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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Thursday, November 11, 2021

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Glasgow Climate Dialogues Communiqué, Portfolio Question Time, Veterans and Armed Forces Community (Remembrance and Support), Motion without Notice, Decision Time


First Minister’s Question Time

Scottish Ambulance Service (Waiting Times)

1. Douglas Ross (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

On this day, 11 November, we pay tribute to those who gave so much and sacrificed their lives to protect us, and we thank those who are currently serving in our armed forces and all the veterans across our country for everything that they have done to keep us safe. [Applause.]

For months, we have seen tragic cases of people waiting far too long for emergency help. We heard this week of 55-year-old Richard Brown, who lost his life after waiting five hours for an ambulance. In his final moments, he was alone in the stairwell of his tenement building, struggling to breathe. A neighbour repeatedly called for an ambulance, and the final time they checked on Richard, they saw that his ears had turned white and he had stopped breathing.

Deputy First Minister, why is this happening in Scotland today?

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (John Swinney)

Before I come to the substance of Mr Ross’s question, I say that, as a Parliament and as a country, today we fell silent to mark armistice day. In doing so, we pay tribute to armed services personnel both past and present, and we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

This year marks 100 years of the Royal British Legion Scotland and the Scottish poppy appeal. In that time, the appeal has supported countless servicemen and women, veterans and their families. I know that I speak for everyone in the chamber in offering our thanks and our continued support for the efforts of the Scottish poppy appeal and the important work that it and the Royal British Legion Scotland do for us all, and especially for services personnel.

Today, I am answering questions on the First Minister’s behalf as she is at the conference of the parties in Glasgow.

Mr Ross raises a serious issue in relation to Richard Brown. First, I want to express my sympathy to Mr Brown’s family, because he should not have had the experience that he had, and I am very sorry that his family are enduring the extra agony that they are having to endure in addition to the loss of Mr Brown. An investigation into the circumstances relating to the delay in reaching Mr Brown has been launched, and all findings and lessons will be shared with his family as part of that process.

To move to the general question, first of all, I recognise the enormous pressures faced by the Scottish Ambulance Service. The Government has been clear in that recognition. I think that part of the explanation, perhaps, is the level of demand that is being placed on the Scottish Ambulance Service as a consequence of the pressures that there are on the whole healthcare system in Scotland. As an illustration of that, I note that, in August 2018, the Scottish Ambulance Service responded to 5,788 immediately life-threatening incidents. By October 2021, that figure had reached 10,733—it had almost doubled. I say that simply to explain and quantify the pressures that the Scottish Ambulance Service is under.

The Government has provided increased investment of £20 million to support the staff, and staff recruitment is under way. We will continue to invest in the work of the Scottish Ambulance Service to make sure that it has the capacity to undertake the tasks that it needs to undertake, and to ensure that other families do not have the experience of Mr Brown’s family.

Douglas Ross

The problem is, Deputy First Minister, that other families are having that experience. This is not the first time that I have raised in the chamber a distressing case like Richard Brown’s. We have raised several cases where lives have been unnecessarily lost.

This week, Dr John Thomson of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine told a Scottish Parliament committee that excessive waiting times are resulting in avoidable deaths. He laid out the grim facts. For every 67 people who wait at accident and emergency for more than eight hours, somebody dies. If we look at just the past two months, according to Dr Thomson’s estimate, there will have been more than 200 avoidable deaths. Lives are being lost that could have been saved.

Will the Deputy First Minister therefore accept that the Scottish Government simply is not doing enough to support our emergency health services in their time of greatest need?

John Swinney

The research that Mr Ross cites is based on data and experience within the ambulance service and experience within England. We are engaging with Mr Thomson to establish the comparability issues that will arise out of that information.

I say to Mr Ross that, first of all, I do not want it to be suggested in any way that I do not recognise the pressures on the health service generally and the Scottish Ambulance Service in particular. I acknowledged that at the outset of my answers, and that is why the Government has put in place increased investment of £20 million. Over the past two months, we have already seen 179 new staff join the Scottish Ambulance Service, and that will rise to 356 by the spring.

