Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig

Loading…
Chamber and committees

Public Petitions Committee

Meeting date: Thursday, June 29, 2017

Agenda: Continued Petition, New Petitions, Continued Petitions


Contents


Continued Petitions

The Convener

I call the committee back to order and remind members that we have a significant amount of business to get through. I am not sure that we will get through it all, but we want to make sure that all petitions are treated with respect and that we have enough time to reflect on them in a serious way.

In the interests of striking a balance between dealing with petitions in a serious way and addressing the pressures of time, we might not manage to reach some petitions today. I hope that the petitioners will understand that that is because we want the petitions to be treated with respect. I could rattle through them in 15 minutes, but that would be disrespectful to the petitioners and to the considerations of the committee. We will see how it goes, but, as we have to finish at 20 minutes to 12, my expectation is that we might not reach some petitions. They will be rescheduled for consideration as soon as we return. We always have to strike a balance between getting through the business and making sure that we give petitions sufficient time, even in taking evidence.


Group B Streptococcus (Information and Testing) (PE1592)

The Convener

The next petition on the agenda is PE1592, by Shaheen McQuade, on group B strep information and testing. Members will recall that the UK national screening committee’s review of the latest evidence on screening for group B strep was published in March 2017. It has not recommended introducing a national screening programme for the disease.

At our previous consideration of the petition, we agreed to write to the Scottish Government, seeking its view on that decision. The Scottish Government’s response stated that

“the National Institute of Health Research has been asked to commission a UK-wide clinical trial to compare universal screening for GBS against usual-risk-based care. We hope this will commence as soon as practicable.”

The Scottish Government’s letter also noted that

“the UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser held two research workshops last year to bring together a broad range of experts on GBS from across the UK.”

It is intended that an outcome paper will be published following those meetings, which will outline steps that are intended to aid in reducing the harm that is caused by group B strep.

We have not had any written submissions from the petitioner, although she has been invited to provide them. Nevertheless, we can conclude that the Scottish and UK Governments are taking forward measures that, it is to be hoped, will address the issues that are raised by the petitioner. Do members have any comments or suggestions on actions that we can take?

How long have the committee clerks waited for a response from the petitioner?

There has been no response from the beginning. We appreciate the petitioner’s submitting the petition and giving us the information, but she has chosen not to respond further, which she is entitled to do.

Angus MacDonald

Absolutely, and I congratulate the petitioner for making sure that the issue is on the radar. Nevertheless, I am minded to close the petition under standing order rule 15.7, given the convener’s earlier comments and given that the UK national screening committee reviewed the latest evidence earlier this year, did not recommend screening for group B streptococcus but did ask the National Institute for Health Research

“to commission a UK-wide clinical trial to compare universal screening for GBS against usual-risk-based care.”

I agree with that. Progress has been made and we have gone as far as we can with the petition.

The Convener

There is always the option for somebody to bring back a further petition if they feel that progress is not being made on the issue. Are we agreed that we will close the petition, as outlined by Angus MacDonald?

Members indicated agreement.

The Convener

We reiterate our thanks to the petitioner for the courage that she demonstrated in bringing the petition and in giving her personal testimony to the committee. That could not have been easy, but it has shone a light on a very important issue. It is clear that there is an awareness of the issue at a Government level.


Sepsis Awareness, Diagnosis and Treatment (PE1621)

The Convener

The next petition is PE1621, by James Robertson, on sepsis awareness, diagnosis and treatment. Members will recall that, at our previous consideration of the petition, we invited the Scottish Government to respond to questions raised by the petitioner with regard to on-going work and measurements, training programmes and mapping.

The Scottish Government has advised that the work on sepsis awareness and management continues in local boards as part of the deteriorating patients pathway. That work is monitored through national standard performance indicators and is supported by the Scottish patient safety programme team.

The Scottish Government has advised that training programmes that incorporate sepsis are taken during foundation year 1, when doctors undertake mandatory training sessions. It notes that specific sepsis scenarios are included as a mandatory component for all doctors in the advanced life support course, and it advises that nurses and other healthcare staff are able to access that course. However, it adds that, although those courses are delivered consistently across the entire Scottish healthcare system with the same mandatory components, there is no formal mapping process.

