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Language: English / Gàidhlig

Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Agenda: Business Motion, Portfolio Question Time, Point of Order, Portfolio Question Time, Justice for Families (Milly’s Law), Care Home Visiting Rights (Anne’s Law), Urgent Question, Point of Order, Education Reform, Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill, Scottish Parliamentary Contributory Pension Fund (Trustees), Scottish Human Rights Commission (Appointment), Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Elsie Inglis


Elsie Inglis

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

I remind members of the Covid-related measures that are in place. Face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and across the Holyrood campus.

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-03048, in the name of Jenni Minto, on recognition of Dr Elise Inglis. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament considers that Dr Elsie Inglis, who was born in 1864 and died in 1917, was a pioneering Scottish doctor and surgeon, who became the founder of women’s medical practices and hospitals located within the city of Edinburgh; recognises her work and achievements during the First World War, including becoming a suffragist and founder of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service, sending qualified teams of female nurses to Belgium, France, Serbia and Russia; notes the fundraising campaign to honour her life and recognise her work in the city of Edinburgh by commemorating her with a statue, and commends everyone who is involved with the campaign and their fundraising efforts planned for March 2022, which include a Girlguiding sponsored "Sit Still" on the Meadows, and various afternoon teas being held at the City Chambers and the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh.


Jenni Minto (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)

The radiance of the legacy of Dr Elsie Maud Inglis shines across the world in women’s health, in women’s rights and in humanity. My motion pays tribute to that inspiring woman—a surgeon, philanthropist and patriot—and to the amazing group of women and girls, some of whom join us this evening in Parliament, who, like Elsie, did not “sit still” but have worked tirelessly to ensure that Edinburgh and Scotland do not forget one of our most important women. I thank them for the amazing work that they are doing and thank those who provided my colleagues and me with so many Elsie stories as we prepared for the debate. I thank colleagues for supporting my motion and the Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport, Maree Todd, for responding on behalf of the Scottish Government.

It may seem odd that I, representing Argyll and Bute, am leading a members’ business debate arguing that we should honour and recognise the achievements of Dr Elsie Inglis with a statue in Edinburgh, but Scotland is a village and, as I have said, Elsie’s influence reaches far and wide—even to the beaches of Islay. It was because of a chance meeting with Thea Laurie on Kilchoman beach that I was drawn into the important project to remember Dr Elsie Inglis.

Does the member recognise that Elsie Inglis is commemorated in Serbia and France and that it is high time for us to commemorate her here in our nation’s capital?

Jenni Minto

I absolutely agree and note that, in St Andrews, where the member and I were both educated, a portrait of Elsie Inglis was etched on the beach as part of Scotland’s world war 100 commemorations.

In Thea Laurie’s words,

“Elsie’s inspirational story is not just set on the battlefields of world war one. Her battles included the fight to become a doctor and surgeon. She fought for votes for women and helped establish the Scottish suffrage movement. The philanthropic side to Elsie was her concern for the women and children from the poorest parts of Edinburgh for whom she set up a hospital on the High Street. It is now time for Edinburgh to say thank you to Elsie Inglis.”

As part of Scotland’s world war 100 commemorations, I attended, on 29 November 2017, a service at St Giles marking 100 years since Elsie’s funeral. It was a celebration of her life. St Giles was filled with the joyous “Hallelujah” chorus, as it had been a century before. It was a thanksgiving with triumph and hope.

I will begin at the beginning. Elsie was born in the Indian Himalayas in 1864. Her father, John Inglis, worked for the East India Company, but when he disagreed with the ruthless way the company was run he lost his post and the family returned to Edinburgh.

Elsie finished her schooling in the city and then in Paris, always determined to become a doctor and supported to achieve that ambition by her progressive father. After qualifying at both the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh and at the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, she worked in women’s hospitals in London and Dublin. When her beloved father was dying, she returned to Edinburgh to nurse him, later acknowledging

“Whatever I am, whatever I have done—I owe it all to my father.”