Under this Government, the Scottish Ambulance Service budget has risen—it has received sustained investment over our period in office—but we must take forward a series of measures at every stage of the national health service to reduce the immediate burden on it. That means that we must have whole-systems solutions in place to boost social care capacity so that people are better supported in their homes and, therefore, have less need to use the Scottish Ambulance Service; to ensure that there are improvements in the level of delayed discharges, which are the focus of great attention from the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, so that our hospitals are less congested; and, crucially, to ensure that people have a swift journey through accident and emergency departments, when they require to be there.

Those issues are all the subject of on-going attention from the health secretary and ministers. The health secretary met the Scottish Ambulance Service yesterday to discuss these questions, and that dialogue will continue.

Douglas Ross

The dialogue has to continue, but we need action as a result of that dialogue. This morning, there are worrying reports from paramedics and ambulance staff that they are at breaking point. A survey found that more than half of ambulance staff in Scotland have seen patients die or become seriously ill because of long waiting times. Pat Rafferty, secretary of Unite Scotland, said:

“The workers at the Scottish Ambulance Service are sending out their own 999 call to the Scottish Government saying that they are undervalued, stressed, and exhausted.”

How will the Scottish Government answer that emergency call?

John Swinney

That is very important, given the fact that ambulance personnel—as is the case for many people who work in the health service—are dealing with trauma on a constant basis. Over the past 18 months, our health service professionals’ experience of trauma has been even greater because of the significant burden of Covid. That is why the Government has invested £12 million in supporting the wellbeing of members of staff, as we must have healthy staff if we want to have a healthy population. Those individuals must be able to exercise their functions and responsibilities and be supported in so doing.

I have seen the survey evidence that Mr Ross cites. I am troubled by it because, clearly, I want staff to feel valued. I can say that from this podium, and we can reinforce that with the investment that we make. Over this Government’s period in office, investment in the Scottish Ambulance Service has risen by 74 per cent and staffing has increased by 62 per cent. However, I acknowledge that there are significant demands on the service. We have put in place that investment and staff numbers are rising. Staff are doing a magnificent job in really difficult circumstances, and I give them the assurance that the Government is not looking at the challenges of the Scottish Ambulance Service alone, because the selfsame staff who completed the survey to which Mr Ross refers will be aware that meeting the challenges that they face requires a whole-health-service-system solution, which is about social care, accident and emergency services and tackling delayed discharges, and those are all the issues that the Government is prioritising.

Douglas Ross

The Deputy First Minister is right: this is about not just ambulance staff but workers across the NHS—including nurses, who are considering strike action. It is about doctors, medical students, paramedics and nurses—everyone in the NHS is desperately trying to save lives, but they do not have the resources that they need. They are crying out for help. Front-line staff have sent out their own 999 call to the Government. Scotland’s NHS needs more support. This winter will be its toughest ever test. There is an extra £605 million coming to the Scottish Government this year. How much of that money will the Deputy First Minister’s Government commit to Scotland’s NHS right now?

John Swinney

Mr Ross will appreciate that, although I used to be close to decision making on financial issues, I am no longer the finance secretary. I will leave those questions for the budget debate, which will take place on 9 December.

What I can say to Mr Ross is this: employment in the national health service has never been higher than it is today. There has been a consistent increase in employment in the national health service in all areas of responsibility. I talked about Scottish Ambulance Service personnel a moment ago, but in every area of the national health service—for example, consultants and nurses—there has been growth in the number of staff recruited and employed.

On the question of pay, our nurses are the best paid in the United Kingdom and we have given them the best offer of an increase.

I appreciate that there are many strains on the national health service and that those strains are being felt by many members of staff, but I want to make it absolutely clear that the Scottish Government values every individual who contributes to the operation of the national health service. We applaud what they are doing in very difficult circumstances and assure them that we will resource them to enable them to continue to do that work. In that way, together as a country, we can overcome the enormous burdens that we have faced as a result of Covid and ensure that we support the population to health. We need the national health service to deliver on that objective.

Scottish Ambulance Service (Funding)

2. Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

Today, 11 November, we honour and remember those who have served and serve in our armed forces. We pause to reflect on their duty and courage, and to make it clear that we will always remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. We should also thank our armed forces for all their incredible contributions throughout the Covid pandemic.

I want to go back to the national health service because, to be frank, the Deputy First Minister’s previous answers were not good enough. They were just words; what we need is action.

