Website survey

We want your feedback on the Scottish Parliament website. Take our 6 question survey now

Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig


Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, November 1, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 01 November 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Outdoor Classroom Day, Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Annual Target Report), Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route, Asylum Seekers, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Presiding Officer’s Ruling, Decision Time


General Question Time

Transvaginal Mesh Implants

To ask the Scottish Government what recent contact it has had with women affected by transvaginal mesh implants. (S5O-02499)

In recent weeks, the Scottish Government has received correspondence from a number of women and, as the member is aware, I have also recently met the family of Mrs Baxter.

It is my understanding that neither the cabinet secretary nor the First Minister has met any of the Scottish mesh survivors. Given that this is the biggest healthcare scandal since thalidomide and that it affects thousands of women—and now men, too—will the cabinet secretary and the First Minister agree to meet me and a delegation of Scottish mesh survivors? Given the stark findings of Professor Britton’s report, will the cabinet secretary instruct a new, truly independent report on the use of mesh in Scotland?

I am very content to accept the member’s invitation to meet Scottish mesh survivors, although I cannot speak for the First Minister’s diary.

On the request for a new inquiry, I point out that Professor Britton’s report is primarily about how the Government organises, sets up and oversees independent inquires and therefore it is not exclusively for me. However, I have written to John Wilkinson, who is the director of devices at the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, asking him to provide me with the evidence on which that body has judged that mesh products are safe for use in clinical practice. The chief medical officer has written to the chief executive of the MHRA in similar terms. When we receive that response, we will be able to make a decision on other matters that concern the use of mesh in clinical practice across Scotland.

Marine and Fisheries Protection Vessels

To ask the Scottish Government how many vessels are in its marine and fisheries protection fleet. (S5O-02500)

Marine Scotland compliance owns and operates three ships that provide a dedicated enforcement capacity. Those are the Jura, the Hirta and the Minna, the last of which I visited in June this year in Oban. We also have access to five rigid-hulled inflatable boats on a daily basis to enhance the enforcement activity.

Will the cabinet secretary provide an update to Parliament on the findings of the review that she told me was on-going in a letter dated 16 April 2018 and to which the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy alluded at the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee meeting on 6 June 2018? There is a challenge with the growing number of marine protected areas and with Brexit. The Welsh Government is responsible for a considerably smaller marine area, but it has recently commissioned and is building five marine compliance vessels. Is it right that Wales has a bigger fleet than Scotland does?

There are a number of things there that I could pick up on. First, the review that my colleague Fergus Ewing and I referred to is the constant review under which we keep such issues. I think that the member will also recall that, in my reply, I mentioned that we have two surveillance aircraft and also make regular use of unmanned aerial vehicles or drones, which adds considerably to our surveillance capacity.

As I understand it, the Welsh Government is indeed in the process of buying new boats, but they are considerably smaller than the boats that are in the Marine Scotland fleet and are of a very different order of technology, so it is not a like-for-like comparison.

Public Sector Catering (Local Sourcing)

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to encourage local sourcing across public sector catering. (S5O-02501)

The Scottish Government is committed to encouraging and increasing the ocal sourcing of food and drink across the public sector. Good progress has been made and we know that around 48 per cent of the food and drink that is sourced in the public sector is Scottish—a 41 per cent increase since 2007. We believe that we can do more and we have put in place a range of measures and support to try to increase levels further.

I welcome all movement towards local sourcing. Does the minister agree that consumption shifts, such as buying locally and seasonally, are important in moving Scotland along a sustainable path?

I agree, and I welcome the progress that has been made by 11 local authorities and the food for life programme. Local procurement is desirable for our schools, hospitals, prisons and the whole public sector and also for our food producers—our farmers and suppliers. We are doing many things to make yet further progress.

East Ayrshire Council has a great reputation for sourcing food for schools locally—I think that more than 75 per cent of its food is sourced locally. Does the cabinet secretary recognise that the Scottish Government could use the central Scotland Excel contract to ensure that all Scotland’s schoolchildren get the same opportunity to access quality locally produced food?

I am aware of East Ayrshire Council’s good work and I know that Corrie Mains farm in East Ayrshire supplies all the eggs to primary schools there. We are a wee bit ahead of Brian Whittle, because we are already doing what he has urged me to do, and have been for some time. Following the good work in 11 Scottish local authorities, I am pleased that we are expanding the programme to reach more schools by investing £400,000 over the next three years to target all 32 local authorities. I am sure that the member will be delighted to hear that positive news.