The petitioner has acknowledged the detail that has been provided by the Scottish Government but refers to his own personal experience and questions the effectiveness of the training. He also notes a recent resolution by the World Health Organization that urges all Governments to raise awareness among their publics of the symptoms of sepsis. He suggests that the Scottish Government might act on that resolution by launching a national public awareness campaign, to be led by NHS Scotland.

Members will recall that the Scottish Government indicated in its submission in March that it would be supportive of any public-facing campaign, which it suggested could be undertaken through its endorsement of existing work that is done by charitable organisations such as the Fiona Elizabeth Agnew Trust and by encouraging individual boards to work collaboratively. Do members have any comments or suggestions?

11:00  

My view, for what it is worth, is that we should ask the Scottish Government whether it would consider running its own public awareness campaign, given the resources of the NHS compared to those of a small voluntary organisation. There is no doubt that the need for public awareness is a big issue.

I would be interested in understanding the continuing professional development process in the health board, as CPD issues seem to be a recurring theme across a multitude of disciplines in the NHS.

Are you referring to how awareness training is continued among clinicians?

Yes.

Angus MacDonald

That would be a sensible course of action, in particular given the WHO’s recent resolution to launch a global public awareness campaign on sepsis. It would be good to get the Scottish Government’s views on a Scottish campaign.

Rona Mackay

I declare an interest in that Mr Robertson is a constituent of mine. I agree with what we are planning to do—it is important that there is a Scotland-wide awareness campaign. Mr Robertson thinks that we are doing less in Scotland than NHS England is doing south of the border. The WHO launched its global campaign less than a month ago, so it is imperative that we act. Mr Robertson highlights in his submission that he is

“unconvinced of the effectiveness of the training”

at present, given that it is not so long since his wife died in hospital after 17 days with the condition.

The Convener

We want to contact the Scottish Government to ask that it launch a national public awareness campaign. We are interested in knowing why it would not want to do so given the importance of the issue and the WHO’s campaign. In addition, we will ask about refresher training for clinicians.

We thank the petitioner for pursuing the issue at what must still be a very difficult time for him, as he has such a personal connection with, and awareness of, the condition given its direct impact on his own life and his family’s lives.

If that action is agreed, we will move on to the next petition.

Members indicated agreement.


Local Authority Education Committees (Church Appointees) (PE1623)

The Convener

PE1623 is on unelected church appointees on local authority education committees. The petition is by Spencer Fildes, on behalf of the Scottish Secular Society. The Scottish Government has replied to the questions that arose from our previous consideration of the petition and has confirmed that it will carry out an equality impact assessment on any policy changes that are made through its education governance review. It adds that it will address separately any proposals in the petition that are not addressed through its governance review.

The Scottish Government has published information on the next steps in its education governance review, which was debated by the Parliament yesterday afternoon. The petitioner welcomes the commitment and clarification that the Scottish Government has provided. Do members have any comments or suggestions on how we should take the petition forward?

Angus MacDonald

The petition seems to have done its job, as the Scottish Government has given a commitment to consider the issues that the petition raises as part of the education governance review and has confirmed that it will carry out an equality impact assessment on any policy changes that are made through the review. I move to close the petition under standing orders rule 15.7.

Maurice Corry

I would not close the petition, convener, as we need to take the point about the need to look at the “Education Governance: Next Steps” document and how it pertains to the petition. We should keep the petition open until such time as we have considered that as a committee.

The Convener

I simply make the point that the education governance review is a big and wide-ranging document, and the petition relates to a very small part of it. We have a choice: we can close the petition, and the petitioner can come back if they are unsatisfied with what the Scottish Government does in relation to the equality impact assessment, or we can do as Maurice Corry suggests and keep the petition open. Do members have a view on that? Either way, we would not be closing the opportunity for the petitioner to bring the issue back.

Rona Mackay

For that reason, I think that we should keep the petition open at this stage. I am not sure what could be gained from closing it until we know whether the petitioner is satisfied with the changes in the governance review.

Brian?

What?

Do you have a view?

I am being Kofi Annan here, sitting on the fence. However, I am inclined to close the petition, to be honest, given that the petitioner has the option to come back again.

