looming pensions crisis. We, however, will be here. Or our children will.
It is hard sometimes to see through the smoke of stats and figures, and today, as we reveal 6,000 beds have gone from Scots hospitals in 10 years, we also tell how that loss has helped inflict more agony on patients forced to wait for treatment.
It is patients that must be at the forefront of our discussions as we talk about what the NHS might look like in 10 or 20 years. As we talk about funding and treatments, about what doctors can and should do, about care in the community, and all the rest.
If we don’t do it, no one else will and if we don’t do it now, Ms Freeman’s successors will soon be dusting down their stripey trousers, happier to take their chances with the bulls.
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