FreeStyle Libre Flash Glucose Monitoring System

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the Scottish health technologies group’s advice statement regarding the use of the FreeStyle Libre flash glucose monitoring system. (S5O-02502)

We welcome the advice statement from the Scottish health technologies group about the flash glucose monitoring system. The advice statement has provided information on the clinical and cost effectiveness of this technology and has supported national health service boards in determining the place of the technology for local use.

I welcome the decision of NHS Grampian, in particular, to act on the advice. Has the statement had any further impact on the uptake of this life-transforming technology by other health boards across Scotland?

It is important to note that the device is used for self-monitoring of glucose levels via a sensor that is worn but, as with many other drugs and devices, it is not suitable for all patients, and that is a clinical judgment that requires to be performed. The FreeStyle Libre sensor is now available for prescription in 13 of the 14 NHS board areas, and NHS Highland is working with the local diabetes service to become the 14th, which I am delighted about. Mr Stevenson’s point about life-transforming technologies is well made. As our leading clinicians and clinical researchers work with companies that are involved in precision medicine and technologies, we are very mindful of the new demands that will come with regard to how we determine what is clinically suitable either in drugs or in devices and technologies such as this, and we will adapt our processes accordingly.

As co-chair of the cross-party group on diabetes, I have had very positive feedback about FreeStyle Libre, particularly the benefits of reducing the need for frequent finger prick blood tests and of well-maintained HbA1c levels—the blood glucose levels. Will the cabinet secretary confirm that the technology is being dispensed throughout Scotland according to the prescribed guidelines without caveats?

I am grateful for the work of the cross-party group that David Stewart chairs. My expectation is that the device will be prescribed according to the guidance—that is my absolute expectation of all the territorial health boards. I would want to know if that was not the case, so that I could take action accordingly.

Arnish Fabrication Yard

To ask the Scottish Government what progress has been made in securing work for the Arnish fabrication yard on the Isle of Lewis. (S5O-02503)

We continue to press developers to use Scottish contractors when building projects off our coastline and we encourage our supply chain to be as competitive as possible when bidding for those contracts. We have confidence that the new owners of Burntisland Fabrications are doing everything possible to secure new contracts and restore employment to the yards at Arnish as well as Burntisland and Methil.

I thank the cabinet secretary for his reply and welcome that progress. Given their obvious interest in the matter, will the cabinet secretary undertake to keep representatives of the former workforce at Arnish updated directly, particularly on any news about new contracts?

Yes—I will commit to do that. I have engaged with the trade unions and there is good partnership working with the local authority and engagement with DF Barnes and BiFab. It is really important that we have a united, team Scotland approach to trying to secure work for the yards.

In addition to that, I will arrange a briefing for elected members, who will also be interested, so that we can discuss further actions to secure work for the yards and ensure that people can return to that fruitful employment.

Is the equipment in the yard being kept up to date and maintained? That very expensive equipment is owned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise and is crucial to the yard’s future.

I do not have that detail to hand. I am happy to supply further information to the member, but there has been substantial investment in the technology. The important thing right now is to secure the contracts, the work and the benefits to the supply chain, and that is absolutely what I am focused on in working with the new owners. There is also a financial support package to try to preserve the ability to secure work. We are working very hard to get those contracts, and therefore every element that ensures that the yards are attractive, including the infrastructure, is vital. However, the key critical issue right now is the ability to win contracts and I am absolutely focused on that.

I say again that I am happy to arrange a private briefing for interested elected members to see the efforts that we are undertaking to achieve that outcome.

Life Sciences Sector

To ask the Scottish Government what support it is providing to help grow the life sciences sector. (S5O-02504)

Life sciences is a growth sector for the Scottish economy. We are increasing innovation in the sector through the procurement of public services, and the chief scientist office is investing £3 million from 2018-19 to support collaborative working between the national health service, industry and academia. Another recent investment includes a £15 million contribution to the new medicines manufacturing innovation centre, which will support the efficient and safe production of new medicines. We are also working with the life sciences Scotland industry leadership group to ensure that we have the right policy environment to support sectoral growth.

Will the minister confirm that the Scottish Government is not on course to meet its original target, which was set in 2011, to double the turnover of the life sciences sector in Scotland to £6.2 billion by 2020, and that the Government has now extended that target to 2025? Does he agree that Scotland’s dynamic pharmaceutical sector, whose importance was demonstrated this week in the Fraser of Allander institute report, is key to meeting that future target? What specific action will the Scottish Government take to improve data capturing capabilities and to link primary and secondary care data to allow more investment in clinical trials and actually realise the potential of Scotland’s life sciences sector?