Elsie’s deep concern for the way that medical services treated women led her to establish hospitals and maternity facilities for Edinburgh’s poor, but she also recognised that the only way women would gain true equality was through the vote. She tirelessly campaigned for votes for women.

Elsie was 50 when world war one broke out. She knew that women could play an important role. She inquired at the War Office whether woman doctors and surgeons would be permitted to serve in front-line hospitals. It was then that the infamous words were uttered to her:

“My good lady, go home and sit still.”

Elsie went home, but she did not sit still. Instead, she offered all-female units to the Belgians, French and Serbs, who all gladly accepted. Working with her friends in the suffrage movement, Elsie formed the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service, starting a massive fundraising campaign that was to run throughout the war. Writing to Millicent Fawcett, Elsie said:

“We get these expert women doctors, nurses, and ambulance workers organised. We send our units wherever they are wanted. Once these units are out, the work is bound to grow. The need is there, and too terrible to allow any haggling about who does the work ... And when one hears of the awful need, one can hardly sit still till they are ready.”

Individuals, communities, companies and countries all contributed beds, blankets, tents, ambulances, surgical equipment and X-ray machines—everything that a field hospital required.

When women came back from serving in hospitals at the front, they often then went on to help raise more money by giving talks about the wonderful work that they and their fellow women were doing. Mary Struthers Drummond and Miss Lang Anderson from Appin, Nurse Green and Nurse Mary Lamont Ritchie Thomson from Tobermory are just four of the many women from Argyll and Bute who served. I know that members across the chamber will be able to share the names of more of the compassionate and brave women who joined the Scottish women’s hospitals or nursed at the front.

Elsie Inglis was not content to manage the hospitals from afar. She wanted to be in the thick of things. She travelled extensively across Europe from 1914 to 1917, visiting the hospitals. However, it was in Serbia that Elsie expended her main effort and where she served both in the operating theatre and in directing improvements in general treatment. She wrote:

“The Serbian Division is superb; we are proud to be attached to it.”

The book “Dr Elsie Inglis” by Lady Frances Balfour includes a letter sent by Elsie in January 1917 to her niece Amy McLaren, in which she writes:

“I don’t think the children in these parts are doing many lessons during the war, and that will be a great handicap for their countries afterwards. Perhaps, however, they are learning other lessons ... We saw the crowds of refugees on their carts, with the things they had been able to save, and all the little children packed in among the furniture and pots and pans and pigs.”

That letter was written on an ambulance train near Odessa 105 years ago. Sadly, those words are mirrored by journalists today.

On Sunday night, Channel 4 news showed a maternity ward in Kyiv. In the basement lay a Ukrainian mother with her newborn daughter. Her father liked the name Victoria, or victory; the mother, Nadiya, or hope. I was struck by the similarity of that scene to those that Elsie must have experienced in Edinburgh and Serbia more than 100 years ago. Seeing the horror of war unfolding again but also the outpouring of aid and support for the people of Ukraine, I found myself wondering what Elsie would have said.

There is a story that, after Elsie Inglis visited her first field hospital in France, she went to the cathedral of Notre Dame. She suddenly felt as if there were a living presence behind her. She turned and realised that she had been sitting just in front of the statue of Joan of Arc. Afterwards, she commented:

“I should like to know what Joan wanted to say to me.”

Elsie Inglis is a living presence who deserves recognition. I congratulate again the team in the public galleries on the work that they are doing to ensure that we never forget what Dr Elsie Inglis achieved. I hope that they, too, will be able to stand beside Elsie’s statue, feel her warmth—

Ms Minto, could you please conclude?

Jenni Minto

I hope that the team will be able to feel her warmth and wonder what Elsie wanted to say to them.

I will sign off with the beautiful words penned by Scottish poet Gerda Stevenson for the commemoration service in 2017.

Ms Minto, you really are quite over your time. Could you please conclude?

Gerda Stevenson wrote:

“where, in sun and moonlit flash of gunfire”—

Ms Minto, thank you very much.


Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

I congratulate Jenni Minto on securing the debate to celebrate, and reflect on, the incredible achievements of Dr Elsie Inglis.

Yesterday, we marked international women’s day, on which we celebrated women’s achievements, raised awareness against bias and took action for equality. It is only fitting that, today, we celebrate Dr Elsie Inglis by commemorating her achievements to raise awareness against bias and take action for equality. In a period when women were expected to be compliant in a masculine world, she challenged that attitude and became a surgeon, philanthropist, patriot and leader of the movement for the political emancipation of women.

From a young age, Elsie showed strength and resilience. Despite fierce prejudice from the medical establishment, she became one of the first women to study medicine in Scotland and, once qualified, devoted herself to improving the medical treatment of women. In 1894, she established an Edinburgh maternity hospital staffed entirely by women and, at the outbreak of the first world war, she organised all-women ambulance units.

When the War Office told her to

“go home and sit still”,

she refused. Instead, she raised funds and sent a medical team of 100 women to the front line in France to set up a field hospital. That was followed by 26 hospital units in several countries. She herself travelled to Serbia to set up three hospitals. Today, perhaps because of Dr Elsie Inglis, women are a staple of front-line medical roles.

However, Elsie did not confine her activities to medicine. It is no surprise that she became involved in the movement for women’s suffrage, taking on the role of honorary secretary of the Edinburgh National Society for Women’s Suffrage. She said herself that fate had placed her in the vanguard of a great movement, for which she was described as “a keen fighter”. Through her involvement, her tenacity and influence continue to affect the lives of all Scottish women.

To echo words that the First Minister once used to describe her, Elsie demonstrated that women were capable of performing roles that they had been denied. In Serbia, she is remembered with respect and affection. Fountains, buildings and memorials celebrate her life and legacy.

In Scotland, with the closure of the Elsie Inglis memorial hospital in 1988, there was a risk that she would be consigned to history and almost forgotten. We must not let that happen. On the centenary of her death in 2017, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Frank Ross, proposed a campaign to erect a statue in her memory. Sadly, although there was a list of notable supporters, the campaign ground to a halt because of the pandemic.

Like Elsie herself, Fiona Garwood and Thea Laurie decided not to sit still and pursued a pandemic project, picking up the mantle to fundraise for and build a memorial for Dr Elsie Inglis. I congratulate them both, as their campaign has mustered support from notable organisations and individuals, including medical and nursing organisations, historians and, in particular, Girlguiding Edinburgh.

I encourage everyone who is listening to get involved. I understand that there are a number of events on until 13 March. They have included various afternoon teas across the city and a Girlguiding sponsored “sit still” on the Meadows. Donations can also be made through the Elsie Inglis website.

Statues create a dialogue between the past and present. Elsie’s kindness, resilience, strength and determination make an incredible role model for generations to come. I agree with all who say that Dr Inglis is a truly revered and treasured figure, not just for Edinburgh but for Scotland. She deserves to be honoured.

I call Sue Webber, who joins us remotely.


Sue Webber (Lothian) (Con)

I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interest, as I am a councillor on City of Edinburgh Council.

I thank Jenni Minto for bringing the debate to the chamber and am delighted to have a chance to speak in recognition of Dr Elsie Inglis.

We have heard a lot about Elsie’s life and achievements and I am sure that we will learn more. Born in India, she moved to Edinburgh aged 14 with her family in 1878 and attended the Edinburgh Institute for the Education of Young Ladies until 1882. She knew that she wanted to pursue a career in medicine. In 1886, Dr Sophia Jex-Blake opened the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women, where Inglis began her medical training.

In 1906, Inglis launched the Scottish Women’s Suffrage Federation, fighting not only for the women’s vote but for equal rights in education and the medical profession. She was nearly 50 in 1914 when war was declared and her patriotism led her to offer her services to the War Office, only for her to be turned away and denied. Inglis suggested the creation of medical units staffed by women, which could provide aid to British forces on the western front. However, she was rejected by the British War Office, the Red Cross, and the Royal Army Medical Corps. The reason for the rejection was that a woman’s role was at home.