Last Saturday, a 55-year-old man, Richard Brown, died on the stairs of his tenement in Glasgow. Mr Brown had waited five hours for an ambulance that did not arrive. Our NHS is in crisis. Mr Brown’s is not the first avoidable death this winter and, if action is not taken, his death will not be the last. People are dying—not because we do not have the treatments to help them, but because help is not coming fast enough. Even when an ambulance does arrive, people are spending hours sitting outside hospitals, waiting to be seen.

The support that was announced by the Government in September is not good enough and is not making a difference. When will the Government come forward with a sufficient package of support, so that we can prevent unnecessary suffering and deaths this winter?

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (John Swinney)

I will, of necessity, reiterate some of the points that I made in my answer to Douglas Ross, because they relate directly to Mr Brown. The circumstances of Mr Brown’s death and what his family has experienced are unacceptable, and the matter is being investigated. I extend my sympathies to Mr Brown’s family.

The Scottish Ambulance Service is under so much pressure partly because of the significant increase in demand for its services resulting from the increase in demand in general for healthcare services, as a consequence of the pandemic. The pandemic has put enormous strain on the NHS workforce, which has performed magnificently throughout an incredibly difficult 18 months. Demands will continue to be placed on the workforce because we are going into winter.

The Government responded to that in September by putting in place £20 million of increased investment. New staff have been recruited and are now operating within the Scottish Ambulance Service. There have been consistent increases in the budget of the Scottish Ambulance Service over the period in which this Government has been in office. We will continue to have dialogue with the Scottish Ambulance Service about how we can support its efforts. We have secured some military assistance—for which Mr Sarwar properly paid tribute—to assist us in that task.

The Government is taking the necessary action to address the circumstances. We want to ensure that every individual is able to receive the healthcare that they require, in the appropriate circumstances. That is the focus of the investments that the Government is making.

Anas Sarwar

Given that answer from the Deputy First Minister, we can understand why 88 per cent of staff say that they do not feel valued by the Scottish Government. We can understand why 98 per cent of staff say that the support that was announced in September is insufficient. We hear all the talk about record numbers of staff, but the fact is that 79 per cent of staff believe that the NHS is understaffed. I ask the Deputy First Minister to listen to NHS staff—do not ignore them.

I am sorry to say to the Deputy First Minister that Covid cannot be the cover. The pressures existed in the national health service even before Covid. Although Covid has exacerbated the problems, let us not pretend that they started with it.

The survey that Unite the union has released this morning outlines the challenges that Scottish Ambulance Service staff face, the pressures that they are under, and the risks that those factors mean for patients. More than 70 per cent of staff said that their calls had taken more than six hours to complete. A shocking 16 per cent of staff said that at least one of their calls had taken more than 20 hours to complete, and more than half said that delays had led to an adverse clinical event—for example, a patient having a cardiac arrest in an ambulance when they could have been in a hospital.

The Deputy First Minister pointed at the Government’s announcement from September, but 98 per cent of staff say that what was announced is insufficient. Paramedics have made it clear that a commitment to a maximum 30-minute turnaround is needed so that ambulance staff are saving lives and not queuing outside hospitals. If he is sincere about actions and not words, will the Deputy First Minister make that commitment today?

John Swinney

It is abundantly clear that the Government and I want to ensure that ambulance time and capacity are used as efficiently as possible. Ambulances that are waiting at accident and emergency departments and not out collecting patients and providing support in the community are not in the right place. With the Scottish Ambulance Service, the Government is intensely focused on ensuring that ambulances are operating effectively so that congestion in accident and emergency departments does not delay them.

As I said to Mr Ross a moment ago, the issue is all tied up with the fact that a whole-system solution is required. We need to ensure that patients are able to leave hospital to go into the community with social care packages, and that accident and emergency departments have the capacity to ensure that patients can, if it is needed, be moved from A and E into hospital wards, or discharged as efficiently as possible

That is why the Government put in place a £300 million NHS and winter care package in September. The package allows for recruitment of an extra 1,000 NHS staff. There is £40 million for step-down care, £60 million to maximise the capacity of care-at-home services, £48 million to boost the pay of social care staff to ensure that we can deliver more social care packages, and £28 million to support primary care and community solutions. That investment has been made across the health service in order to ensure that the Scottish Ambulance Service can make its contribution as efficiently as possible.

I assure Mr Sarwar and the public that the Government is determined to use all available resources to ensure that individuals receive the care that they require.

Anas Sarwar

The Deputy First Minister said that the system is broken, but who has been in charge of the system? The Scottish National Party has been in Government for 14 years, so let us not pretend that the problem has just appeared.