The target is for the sector to grow from £4 billion to £8 billion. We will see what the data that will come out shortly says, but I believe that it will confirm that we are on target to meet that growth target.

On what the sector is doing, the member will be aware that the First Minister recently opened the £54 million GlaxoSmithKline pharmaceutical production centre in Montrose. On what is happening with the increase in innovation in the sector, the Scottish Government continues to work with the industry leadership group, the stratified medicine Scotland innovation centre and the industrial biotechnology innovation centre to support innovation in the sector.

On what is happening specifically with the NHS, the Scottish Government continues to support the health innovation partnerships and to work with Scottish Health Innovations Ltd and the Golden Jubilee hospital to increase the co-operation between the NHS and the life sciences sector, grow innovation in the sector and increase its turnover and its exports.

Question 7 has not been lodged.

Doctors (Rural Areas)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what action it is taking to encourage doctors to relocate to rural practices. (S5O-02506)

Our strategy to recruit and retain general practitioners underpins our commitment to recruit 800 additional practising GPs by 2027, which is backed by a £7.5 million investment in this financial year. A sum of £2 million has been invested in a rural package that includes the Scottish rural medicine collaborative, golden hellos and a relocation package.

We have also committed an additional £30 million by 2021 to support all GPs with premises-related liabilities, to reduce the risk to practices.

I have launched our first graduate medicine programme, which will lead to an additional 330 medical graduates by 2028, primarily focused on remote and rural GP practices.

I am well aware of those programmes, as are GPs in my constituency, but they are simply not working for the rural community. I ask the Government to review the programmes to ensure that they are effective in encouraging GPs to relocate to rural practices.

I would be very interested to see the evidence on which Mr Burnett bases such a wide-ranging assertion. That is certainly not my experience, nor that of the remote and rural general practice working group or the rural collaborative, which are made up of GPs with experience in remote and rural areas. None of us said that this would be easy or without challenge, but I have yet to hear any additional constructive suggestions from the member or any of the Opposition parties about what we might do to add to the successful work of the actions that I have outlined.

Will the cabinet secretary provide an update on what progress has been made by the remote and rural general practice working group on how the new GP contract will work for rural areas?

The remote and rural general practice working group has commenced a programme of engagement with GPs, multidisciplinary clinicians and healthcare service providers, not only to listen to their concerns but to hear from them—based on their experience—about what more we can do.

One of the additional propositions that will come our way is dispensing practice training. I had a very productive discussion this morning with one of our royal colleges to look at how we can add to the multidisciplinary teams, not only in our acute setting but in primary care and, in particular, in remote and rural practices.

Deveron medical practice in Banff will close shortly because it has been impossible to recruit a new GP. The critical shortage of GPs is due to workforce planning mismanagement and an underfund of £658 million to the GP service over the past four years. This will be the 11th practice to close in Grampian in the past 11 years and will leave nearly 6,300 patients without a GP practice. When will the Scottish National Party Government act to solve this desperate crisis in the national health service?

As I have consistently made clear, I do not underestimate the challenges of GP numbers and GP practices in rural constituencies—as an MSP from a rural constituency, I am well aware of those challenges. However, I find it beyond impertinence that a member from those benches should argue with us about underfunding when his party is part of a United Kingdom Government that has short-changed the NHS by failing to meet its promises. It made those promises in June and a few short months later it has undercut us yet again.

Culture and Tourism (Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire)

To ask the Scottish Government how it supports culture and tourism in Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire. (S5O-02507)

The Scottish Government continues to support cultural activities across Scotland, with an increase of almost 10 per cent in culture funding this year, despite United Kingdom Government cuts. Creative Scotland is the lead public body supporting the arts and funds a range of cultural activities across Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire. Through our funding of VisitScotland, we continue to market the fantastic tourism assets of the area, while the youth music initiative and the cashback for creativity programme support culture for young people in communities there.

My constituency, Renfrewshire South, is home to Elderslie, the birthplace of Sir William Wallace. Two of my Scottish National Party local government colleagues—Councillor Andy Steel and Councillor Jacqueline Cameron—have recently secured support from the council to explore ways in which Elderslie can capitalise on that status. Would the cabinet secretary be willing to meet me and Councillors Steel and Cameron to discuss how the Scottish Government can support the project?

I understand that the “Renfrewshire Visitor Plan 2018-2021” looks at marketing the region in lots of different ways, including through promoting its rich history, not least the Wallace connections to Elderslie. I am more than happy to find out more about that tourism offer and to meet Tom Arthur to discuss it further.