A FORMER Cumnock MSP has said listening to frontline staff and stripping away layers of bureaucracy is key to bringing about improvements in the NHS.

Jeane Freeman represented the Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley constituency from 2016 until 2021 - and for the last three of those years also served as Scotland's cabinet secretary for health and sport, having previously been minister for social security.

Ms Freeman, who did not stand in the 2021 Scottish Parliament election, was speaking to the Holyrood Sources podcast about her time in office - and about her hopes for the NHS, the SNP and Scotland in the future now that she's retired.

Ms Freeman said: “I am convinced, utterly convinced, that we can make this better without more shed loads of money.

"Nothing bad happened because you didn't have to write a policy paper and go to 22 different committees to get a decision.” 

In a wide-ranging conversation with the podcast's three hosts - journalist Calum Macdonald, former Scottish Conservative communications director Andy Maciver, and Geoff Aberdein, former chief of staff for First Minister Alex Salmond - Ms Freeman also suggested that “grown-up” and respectful discussions on policy are required, and that the SNP should avoid electoral complacency and the assumption that the party always knows best. 

She also spoke about the apparent disconnect between the SNP membership’s choice of who would be best leader, and who was favoured by the Scottish public at large.

The party's members chose Humza Yousaf as their new leader last month after Nicola Sturgeon's shock resignation - while opinion polls suggested the wider public favoured Kate Forbes.

Ms Freeman added: “If you're going to lead, you should lead. But be really careful you're not so far ahead of where the public are - or so out of touch with where they are that you have lost them.”

On her message for the SNP, after telling the leadership candidates to “grow up” during the leadership election, she said: “People in Scotland aren't daft. They know that there are difficult things to discuss and sort out.

"And actually, just maybe, they would quite like to see a party doing that.

"So my view now is, for what it's worth given that “grow up” didn't work [during the campaign], is: could we be grown ups and actually have grown up discussions about difficult issues, to try and work out what we think might be the right way to lead on these?”

On the work needed to reform the NHS, Ms Freeman said: “During Covid, we stripped away in health boards all the layers of committees and decision making, because we had no choice, and we said to the frontline clinical teams: ‘You make the decisions for yourselves and your patients to keep you all safe’.”

On the criticism of Humza Yousaf’s record as health minister she said: “I don’t think Humza has any more responsibility for that than any other previous health secretary.”

On her decision making in government during the pandemic she added: “There's a general view that in all of that we were making decisions between doing a good thing versus doing a bad thing. It just wasn't like that.

"There was no harm-free decision to be made. There was no risk-free decision to be made.”

On her concerns about complacency in the SNP about electoral success, Ms Freeman said: “The polling that worried me a wee bit around the leadership election was the apparent disconnect between where SNP members were thinking, in terms of who should be the next leader, and what the public thought about that.

"I think you need to really pay attention to that. Can we think through how to refresh and re-energise what we're doing, so that we avoid complacency and a kind of presumption that 'the opposition parties are all a bit rubbish and we'll therefore be fine'?

"It feels like it could be positive and fresh and energising. And it's up to those of us in the SNP, whether we ensure that that's what happens, or whether we just have a go at each other and talk to ourselves.”