The Deputy First Minister listed all the actions that the Government announced in September. I repeat that 98 per cent of Ambulance Service staff say that that response is insufficient. Let us be clear that people are dying because of those choices and that NHS staff had warned about them long before Covid.

There is a pattern. The Royal College of Nurses tells us that there are not enough nurses, but the Government denies it. Emergency medicine doctors say that delays are causing deaths, but the Government does not acknowledge that. Consultants tell us that hospitals need at least 1,000 more beds to keep up with demand, but the Government has cut the number of beds by 1,300 over the past decade. Patients tell us of long delays in A and E, and the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care’s answer is to tell patients not to go to A and E.

The problem is not patients or staff, but the out-of-touch and hopeless Government that is presiding over a crisis in our NHS. Again, what will it take for the Government to act? Why does the Government believe that it, rather than the nurses and paramedics who are on the front line in our NHS, knows best?

John Swinney

The problem in this exchange is that Mr Sarwar is absolutely in denial about the impact of Covid on our national health service. He seems to think that the challenges that we face in our NHS today are somehow unique to Scotland, but every single healthcare system in the western world faces the same problems. However, according to Mr Sarwar, the impact of Covid is apparently irrelevant in that. I am not going to accept that skating past the impact that Covid has had on the situation that we face.

The Government has made the investment and we continue to engage in discussion with trade unions, employees, health boards and the Scottish Ambulance Service to make sure that we have all the capacity in place to deliver services.

However, what we have to recognise is that that is why the Government is taking the cautious steps that we are taking on Covid—some of which members of this Parliament have told us not to take. Although some members are not prepared to support us when we take those steps, we take them in order to protect the people of this country, and will make no apology for that.

We move on to supplementary questions.

Climate Action Towns

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

I welcome the fact that Annan, in Dumfries and Galloway, has been selected for the climate action towns programme, which will empower communities to engage in collective climate action, taking account of the unique challenges and opportunities that each town faces.

Given the flooding that Annan experienced just last week, which washed away two of the town’s footbridges in unprecedented levels of water, will the Deputy First Minister give further detail on how the climate action towns programme will work to tackle the global climate emergency?

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (John Swinney)

The climate action towns programme will work to support communities so that they can influence the steps that are taken to create better resilience against the climate.

I saw at first hand last week the damage that had taken place in Annan. There was a tremendous community resolve to address those issues, just as there had been a tremendous community resilience operation to protect households and businesses, as a consequence of the flooding.

Fundamentally, the climate action towns programme will empower local communities to take more of those decisions and resource them to undertake that activity.

A96 (Dualling)

Douglas Lumsden (North East Scotland) (Con)

At the Finance and Public Administration Committee on 31 August, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy gave the following commitment:

“The A9 is still going to be dualled, and the A96 is referred to in the co-operation agreement in terms of the priorities for the next few years.”—[Official Report, Finance and Public Administration Committee, 31 August 2021; c 40-41.]

However, in the chamber yesterday, the Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth, Tom Arthur, when questioned by Fergus Ewing and Jamie Halcro Johnston, could not give any such commitment. Will the A96 be fully dualled by the 2030 commitment date—yes or no, Deputy First Minister?

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (John Swinney)

The member referred to the A9 and the A96. The A9 programme continues apace. I was delighted that the latest stage of the dualling of the A9 was opened recently in my constituency, between Luncarty and the pass of Birnam, and it has made a huge difference to the local community.

The issues in relation to the A96 are covered in the partnership agreement, which sets out transport enhancements on the A96 corridor, including dualling from Inverness to Nairn; the bypassing of Nairn, Keith, Elgin and Inverurie, accompanied by measures to remove through traffic from bypassed town centres; and targeted road safety improvements, where needed, between Fochabers and Huntly and between Inverurie and Aberdeen. The current plan is to fully dual the A96 route between Inverness and Aberdeen, but we agreed to conduct a transparent, evidence-based review that is to include a climate compatibility assessment to assess direct and indirect impacts on the climate and the environment. That review will report by the end of 2022.

Breast Cancer Services (Dundee)

Michael Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab)

In February, after the chief executive of NHS Tayside cast doubt on the future viability of breast cancer services in Dundee, the First Minister promised Parliament that she would act on the unfolding crisis. Instead, as was reported in The Courier this morning, a further resignation of a senior consultant has left the service on the brink of collapse and in urgent need of external support.