The Convener

It is always a fine balance. The question of whether we close a petition is something that has shaped the history of the Public Petitions Committee itself. We recognise the issues; the Scottish Government has said that it will address them. The option is open for the petitioner to submit the petition again if they are unhappy with what the Scottish Government has done on the question. We could also flag up to the Education and Skills Committee, which will be scrutinising the Government’s response, that this particular issue has been highlighted and ask it to at least ensure that it is part of its scrutiny. Would that cover it?

That is a good point, convener.

Maurice Corry

I certainly do not think that we should close the petition. I must stand by my original statement in relation to my experience with education committees in councils. I am sorry that I do not agree with the rest of the points. I agree that the matter should be flagged up to the Education and Skills Committee, but I stand where I stand.

The Convener

That is helpful. I think that, on balance, across the committee, we do not agree with you. We understand the point that you are making, but I wonder whether the majority view is that we should close the petition.

Angus MacDonald

I, too, have served on education committees at local authority level, and I am pleased to see that the Scottish Government has given a commitment to consider the issues that have been raised. I am still minded to close the petition.

If you want to push the matter to a vote, Maurice, we will have a vote for the purpose of recording your opinion.

I am sorry—I stand by what I said, and you can take that as you wish.

The Convener

I move, that the petition be closed on the basis that the Scottish Government has given a commitment to consider the issues raised in the petition as part of its education governance review and has confirmed that it will carry out an equality impact assessment on any policy changes made through that review. We also have the reassurance that the issue will be flagged up to the Education and Skills Committee and that the petitioner is able to return at a later stage if they are unsatisfied with the Scottish Government’s action.

For

Lamont, Johann (Glasgow) (Lab)
MacDonald, Angus (Falkirk East) (SNP)
Mackay, Rona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

Against

Corry, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)

Abstentions

Whittle, Brian (South Scotland) (Con)

The Convener

We have three voting for, two voting against and one fence-sitter—it is entirely your right to do that, of course, Brian. The committee is agreed to close the petition.

We recognise that there are important issues in the petition, and we thank the petitioner for bringing the matter to the attention of the Parliament and the Government.


Bus Services (Regulation) (PE1626)

The Convener

Petition PE1626, by Pat Rafferty, on behalf of Unite Scotland, is on the regulation of bus services. The Scottish Government has provided the clarification that we sought following our previous consideration of the petition and has advised that improved partnership working and franchising will be elements of the full consultation on the proposed transport bill. We have not received a response from the petitioner. Do members have any comments or suggestions for action?

Brian Whittle

It would be interesting to find out from the Scottish Government what the timescale is for the consultation on the proposed transport bill and perhaps ask it to engage with the petitioner at the earliest opportunity.

Angus MacDonald

I agree. I think that we are all keen to see the transport bill go through its parliamentary stages as soon as possible—sooner rather than later—so getting an indicative timescale from the Scottish Government would be of enormous help.

The Convener

It would also be good to get a commitment to address the issues that have been flagged up, particularly around the provision of effective bus services across the country, which was raised with us.

Is it agreed that we will write to the Scottish Government seeking an indicative timetable for its full consultation on the proposed transport bill and that we will ask the Government to engage with the petitioner, as Brian Whittle has suggested?

Members indicated agreement.

We might also get back to the petitioner—they may have been caught up with so many other different things that they have not been able to respond.


Ocular Melanoma (MRI Scans) (PE1629)

The Convener

Petition PE1629, on MRI scans for ocular melanoma sufferers in Scotland, was lodged by Jennifer Lewis. We have received submissions from the chief medical officer and the petitioner.

The CMO has provided her views on the action that is called for in the petition, essentially supporting the Scottish Government’s views as set out in its March submission in that the specialist Scottish ophthalmic oncology service follows national guidelines that were accredited by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. She explains that it is her understanding that the guidelines will be reviewed in December 2019 but that an intermediate review would be carried out if any new evidence became available before then.

The petitioner’s submission argues that new evidence was presented during her evidence to the committee on 2 February and also in her submission of 12 April. Her submission is supported by Iain Galloway, who presented evidence to us alongside the petitioner in February. He notes that, in the rest of the UK, if a patient requests an MRI scan, they are able to get it even if the centre does not offer that facility for first-line surveillance.