Not deterred, Inglis fought to form independent hospital units staffed by women. An appeal for funds and support soon attracted more than just suffragette supporters. Funds poured in for the organisation—the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service—and both the French and the Serbs accepted the offer of the all-female medical units. The first unit left for France in November 1914 and the second went to Serbia in January 1915. Inglis went to Serbia in 1915 as the chief medical officer but, in the autumn, Serbia was invaded and Inglis’s hospital was taken over by Germans. She was interned until February 1916, when she was sent home.

In April 1916, Inglis became the first woman to be decorated with the order of the white eagle. The Elsie Inglis maternity hospital was established with surplus funds arising from the disbandment of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service, the organisation that she had formed. The 20-bed hospital opened in July 1925 and closed in 1988. My dad, sister and cousins were all born there, as were countless other Edinburgh residents. Although it is now closed, it is yet another reason that a statue should be erected in her honour.

Considering all the pioneering successes that medical trailblazer Elsie Inglis had, it seems only fitting that a statue be erected in her honour in Edinburgh. There are, in fact, more animal statues than ones for women in our capital city. A long-awaited celebration of her life and legacy is now under way in Edinburgh to raise funds for a statue after a campaign was launched five years ago to coincide with the centenary of her death. The campaign has been spearheaded by the Edinburgh branch of the Girlguiding movement. Tickets are now available for several special events that will kick-start a fundraising drive. It is hoped that £50,000 will be raised to pay for a statue of her to be designed and erected on the Royal Mile.

As a councillor for the city, I was delighted to support the motion that was brought to the city chambers by the Lord Provost Frank Ross endorsing the campaign for her statue. Dr Elsie Inglis was a wartime heroine, a leading figure in the women’s suffrage movement and a founder of the Scottish women’s hospitals. Like everyone who is in the chamber, I hope that her extraordinary life will be fittingly remembered.


Carol Mochan (South Scotland) (Lab)

I thank Jenni Minto for bringing the debate to the chamber, and I welcome those in the gallery. It is appropriate that, after marking international women’s day yesterday, we focus today on a pioneering woman who made such an important contribution to Scottish and wider society. Moreover, it is important that I put on record Scottish Labour’s support for those across Edinburgh who are taking part in fundraising events that will, I hope, secure funds for a statue for Elsie Inglis—a fitting tribute in her home city.

The efforts of campaigners are wide ranging and they include events held by the Edinburgh branch of Girlguiding Scotland as part of a two-week effort that started at the beginning of this month, such as a sponsored “sit still” event—referring to, as we have heard, the suggestion that Elsie Inglis should

“go home and sit still”

in response to her offer to open a female-operated hospital unit on the western front. I am pleased that cross-party support for those events was achieved at the City of Edinburgh Council in October last year, as we heard, which further highlights the wide range of support for tributes to a trailblazing woman.

As we have heard, the importance of Elsie Inglis’s contribution throughout her lifetime cannot be overstated. Although we are well aware of Elsie’s national influence, it is important, as we stand at the bottom of the Royal Mile, to recognise the importance of her contributions to this city. Establishing medical institutions to educate and to practise, Elsie Inglis helped to create opportunity for women and girls across Edinburgh.

That important work went beyond medicine to her strong campaigning for women’s suffrage, which was a huge fight in the late 1800s and early 1900s—a fight that women would eventually win, thanks to the work of those such as her. Her significant contribution went further than a campaign for women’s right to vote; what is important is that it was also for equality in education and in the workplace. That shows Elsie’s vision in aiming for equality of opportunity for women in politics, in education and in whatever career they chose. Who would have thought that, more than 100 years after her death, women across the world would still be fighting for equality in such things as politics? We will hope that, in the near future, there are no more firsts and no more glass ceilings to break. However, it is an apt reminder that work is still to be done.

