Page last updated at 15:47 GMT, Sunday, 21 March 2010

SNP announces plan for universal health checks


SNP conference: Sunday afternoon

People in Scotland over the age of 40 are to get access to universal health checks, Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

And she outlined plans for health workers like GPs to play a greater role in tackling alcohol abuse.

Addressing the SNP conference, Ms Sturgeon, the party's deputy leader, also launched an attack on Labour-controlled Glasgow City Council.

She said it was time to "shine a very bright light" on the authority.

Ms Sturgeon also rallied party activists ahead of the UK election, where the SNP wants to hold a balance of power in the event of a hung parliament, by returning 20 MPs.

It is time to shine a light - a very bright light - into the murky corridors of Labour-controlled Glasgow City Council
Nicola Sturgeon

The health secretary paid tribute to NHS workers in Scotland, saying the service had helped cut hospital infections to a record low as well as reducing cancer waiting times.

And she declared Scotland's landmark free personal care for the elderly scheme was "here to stay" under the SNP, while the UK parties "bickered" over how to deliver the policy in the rest of the UK.

Ms Sturgeon said the road to universal health checks would start with the trial of a web-based scheme in Grampian from April, and a pilot scheme to trial face-to-face checks in two health board areas later this year.

"This is the kind of radical approach we need in Scotland," she said, adding: "It is early intervention in action and it will help us tackle the poor health that has robbed generations of Scots of so much potential."

Cancer patient
Ms Sturgeon said cancer waiting times had been cut

Ms Sturgeon also announced the delivery in the coming year of 60,000 "alcohol brief interventions", a system where health professionals spend time with patients they suspect have alcohol-related health problems, to tackle them before they become too serious.

The health secretary again criticised Holyrood opposition parties for blocking the SNP's plans for minimum alcohol pricing, claiming the policy was a popular one.

Ms Sturgeon, the MSP for Glasgow Govan, turned to the city council, which recently saw the resignation of its leader, Steven Purcell, citing "exhaustion" as a factor.

The SNP MP for Glasgow East, John Mason, has also asked police to look into whether individuals and organisations allegedly benefited from the council's external construction body, City Building, in the wake of a number of press reports.

'Great city'

Labour has previously described the move as a "political stunt".

Ms Sturgeon said she was proud to live in and represent Glasgow, but told delegates: "A political cloud hangs over that great city".

She spoke of a Labour "culture of secrecy" and "fear of transparency", where council functions had been "hived off" to arms-length companies and where accountability was "virtually non-existent".

"It often seems like the interests of the few are given more importance than those of the people who provide and use the services of the council," she said.

"Concerns of opposition councillors and trade unions are arrogantly brushed aside.

"The great city of Glasgow deserves better than this.

"It is time to shine a light - a very bright light - into the murky corridors of Labour-controlled Glasgow City Council."

Turning to the imminent UK election, Ms Sturgeon told delegates a strong group of MPs would wield influence at Westminster - and help win the case for Scottish independence.

She told the conference: "Let us go out and win the election, elect our champions and move our country even closer to freedom."

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