The petitioner and Iain Galloway also query the information provided by the CMO about research being undertaken on the use of ultrasound for first-line surveillance. They regard it as futile and a backward step when ultrasound is already known to be inferior to MRI. In addition, they note that it could take up to two years for the research to gather sufficient statistically significant data due to the small number of patients, and they compare the cost implications of the time and resources spent on the research against the additional cost of providing MRI scans.

In her submission, the CMO refers to a recent commissioning for quality and innovation meeting at which it was agreed that

“a UK wide group would be formed to develop UK wide guidance and recommendations on surveillance”.

Iain Galloway indicates that he would wish to understand more about the effect that any UK-wide group could have and would welcome sight of the minutes to get a fuller picture. For her part, the petitioner regards the formation of a UK-wide group as a

“potential step in the right direction”.

I invite comments and suggestions from members.

Rona Mackay

I think that we have to probe the matter further, because there are still a lot of unanswered questions around the response from the chief medical officer. We must ask about flexibility and why some UK centres offer to provide MRI scans to patients on request. We need a timescale for the formation of the UK-wide group that is going to undertake the work. We also need to probe the various other points that have been raised by the petitioner and get some more answers.

Maurice Corry

I am concerned about the chief medical officer’s response to the petitioner. The petitioner says that she can “only hope” that Gartnavel hospital will be proactive, and that is not enough. I am severely concerned about that, so I think that we need something more positive.

Writing to NICE would also be a productive way forward. We need to get it to button down its responses; they are not satisfactory as they are.

The Convener

I recall that we found the evidence to be compelling that MRI scans help with diagnosis and the scale of the problem. It is not clear why such a scan would not be routinely offered in Scotland if it is being offered elsewhere.

The points about new evidence are also well made by the petitioner.

If the committee agrees, the petition will come back to us when we get that information.

Members indicated agreement.


Nursery Provision (Funding) (PE1630)

The Convener

The next petition is PE1630, by Fiona Webb, on nursery funding for three-year-olds.

Members will recall that, at our last consideration of the petition, we asked the Scottish Government for an update on its response to the consultation on its plans to expand early learning and childcare provision in Scotland, including the commitment to increase the current entitlement of free early learning and childcare entitlement to 1,140 hours. Members will see from the clerk’s note that the issue of parents’ ability to access the full entitlement for their children was raised when the minister made his policy statement. The minister noted that the Scottish Government considers that the current arrangement provides sufficient flexibility to local authorities to provide the entitlement to address the issue.

The petitioner has been invited to comment on the Scottish Government’s response but a submission has not been received. Do members have any suggestions or comments on how we might proceed?

11:15  

Brian Whittle

The petition and the topic that it raises are very interesting, and there has been a lot of toing and froing in Parliament on the issue. The Government’s position has been fairly well stated and I do not think that it is of a mind to move at this juncture. I therefore wonder whether—without a further submission from the petitioner, and whatever our view on the issue—it is viable to keep the petition open, even though to me the issue is a fundamental one.

The Convener

This is a live issue and people are watching closely the ability of the Scottish Government to implement its childcare strategy. As a member of the Education and Skills Committee, I know that we have looked at the planning process around the strategy. I have no doubt that other parliamentary committees will look at the issue. It is the kind of issue that will secure parliamentary scrutiny, although whether the specific issue that the petition raises about children’s third birthdays is dealt with remains to be seen.

Rona Mackay

The Government’s response states that local authorities currently have flexibility, so it is within their discretion to offer entitlement at an earlier stage. A watchful eye will obviously be kept on all this, but I think that this is as far as we can go with the petition, so I suggest that we close it.

The Convener

Are we agreed that we will close the petition on the basis that the Scottish Government has published an action plan for the expansion of early learning and childcare in Scotland and has made a commitment to publish an evaluation report on the expansion by the end of 2017? There will be an opportunity for the petitioner to revisit the issue if they feel that it has not been addressed. Are we agreed?

Members indicated agreement.

I thank the petitioner again for submitting the petition and highlighting an issue that is clearly of concern and has been addressed in Parliament, not only in the Public Petitions Committee.