This has been a catastrophic failure of leadership by the board and the SNP Government. What has to happen—how many lives will be put at risk—before the Government steps up with a plan that guarantees the future of what is a vital service?

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (John Swinney)

I honestly do not think that Mr Marra is serving the people whom he represents well by expressing the issue in that fashion.

After February, a new consultant was appointed in NHS Tayside to provide that service. There is on-going recruitment for a further post, and on-going clinical support is provided by NHS Grampian. I hope that that provides the reassurance to members of the public in the Tayside area that Mr Marra’s unfortunate expression of his question certainly did not.

Covid-19 Certificates (Scams)

Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

A constituent received this text:

“NHS: You are now eligible to apply for your NHS COVID Pass. Failure to apply may result in a fine. Please apply for your COVID Pass via”.

There was then an address that was made to look like a national health service address.

My constituent had the good sense not to click on the link. However, since my office advised NHS Borders and the police of the text, there have been further instances. What is the Scottish Government doing to alert the public to this recent spate of scams?

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (John Swinney)

Christine Grahame is right to raise the issue. There have been some reports of scam calls and texts related to Covid-19. Let me be absolutely clear: neither the Scottish Government nor any other agency will text individuals to invite them to apply for a Covid-19 pass or certificate. Ofcom, which is the United Kingdom’s communications regulator, has published information on its website on how to be vigilant against such activity. Any suspicious emails can be forwarded to the National Cyber Security Centre, and suspicious texts can be reported. I encourage members of the public to be vigilant and to follow the fact that neither the Scottish Government nor any other agency will text individuals to invite them to apply for a Covid-19 pass or certificate.

Covid-19 Booster Vaccination Scheme (Lothians)

Craig Hoy (South Scotland) (Con)

A constituent of mine—Norma from Dirleton—received her booster vaccination some time ago. However, yesterday, she received a fourth letter calling her for a jab and she has been unable to cancel the appointment. Her 88-year-old neighbour has received no booster vaccination correspondence, and she, too, has faced problems in getting through on the appointment line. Despite attending a mobile vaccination bus in Gullane twice last Thursday, she had to leave because of the length of the queues. Will the Deputy First Minister urgently look into the on-going problems with the booster vaccination scheme across the Lothians?

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (John Swinney)

The vaccination programme in general has been rolled out very effectively, and the booster programme is being rolled out across the country very successfully. Scotland is the highest-performing part of the United Kingdom in relation to the rolling out of the booster programme. However, there have been a number of issues in connection with the appointments system in NHS Lothian, with which we are familiar.

We are in discussion with NHS Lothian. Earlier this week, our officials met its chief executive to discuss the very practical issues that Mr Hoy has raised. If he wishes to provide me with specific details, I will look into that case and try to resolve it. I am sorry for the inconvenience that his constituent has experienced—they should not have experienced that.

In general, the programme is being rolled out well, but there are some challenges with the appointments system in NHS Lothian. We expect those to be resolved very shortly. However, if there are particular details that Mr Hoy wishes to share with us, we will act to resolve them.

Carers (Pay Increase)

Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

In Mid Scotland and Fife—and throughout Scotland, I think—the number of people who have been assessed as needing care packages but who have been unable to access them is growing by the day. In the COVID-19 Recovery Committee meeting this morning, Dr Donald Macaskill from Scottish Care made it clear that pay is the key factor in recruitment and retention. Although he welcomed the increase to £10.02 per hour, he said that it is not enough and that it will not fix the problem. In the same meeting, Dr Andrew Buist of the British Medical Association’s general practitioner committee said that the key issue that has to be resolved for this winter is the social care backlog and social care problems. Will the Government, which is putting hundreds of millions of pounds into that area, listen to all the professionals from that sector and bring forward in the budget a wage increase for all carers in Scotland?

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (John Swinney)

Mr Rowley has made a number of contributions on that question in Parliament. I have handled a number of those, and we have discussed the question in the COVID-19 Recovery Committee. I acknowledge the significance of the point that he has made.

In my answers to the questions from Anas Sarwar and Douglas Ross, I said that, if we can address and build the capacity of the social care workforce, that will give us some ability to withstand some of the other pressures that the national health service experiences. The Government has already put in place an increase in the salary of the social care workforce to assist in resolving those issues.