I must not conclude my remarks without making reference to the international impact of Elsie Inglis. When the War Office rejected her offer of her services at home, she took them abroad, in the form of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service, where she would assist those who were wounded by war—most notably, in Serbia, where, as we have heard, there remain several acts of homage in recognition of her and those who worked in her hospitals.

Elsie Inglis was a pioneering Scottish woman who had significant impact and influence anywhere that she went. Her contribution was to the city of Edinburgh through medicine, to Scotland through her contributions to the suffrage movement, and internationally, through setting up hospitals in countries that were impacted by the most awful violence of war. It is right that we commemorate her today and that we again offer support to those who are fundraising for a statue in Edinburgh to mark the life and work of Elsie Inglis.

It is so nice to hear members talking in the chamber today.


Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

It gives me great pride to support the motion. I congratulate Jenni Minto on lodging it and on giving such an excellent speech. She captured much of Elsie’s life very well.

I have been privileged to be involved in the campaign since I was first elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2016, and I want to recognise the works of many people who have been mentioned. I make particular mention of Ian McFarlane, who has driven it relentlessly, student medics, Edinburgh Girlguiding and many other campaigners who have been fighting to give Dr Elsie Inglis her recognition in the capital. We will support every effort to make that happen.

Arguably, the fight goes back to 1988 and the closure of the memorial hospital that was dedicated to her name, at which point there ceased to be any form of physical commemoration of that most important woman in the history of our city. We need to recognise those monumental contributions not just to medicine, science and the suffrage movement, but to Scottish history. As we have heard, it is difficult to do justice to the profound power of her life and legacy.

Not only was Elsie Inglis’s work as a scientist outstanding, she had to overcome enormous obstacles to carry it out, and that makes what she did even more of an achievement. When she offered her services to the Army after war broke out, she was told:

“My good lady, go home and sit still.”

She rightly ignored that and instead went on to provide desperately needed medical care to those on the front line.

In autumn 1917, Dr Inglis became aware that she had the cancer to which, sadly, she later succumbed. At the time, political stability was collapsing around her in Serbia, and she was advised by those close to her to go back to Scotland immediately. However, she insisted on staying until enough civilians were evacuated, putting herself in great jeopardy in doing so. That story is particularly pertinent today, because it resembles the reality faced by hundreds of thousands of women in Ukraine who are doing exactly the same thing. They are fighting for the greater good in the face of danger that most of us will be lucky enough never to have to face ourselves.

Not only did her medical contributions save countless lives, she is also a pioneering figure in the suffrage movement. She was described by her contemporaries as being to Scottish groups what Millicent Fawcett was to the English. As we know, a statue to Millicent Fawcett, called “Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere”, was unveiled four years ago, and it feels fitting that a statue of her Scottish feminist compatriot should be put up to join her. It is a great shame that such a statue has not been erected already.

Our statues in Edinburgh are seriously lacking female representation. Male statues outnumber female statues by 12 to 1, and there are as many statues to giraffes in the capital as there are to women. Just saying that out loud feels preposterous. That phenomenon is not restricted to our city alone—far from it. In fact, there are more statues to individuals named John in the United Kingdom than there are to women.

As laughable as that seems, there are still some who will ask why that matters. It matters because a statue is not just a decorative object. It defines the city in which it is placed, inspires that city’s inhabitants and seeks to commemorate those who have made a historic sacrifice for the towns in which they are located. That we have so few statues to women is emblematic of the fact that, as a society, we value women’s achievements nowhere near as highly as we value men’s. That in itself has a detrimental consequence. As studies have shown, when children are asked to draw a picture of a scientist, only 28 per cent of them will draw a female. If children cannot picture the concept of a female scientist, how is a little girl supposed to feel about becoming one herself? So many girls are passionate about science, justice and the environment, but there is still not enough encouragement in our society to nurture that passion.