Concessionary Transport (Carers) (PE1632)

The Convener

The next petition is PE1632, by Amanda Macdonald, on concessionary transport for carers.

Members will recall that when we previously discussed the petition we agreed to seek the views of a number of stakeholders. The carers organisations that responded agreed with the petitioner that many carers face financial difficulties in affording transportation. They have provided figures to the Scottish Government on what they estimate the policy would cost.

The Scottish Government explained that the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 will place a duty on local authorities to support

“the identified needs of carers who meet local eligibility criteria”.

The relevant provisions of the act will come into force on 1 April 2018. The Scottish Government also outlined a number of measures that it has taken recently to provide additional support to carers.

COSLA explained that local authorities address carers’ needs in a targeted way to assist those who are in the greatest need. It questioned whether the scheme proposed in the petition would be affordable or

“represent the most effective way to invest resources to improve outcomes for carers in the greatest need.”

Members will recall that we agreed to meet informally with the petitioner. Arrangements were taken forward for a meeting but it had to be cancelled. We were sorry not to have that opportunity, but the petitioner has provided a written submission that outlines her views in more detail and responds to the submissions received from stakeholders. Ms Macdonald explained that

“young carers are included in those who save the government an average of £132 billion per year … however they are not eligible for Carers Allowance.”

Ms Macdonald also noted that many carers do not live with the person they care for, which means that their caring-related transport costs are not always covered by the companion card.

Do members have any comments or suggestions on how we might take the petition forward?

Brian Whittle

I think that I mentioned the last time the petition came before the committee that, when I attended an away day for young carers, there was a round-table discussion at which they got to question MSPs and, boy, did they. I was struck by the personal and anecdotal evidence about some of the issues that they face. A lot of the issues are around transport—even paying for a bus fare to go down town to pick up a prescription and come back. It seems to me that there is an obvious solution, which the petitioner raises. I am loth to let the petition go.

The Convener

You can understand the argument on cost and you can understand COSLA and the Scottish Government’s position, but the petitioner’s argument about the savings to the public purse from the support by carers is compelling, too.

If we do not close the petition, how could we usefully progress the issues? There would just be an argument about the costs. Would we seek evidence on something specific that would help to inform our view?

I was hoping that you would come up with the answer, convener.

For once, I have not managed that. [Laughter.]

Maurice Corry

Based on my experience as the chair of the integration joint board in Argyll and Bute, I know that the IJB is very much a health and social care partnership and it is budgeted accordingly for the matters devolved to it. The issue of concessionary travel must be addressed with local authorities. If we were to close the petition as it stands, we would not be closing off the actions of what could happen.

The IJBs have been operational only since 1 April. They are getting their act together, if I can put it that way. Obviously, I know that the issue is under consideration, bearing in mind that young carers are saving not only the Government nationally, but local authorities. We need to give local authorities the space to try to implement the legislation. Perhaps the issue could be revisited by the petitioner after that.

Rona Mackay

The Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 will be in force by April next year, which will add a new dimension to the issue, because local authorities will have a duty to support the needs of carers who meet certain criteria.

The issue is on-going, but I am not sure what we would achieve were we to keep the petition open from now until next year.

I agree.

Clearly, the onus is on local authorities, so I agree with Maurice Corry and Rona Mackay that, reluctantly, we should perhaps close the petition. At the same time, we should monitor whether local authorities—

We would not be closing the topic—

The Convener

To play devil’s advocate, if we have a national concessionary bus scheme, the Scottish Government’s responsibility is to extend the criteria to carers. The infrastructure is there. The question of cost is clearly one that the Scottish Government has pushed back on.

The judgment for the committee is whether we let the petition go in the knowledge that, as the carers legislation is implemented, a question remains on whether the issue is addressed. My sense is that both the Scottish Government and local government have said that they cannot afford it. They have taken a view on the petition, so the question is whether we want to push that further. Could we host another event, such as a further round-table session to address the issue, or would that be taking it too far? Is the issue so specific that we would not be looking for a broad-based view?

The other way would be to bring COSLA to the table here to get its views. We need to bear in mind that funding would have to come out of local authorities—that is the issue.