One of the other issues is the availability of people in our community. I am sure that Mr Rowley would accept that the ending of the free movement of individuals from the European Union has diminished the size of the workforce that is available to us in Scotland. That has a real and practical effect in a number of sectors, one of which is social care. That is why we are encouraging the United Kingdom Government to arrive at a more sensible position on free movement than it currently occupies.

Cabinet (Meetings)

3. Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

On armistice day, it is incumbent on us all to pay respect to people who paid the ultimate price to protect our country and our freedoms.

To ask the Deputy First Minister when the Cabinet will next meet. (S6F-00427)

It will meet on Tuesday.

Alex Cole-Hamilton

There is a muscle memory to the exchanges at First Minister’s questions: week after week, Opposition members ask the Government about the crisis in emergency care and, week after week, the Government responds by blaming the pandemic. The Deputy First Minister has doubled down on that today by accusing Anas Sarwar of being in denial, but the former chief executive of NHS Scotland has said that the crisis has been years in the making and the pandemic has only hastened the date.

I ask the Deputy First Minister to put himself in the shoes of our hard-working emergency care staff—the call handlers who answer repeated calls asking again and again when an ambulance will come, and the paramedics who attend calls knowing that, behind the door, there is somebody who has been waiting in pain for hours on end, which must be traumatic.

I have with me a response to a freedom of information request, through which we learned that the number of ambulance staff hours lost to mental ill health is up 300 per cent since 2017 and represented 40,000 hours between July and September alone. One paramedic told the Daily Record today:

“We feel as if we are failing the public even though it’s not our fault.”

It is not their fault, so I ask the Deputy First Minister to stop grasping at straws, stop blaming the pandemic and accept that his Government is letting down those vital staff.

John Swinney

I value the contribution that all healthcare staff make to all the component parts of our national health service. We recognise the pressure on the wellbeing of members of staff. That is why we put in place the £12 million investment to ensure that staff wellbeing was supported and that individuals could be enabled to continue their activities.

I also have to recognise, as members of staff do, the significant impact that Covid has on the national health service’s operation. Anybody who comes to Parliament and seeks to diminish Covid’s enormous impact on our national health service is not recognising the reality of the situation that we face. It is why we have put in place the extra winter care package, strengthened the resources that are available to the Scottish Ambulance Service and will continue to invest as assiduously in the national health service as we have done since the minute the Government came to office, significantly increasing its budget over the Government’s term in office.

Under2 Coalition

To ask the Deputy First Minister whether he will provide an update on the work of the under2 coalition at the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26. (S6F-00445)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (John Swinney)

The under2 coalition, of which the First Minister is the European co-chair, launched a new memorandum of understanding at the general assembly this week, which set out a higher level of ambition for the coalition and committed it to achieving net zero by 2050. The First Minister signed the MOU at the general assembly and 27 Governments also signed up.

We endorse the new “Further, Faster, Together: Under2 Leaders Action at COP26” statement, which outlines the actions that coalition members are already taking to meet their ambitious 2030 targets. Forty-one Governments endorsed the statement, which demonstrates their leadership on that important objective.

Fiona Hyslop

I welcome the announcement that was made today on the trebling of support for climate justice. What plans does the Scottish Government have to continue beyond COP26 the discussions and networking established by the Glasgow climate dialogues, which we will discuss in our lunchtime members’ business debate? In particular, will the Scottish Government use its role as the European co-chair of the under2 coalition of sub-states, cities and regions to promote a similar dialogue among all the coalition members? In doing so, will the Scottish Government advance issues such as loss and damage funds, following the First Minister’s announcement that the Scottish loss and damage fund will increase to £2 million? That is small in amount but significant in terms of leadership on the issue.

John Swinney

I am happy to confirm the Government’s support for the objectives that Fiona Hyslop has set out. As European co-chair, Scotland is committed to promoting values of justice and inclusivity. We hope to build a lasting legacy from COP26 by building a just transition alliance with members of the under2 coalition. We are also championing issues of global importance to mobilise increased action from our fellow members.

I recognise that there is a members’ business debate today that will be initiated by Fiona Hyslop. It will focus on ensuring that the global south is heard and understood, and the Scottish Government and the Stop Climate Chaos coalition have co-convened the Glasgow dialogues to enable that to be the case.