Finally, as has already been made abundantly clear, we still have so much further to go to achieve equality, but the long-overdue erection of a statue to one of the most remarkable women in the history of our city and our country is a good start.


Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

I thank Jenni Minto for bringing the debate to the chamber. It is a pleasure to speak in honour and recognition of Dr Elsie Inglis, who was a true pioneer of women’s rights and medical services in this city, this country and across Europe.

It is fitting that we mark Dr Inglis’s life and work in the same week that we mark international women’s day, when we celebrate the role of women across the world. She certainly made a difference to more of the world than many people of her era had the chance to. Much has already been said about her domestic activities and her work on the rights of women across Britain, especially their right to participate in society and their right to equality and dignity with regard to medical treatment. It is remarkable that Dr Inglis was able to achieve so much when society’s odds were stacked against her, and her achievements speak to her determination to do what was right.

That was certainly noticeable in Dr Inglis’s service during the first world war, when she set up hospitals and medical teams to aid allied troops in the most appalling conditions. Her work in Serbia in dealing with a typhus epidemic and during her captivity has made her a national hero in that country. As Denis Keefe, the former United Kingdom ambassador to Serbia, noted:

“In Scotland she became a doctor, in Serbia she became a saint.”

In light of recent events, I was particularly struck to see that one of Dr Inglis’s final journeys was to Odessa, then part of the Russian empire, to aid suffering soldiers there. It is a sobering thought that we are once again sending aid to allies fighting in the same region.

Dr Inglis died a day after she returned to Britain, and she never got to see the legacy that she had created for women in Britain and for medicine abroad. It is therefore fitting that we are finally discussing how best to celebrate Elsie Inglis’s legacy. I pay tribute to the organisations such as the OneCity Trust and Girlguiding Scotland that have been campaigning tirelessly for a statue to Dr Inglis, and to the lord provost of Edinburgh, Frank Ross, who has personally campaigned for this cause. I also pay tribute to the fundraising work of Fiona Garwood and Thea Laurie, both of whom are in the Parliament today, I believe. Whatever the final form, I agree that it is time that Edinburgh recognised Dr Inglis’s life and work with a permanent memorial.

I also note the initiative this month at Edinburgh central library, inspired by the Elsie Inglis campaign, to create a mural to highlight Edinburgh’s unsung women. I hope that, through those efforts, we will soon be able to further the work of Elsie Inglis and her fellow campaigners for equality, so that the women who have shaped our city and our nation are remembered at least as much as their male counterparts. [Applause.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer

While I very much welcome our friends in the public gallery—it is indeed fantastic to see people back in the gallery after all this time—under the rules, I ask that you do not clap.

I now call the minister, Maree Todd, to respond to the debate.


The Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport (Maree Todd)

I thank my colleague Jenni Minto for lodging the motion and for bringing the pioneering work of Elsie Inglis to the attention of the Parliament. I commend Jenni for her excellent speech and thank her for inviting us to celebrate the work of this remarkable woman.

Elsie was practising medicine at a time when death in childbirth was one of the biggest risks that women faced. She saw that women’s health, particularly in maternity care, needed specific focus and resource, and the services that she set up for women in Edinburgh, particularly for poor women, were absolutely trailblazing in their time. After her death, the hospital bearing her name and recognising her deeds, the Elsie Inglis memorial hospital, was set up, and many current Edinburgh residents were brought into the world in that very hospital, until it closed its doors for the last time as a maternity hospital in 1988.

As we know, it was during world war one that Elsie Inglis came to real prominence. She was determined to prove that women could be equal to men in providing medical services to the armed forces. As we have heard, when she was told by the War Office,

“My good lady, go home and sit still”,

she did exactly the opposite. I would like to think that that spirit lives on in Scottish women today.

The Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service, which Elsie Inglis established, provided medical services right across Europe, treating casualties in Serbia, Belgium, France, Romania and Russia, and saved the lives of countless thousands of men and women who were caught up in the battles of the first world war, and they are still remembered in those countries today. More than 100 years ago, women nurses and doctors from all over Scotland packed their bags, boarded trains and went to work in the field hospitals, following Elsie Inglis to the front line. Among their number was Louisa Jordan, who died in a field hospital in Serbia and in whose memory we named our Glasgow coronavirus hospital in 2020.

Many of those women would never have left their town before, let alone leave Scotland and travel to the furthest reaches of Europe. We should continue to remember and celebrate their bravery and success to this day.

We have come so far since the days when Elsie Inglis was practising medicine in Edinburgh. Healthcare in our country has been transformed since those days, and next year we will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of our national health service: the first universal healthcare system anywhere in the world, free at the point of need for all. The NHS made huge strides towards eliminating health inequalities, but there is still so much more to do, and we still face the challenge of unequal health outcomes.

As we recognise Elsie Inglis’s life and work and celebrate the creation of our NHS, it is only fitting that, last year, Scotland became the first country in the United Kingdom to publish a women’s health plan, which aims to address some of those inequalities. Our “Women’s Health Plan: A plan for 2021-2024” sets out 66 actions to ensure

“that all women enjoy the best possible health throughout their lives.”

Those actions include providing

“a central platform for information on women’s health on NHS Inform”,

and appointing

“a national Women’s Health Champion and a Women’s Health Lead in every NHS board”.

We have already started to implement some of those actions, including work to develop a women’s health platform on NHS inform. In October last year, we launched the NHS Inform menopause information platform. Through that resource, we are busting menopause myths and highlighting menopause symptoms, options for care, treatment and support, mental health and much more. That is the first stage in the development of a women’s health information platform to provide women with easy access to accurate and reliable information on women’s health and services.

We are also making pioneering changes to the implementation of our best start programme, which is driving improvements in our maternity and neonatal services through the introduction of continuity of care in maternity services, and a new model of neonatal care. The best start programme has already delivered new maternity care facilities that provide midwife-led care and ensure that more women receive continuity of care, along with the introduction of more home-birth services. It has also included a move to delivering care closer to home, through the development of community hubs and better use of technology in maternity care. The programme has also initiated changes to allow mothers and babies to stay together through the creation of transitional care wards, our neonatal expenses fund and the creation of community support for discharged babies.

The work of the best start programme is aimed at improving the safety and experience of maternity care for pregnant women and their babies, continuing the work for which Elsie Inglis is so famed in Edinburgh and throughout the world. I am reminded that, last week in Parliament, Michelle Thomson led an incredibly strong and moving members’ business debate on international women’s day that recognised the achievements of women through history in Scotland and around the world, and highlighted the impact of bias on women and girls and the need to work together to achieve gender parity in society.

Elsie Inglis was a women’s health pioneer. She was a pioneer for women’s rights, but she stood up for suffering and injustice wherever she was, and she is credited with saving the lives of more than 8,000 Serbian soldiers who were stranded in Russia during the complexities of the Russian revolution. As other members have said, that is so relevant today, in the face of the horrors that we are seeing in Europe, where women in Ukraine are taking up weapons to fight for their freedom.

I wonder how Elsie Inglis would have responded to the injustice and suffering that is being inflicted on the people of Ukraine. I like to think that she would have fought to make a difference in a war that will have a devastating and lasting impact on the men, women and children of Ukraine.

I welcome the efforts of the fundraising campaign to honour her life, including the Girlguiding Scotland-sponsored “sit still” in the Meadows, and I support the combined efforts in the city of Edinburgh to commemorate her life with a statue. Elsie Inglis, along with what she stood for and the work that she did, should continue to be remembered and celebrated, and I commend the campaign and everyone who is involved in it.

I finish with the lines of poetry that Jenni Minto mentioned:

“where, in sun and moonlit flash of gunfire,
my women, saving lives, proved
what’s plain as day: that we are equal—
daughters, sons, husbands, wives.”

Thank you, minister. That concludes the debate.

Meeting closed at 19:49.