The Convener

The other option is that, because the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 says that need can be determined locally, there is nothing to stop the Scottish Government separately deciding that it will expand the concessionary travel scheme to carers. The two issues do not preclude one another. We know that, realistically, neither COSLA nor the Scottish Government will argue for that on the grounds of cost.

Maurice Corry

I agree. It is a national strategy but, at the end of the day, the money that has to pay for that comes from the local authorities. That is my point. There is a crossover between national Government and local authority levels.

That is the case for some of it, but the national concessionary scheme is funded through the Scottish Government budget.

Right. Okay.

We are talking ourselves to a standstill.

The issue could be revisited in the sense that it would be nice to get an indication of how much it would cost to implement the scheme.

That is a fair point. We do not have a ballpark figure from either COSLA or the Scottish Government. It would be good to get that figure and to see whether it would be feasible to expand the scheme.

We could also ask for the criteria for such a scheme.

The Convener

Shall we do that? Given that this is an issue of cost, it would be useful to ask the local authorities whether any of them is contemplating concessionary travel for carers as part of the local provision for carers. Do members agree to that approach?

Members indicated agreement.

We will continue the petition to establish the costs of implementing such an extension to the scheme to carers.


Local Housing Allowance Cap (PE1638)

The Convener

The next petition is PE1638, by Sean Clerkin, on “Local Housing Allowance (Bedroom Tax 2)”. We have received submissions from the Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations and the Scottish Government.

The Scottish Government notes that the petition reflects concerns among stakeholders about the impact of the measure. It says that it shares those concerns and would welcome parliamentary discussion of the issues but that it first requires full details from the Department for Work and Pensions on how the policy will be implemented.

Members will recall that we asked the Scottish Government for an indication of the extent and limitations of the powers that are available to it within broader UK policy. The Scottish Government repeats that it will be unable to provide a detailed assessment of options that are available to it until it has clarity on UK Government policy. It adds that that extends to any consideration of funding arrangements and that ministers intend to raise those concerns directly with the UK Government.

The Scottish Government was able to provide an update on the research that is being undertaken in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Housing, and it attached to its submission the interim report. That report identifies a number of potential challenges, which are summarised in paragraph 8.

The submissions from ALACHO and the SFHA support the action that is called for in the petition and provide examples of the challenges that may be faced because of the measure’s additional complexity. Both submissions identify that the measure is more complex than the so-called bedroom tax, which will make it far more difficult for the Scottish Government to mitigate the impact.

The petitioner considers that the submissions demonstrate the concerns that exist about the policy and make clear the difficulties in mitigating the impact. He repeats his call for a parliamentary debate on the issue.

Do members have any comments or suggestions? I was struck by the responses from the housing organisations in particular, given the impacts on their tenants and on particular groups, including single young men, whom they highlight. I am a bit disturbed by the lack of detail that they have. Even if we were to ask the Scottish Government to consider mitigating the policy’s effect, it would not have the detail to allow it to do that.

Perhaps the Scottish Government also does not have the resources. How far should we go to mitigate the impacts? There is no bottomless pit of money.

Rona Mackay

It would be useful to find out when the Scottish Government will raise with the UK Government the issue of the funding arrangements. It would be useful to tease out more detail on that and on whether the Scottish Government plans to have a parliamentary debate.

The Convener

We have already decided to submit two requests for debates from earlier business. We could consider also doing that in this case, but I do not think that we have enough information at this stage.

I do not know whether the Social Security Committee is looking at the matter—or the Local Government and Communities Committee, given its housing remit. I think that we would want to flag up the matter to the relevant subject committees and ask whether they have a focus on it.

I agree. We should ask whether the issue is on the committees’ radar.

The Convener

That is partly because, as we can see from the written evidence, the issue is substantial but also quite technical. The fact that the SFHA and ALACHO highlight that suggests that they are working on it, but I am not sure whether it has worked its way through into the parliamentary process. I fully expect that the matter will end up as the subject of a parliamentary debate, but it would be interesting to find out from the subject committees whether they are exploring it. I do not know whether there are other ideas that we can take forward at this stage.

If other committees are gathering evidence, I would prefer us all to gather it together. As the convener said, it is a complex issue to deal with.