Today’s debate is, of course, the first members’ business debate in 14 years that Fiona Hyslop has been able to lead in the chamber, because of her service as a minister, and I cannot think of a more formidable parliamentary voice to be leading on this topic than hers. I wish her well for the debate.

Ariane Burgess (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

The International Energy Agency says that the development of new oil and gas fields must stop this year if we are to reach net zero by 2050, as advocated by the under2 coalition. That alone should rule out development of the Cambo oil field off the coast of Shetland. However, Cambo would not only be bad for the climate, it would be devastating for biodiversity. Sixteen marine and climate groups recently highlighted that the pipeline would cut through 22 miles of United Kingdom marine protected area and threaten hundreds of rare and ancient species in the Faroe-Shetland sponge belt. Will the Deputy First Minister raise that issue with the UK Government in order to uphold the MPA designation for that important area?

John Swinney

Decisions on the issues in relation to Cambo are, obviously, for the United Kingdom Government, and Ariane Burgess will be familiar with the fact that the Scottish Government has made clear our desire for the UK Government to subject that particular development to a climate compatibility assessment, given the length of time that has passed since its original consent.

Specific issues in relation to marine protected areas will have to be the subject of statutory dialogue, were that development to take its course. However, of course, the Scottish Government’s stance is to ask for a climate compatibility assessment to be undertaken before we get to that stage.

Electric Car Charging Points

To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Government plans to meet the requirement for electric car charging points by 2030. (S6F-00434)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (John Swinney)

Over the past decade, the Scottish Government has invested more than £50 million in public charging points, creating one of the largest networks in the United Kingdom. We are working with industry, local authorities and technology suppliers to expand the network and, through a partnership approach, create opportunities for Scottish business, industry and communities. At the core of our approach is making sure that no one and no part of Scotland is left behind as we switch to electric vehicles.

Liam Kerr

I thank the Deputy First Minister for his answer but I am not sure that it will give people much confidence, because latest figures show that the number of faulty charging points that were recorded this year far exceeds the number recorded in 2020. Nearly 40 charging units a week are registered as broken.

The Press and Journal recently made an electric vehicle trip from John O’Groats to Glasgow ahead of COP26 and it found that, particularly in Aberdeenshire, significant numbers of charging points were broken or inaccessible, leaving EV motorists stranded. The Scottish Chambers of Commerce says that the situation is “nowhere near” good enough. Will the Deputy First Minister address those issues with ChargePlace Scotland to ensure that Scotland has working infrastructure to support the roll-out of electric vehicles and meet our net zero targets?

John Swinney

This is an important issue—the transition has to be made and made effectively. In the UK, Scotland has the second-highest number of public charge points for electric vehicles per 100,000 people, which is second only to London. Of course, those charge points have to be operational and, if Mr Kerr furnishes me with information about the particular examples that he is concerned about, I will ensure that they are addressed.

In relation to our dialogue with ChargePlace Scotland, we will ensure that the issues that have been raised today will be raised with it to ensure that we have an effective network.

In terms of the investment, the Government is making sustained investment, which has put us in a position in which Scotland has the highest number of public charge points for electric vehicles in any part of the UK other than London.

Scottish Ambulance Service (Turnaround Times)

6. Paul O’Kane (West Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the First Minister what steps the Scottish Government is taking in response to reports of an increase in turnaround times for ambulances offloading patients at accident and emergency departments. (S6F-00433)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (John Swinney)

The Scottish Government recently announced a package of support for the Scottish Ambulance Service, backed by an additional £20 million, which will help increase capacity and improve response and turnaround times and staff wellbeing. It includes the recruitment of additional hospital ambulance liaison officers, who provide targeted support to ambulances at our busiest A and E departments to reduce turnaround times.

We are working with health boards to reduce handover times within A and E departments by putting in place a range of measures, including decompressing the A and E department by focusing on flow, implementing Scottish Ambulance Service arrival screens and opening additional capacity for ambulances to safely and timeously offload patients. That will support our improvement journey and aim of preventing ambulances being delayed at A and E departments.

Paul O’Kane

In all his answers on the subject, the Deputy First Minister has pointed to increased demand due to the pandemic. However, I have statistics from the Scottish Ambulance Service showing that turnaround times in A and E departments have been increasing going back to 2014. In my region, ambulance turnaround times at the Royal Alexandra hospital in Paisley have doubled from 22 minutes in 2014 to 43 minutes in 2021. That is simply unacceptable.