The Convener

I suggest that we also write directly to the DWP and ask where it is in the process, what its timescales are for the detail and whether it has done an assessment of the impact of its policy. The clerks will advise us whether we should write to the minister or to the department, but that is something else that we could take forward.

My sense is that we do not want to let the petition go to a subject committee at this stage and that we still want further information. In the uncertain world that we live in, the issue might have fallen off the agenda at UK level, which I think most of us would welcome. Equally, it might simply be that there is no focus on it but it is being pursued at departmental level, and we would want to be aware of that, too.

11:30  

Angus MacDonald

For the time being, the committee should reserve the right to initiate a debate in the chamber if the Scottish Government is not willing to do so. I hope that it is willing to do that but, if not, we should keep the issue on the agenda.

The Convener

Absolutely. Our option for a parliamentary debate would be informed by the further information that we get. We would not drive a debate ahead of getting that information. In illuminating the issue for other committees, we will perhaps create a trigger for them to ask similar questions.

We will write to the Scottish Government, highlight the petition to the relevant subject committees and contact the DWP directly to ask what it has done. If other housing organisations have an interest in the issue and wanted to respond to the petition, we would welcome that.

We appreciate the fact that the petitioner has lodged the petition, as it concerns one of those issues that people might not have become aware of, because of its technicalities.

If that is agreed, we will move on to our final petition—[Interruption.]

11:32 Meeting suspended.  

11:32 On resuming—  


Risk-based Blood Donation (PE1643)

The Convener

The final petition for consideration is PE1643, lodged by Jack Douglas on behalf of the National Union of Students Scotland, on introducing individual risk-based blood donation. The petition calls for a change to the regulations that prevent people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender plus community from donating blood and for a move to an evidence-based system that examines people on their individual risk in relation to providing blood. Members have copies of the submissions that have been received from the Scottish Government, the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, the Terrence Higgins Trust, HIV Scotland and the Equality Network.

The Minister for Public Health and Sport says that the Scottish Government is very much open to revising the deferral criteria for men who have sex with men and other categories of donors and is sympathetic to the argument that a 12-month deferral period may no longer be necessary for some groups of potential donors, given the improvements in blood screening tests.

The stakeholder submissions also indicate support for a revision of the current rules on deferral and speculate on potential recommendations of the review that is being conducted by the donor selection working group of the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs, or SaBTO. The SNBTS submission indicates its understanding that the working group was due to report earlier this month, with subsequent recommendations to be made to relevant ministers and health departments of the devolved Administrations. It may assist our consideration of the petition if we can get confirmation of that.

Each of the submissions expresses support for the suggestion of a move to an individual risk-based system, as it could eliminate discrimination and improve confidence in the system. The SNBTS supports the concept in principle but suggests that a lack of evidence, the interpretation of the phrase “individual risk assessment” and time and resource constraints impact on the feasibility of such a move. The SNBTS adds that an online confidential donor selection portal, as suggested by the petitioners in their evidence to the committee, would be possible to implement but would have to be scoped, designed and constructed.

Do members have any comments or suggestions on what action we might take?

Rona Mackay

I declare an interest, in that I had a members’ business debate on the subject. We need to seek an update from the Government and SaBTO on the status of the review that the donor selection working group is undertaking. An all-party group in Westminster will have a meeting on the subject next month as well. It is time to regroup and get an update.

The Convener

Given the time constraints, can I assume that the committee agrees with the suggestion of seeking an update and pursuing the issues from there?

Members indicated agreement.

The Convener

I thank all committee members, the clerks to the committee, the official report staff and everyone else who supports the committee for all their help over the past year. We can be proud of the work that we have done, the number of petitions that we have dealt with and the opportunity that we have afforded petitioners to raise a range of issues with us. I also thank SPICe, whose role with regard to the committee is maybe more burdensome than it is with others.

Finally, I thank Maurice Corry. I am sorry to hear that you are leaving the committee, but it has been a pleasure to work with you and we wish you well in your new committee. We can always invite you back to support individual petitions. We look forward to working with your colleague when she becomes a member of the committee.

Thank you. I have been appointed as a substitute member of the committee, so I may be back.

I wish everybody all the best for the summer and look forward to seeing you in September.

Meeting closed at 11:36.