Those statistics clearly demonstrate that the crisis in ambulance wait times began well before the pandemic; they were growing year on year. In answer to Anas Sarwar, the Deputy First Minister would not commit to the maximum 30-minute turnaround time called for by ambulance staff. Will he therefore tell the chamber what he thinks is an acceptable turnaround time for ambulances at A and E? When will he listen to staff and get a grip of this crisis?

John Swinney

I set out in my answers to Douglas Ross and Anas Sarwar some of the substance of the issues, so I will not rehearse that again in answer to Paul O’Kane. However, one of the important investments that we have made is the investment in the hospital ambulance liaison officer service. It has proven to be effective in improving the turnaround of patients who have been brought to hospital by ambulances in a number of parts of the country. We are also expanding the capacity of the Scottish Ambulance Service through the investment that we have made.

The Government is taking those practical steps, in discussion with staff, to ensure that we have in place steps to ensure that people are supported when they need access to ambulance services and that they do not spend any longer in the ambulance than they require to. Obviously, that will vary depending on the condition and circumstances of individual patients as they arrive and are presented to hospital. I trust and rely on the clinical judgments that are made by staff in the national health service to ensure that patients get the treatment and care that they require.

Sandesh Gulhane (Glasgow) (Con)

The Deputy First Minister just gave a list of things that he is looking to do; however, clearly, they are not working. Ambulance turnaround times are rising. Will he accept that the plans that he has put in place are not working, and look to improve and make tangible differences to ambulance turnaround times right now?

John Swinney

The investment has been made. We are seeing an expansion in the number of staff and personnel working in the Scottish Ambulance Service. We are also seeing recruitment of individuals that is designed to support the flow of patients from ambulances into accident and emergency departments and on, either to destinations in the hospital or to a return home.

I would have thought that Dr Gulhane would accept that this is a whole-systems issue. It involves the roles and responsibilities of general practitioners, social care, hospitals and accident and emergency departments, as well as delayed discharges. The Government is taking sustained action in a number of areas to ensure that we deal with that in the context of a national health service that is under colossal pressure because of the impact of the pandemic. We are working our way through those challenges to ensure that we meet the needs of patients in all circumstances.

Drug Consumption Rooms

7. Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

To ask the Deputy First Minister what his response is to the comments by the Lord Advocate to the Criminal Justice Committee on the potential for new proposals regarding the use of drug consumption rooms and whether non-prosecution is in the public interest. (S6F-00449)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (John Swinney)

The Lord Advocate’s statement confirms a new opportunity for new proposals to be considered regarding safer drug consumption facilities. We have been clear on the benefits that safer drug consumption facilities would bring to reducing drug-related deaths in Scotland, and we are actively exploring how we can overcome the existing legal barriers that will allow us to progress the use of those facilities. There is clear evidence that those facilities mitigate the chances of a fatal overdose, provide additional support—including the reduction of harm-related injection practices—and allow for connection with wider treatment services. We see problem substance use as a public health issue, and there is a growing recognition of the harms that punitive drug policies cause. Providing individuals with options for treatment, rather than a route into the criminal justice system, is our priority.

Claire Baker

The statement from the Lord Advocate is very welcome, and I also welcome the Government’s commitment to look at a way to address the issue. We all recognise the significant problems that Scotland has with drug fatalities. We have been critical of the Government’s approach to that so far, but we are looking to work constructively, and I hope that the Lord Advocate will be able to move forward on that.

The Deputy First Minister is aware that Glasgow city health and social care partnership’s previous plan was rejected by the then Lord Advocate, although Mr Swinney was not involved in that. This time, I am looking for assurances that a proposal from the Government will be robust, and for an indication of when we will have some conclusions, so that a proposal can be brought forward.

John Swinney

I am happy to give Claire Baker the assurance that the Government is taking forward active discussions to establish an acceptable route to enable the appropriate use of drug consumption rooms, as part of a public health strategy to tackle the drugs problems that we face in Scottish society. That involves a great deal of dialogue with a range of organisations, including Police Scotland, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and the Crown Office, to ensure that we establish and propose an appropriate and sustainable route. That work is under way. If Claire Baker will forgive me, I cannot give a definitive timescale today, but I assure her that that work is being actively pursued as a consequence of the Lord Advocate’s remarks.