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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, December 5, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 05 December 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Art in Action Campaign, Portfolio Question Time, Disability Sport and Participation, Decision Time


General Question Time

Hoax Calls to Emergency Services (Aberdeen)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking in response to concerns regarding the number of hoax calls to the emergency services in Aberdeen. (S5O-03873)

The Scottish Government condemns the making of any hoax call to our emergency services, although it is important to note that such calls reflect a very small percentage of the overall number of calls received.

Hoax calls are not victimless pranks but can distract and divert vital resources and attention away from people who are in life-threatening situations. Established United Kingdom-wide processes are in place with BT for emergency services, to deal with people who abuse the 999 service. Depending on the circumstances, such abuse can constitute a criminal offence.

I am sure that the minister will want to join me in thanking our emergency services staff for their hard work and dedication, particularly at this time of year.

How does the Scottish Government plan to work with, for example, the Scottish Ambulance Service and the police, to take appropriate action, perhaps through publicity, to tackle hoax calls?

Our emergency services staff do amazing work every day, often in challenging circumstances, to keep the people of Scotland safe and well. They fully deserve our thanks and gratitude, particularly at this time of year, when demand for services can be high.

The Government is committed to doing everything that it can do to support our emergency services in the action that they take to reduce hoax calls, for example by working closely with partners and local communities to reduce false alarms and increase understanding of the impact of such calls.

The Scottish Ambulance Service uses social media to advise patients, during periods of high demand, to call the service only if there is an emergency. As part of its winter communications plan, the service will warn of the impact of hoax calls.

Renewable Energy Technology (Exports)

To ask the Scottish Government how it supports exports of renewable energy technology. (S5O-03874)

Thanks to the Scottish Government’s commitment and the targets that it has introduced, and thanks to the expertise and entrepreneurialism of our energy sector, Scotland is a global centre of excellence in renewables. Scotland’s green energy export impact report, “Scottish Renewables Export Survey 2019”, which was published earlier this year, highlighted that Scottish renewable energy businesses export to 72 countries.

The Scottish offshore wind energy council, which my colleague Mr Wheelhouse co-chairs, is looking not only to maximise supply-chain content of Scottish and United Kingdom projects but to support the supply chain to compete for overseas contracts. It has engaged with the Administrations in California, Massachusetts and New Jersey in relation to offshore wind opportunities. We want to build on our success and grow a successful and competitive global supply chain.

What support is given to small and medium-sized businesses in the sector, such as JGC Engineering and Technical Services in my constituency?

I met JGC Engineering in Boston when I was there recently with a delegation of Scottish renewable energy businesses, which are looking to export to Massachusetts. I had a successful meeting with the governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, in that regard, to promote the technology that we can export from Scotland.

Scottish businesses, including in the renewable energy sector, are being supported with an additional £20 million over the next three years, which the Scottish Government is investing to grow Scottish exports around the world.

I am pleased to hear that we are investing to grow exports around the world. What is the minister doing to ensure that wind energy projects in Scotland are supplied by companies from Scotland, instead of us being in the farcical situation whereby wind turbines are being imported from Indonesia to Fife, where, only a few yards away, the Burntisland Fabrications yard is standing empty?

Mr Findlay will be aware that the Scottish Government stepped in to support BiFab. We are working with it to identify opportunities and ways in which we can support it in getting contracts. At the end of the day, it is a commercial business, but we take any suggestion of unfair competition very seriously, and we are looking to intervene to identify anything that may be deemed as such internationally.

The Scottish Government is hugely focused on the sector and wants to build up the supply chain—it intervened in BiFab precisely for that reason—to ensure that the opportunity and the technology are maintained in Scotland. Where it can, the Scottish Government supports private sector businesses in investing in the supply chain to provide jobs in the renewable energy sector in Scotland.

Will the minister outline the sort of policies that the UK Government has so far failed to deliver that would incentivise investment in renewable technology?

Scotland’s technology is in a world-leading position. I attended an event at the City of Glasgow College this morning, where international opportunities for further exports of that technology were discussed. However, the UK Government has not been helpful in that regard. Its failure to follow through on the carbon capture scheme and the way that it changed the contracts for difference, resulting in a lack of support for onshore wind power technology, have not helped Scotland’s drive to support its renewable energy sector and to use its world-leading technology to develop and export more internationally.

Funeral Directors (Code of Practice)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress it is making in developing the draft statutory code of practice for funeral directors. (S5O-03875)

The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that everyone in Scotland receives the care, dignity and respect in death that they would wish in life.

Although there are no statutory regulations for funeral directors, or their businesses, in any part of the United Kingdom, we are working to change that in Scotland by introducing new statutory standards for funeral directors, underpinned by a licensing and inspection regime.

Earlier this year, I published the “Funeral Director: Code of Practice” for consultation. Once finalised, the code will set out statutory standards for funeral directors, which must be complied with. That will be a significant step forward in ensuring consistency of standards of care across Scotland. The analysis of the consultation responses will be available early next year and the code will be published later next year.

Following the recent reports of an alleged fraudulent scheme linked to a Fife funeral director business, which has impacted on a number of my constituents, can the cabinet secretary clarify whether the financial regulation for the industry is under consideration for inclusion as part of any future code of conduct?

The Scottish Government believes that the regulation of the pre-paid funeral plans market should be strengthened. As it is a reserved matter, we are urging the UK Government to take action to ensure that sufficient protection is in place for people who take out funeral plans. We will continue to call on the UK Government to take action in that area. The Scottish Government code of practice focuses on raising standards of transparency of the service that is offered by funeral directors, and standards of care of people who have died.

As the minister has said, the purpose of the draft statutory code of practice is to ensure that

“every person in Scotland has a dignified and respectful funeral”.

How will the newly developed funeral support payment ensure that that is the case, even for people who struggle to pay for funerals?

The funeral support payment is to help people on low-income benefits who might otherwise struggle to pay for a funeral. We have substantially widened eligibility for the payment compared with the eligibility for the former Department for Work and Pensions payment, and we will help 40 per cent more people each year. In total, around 5,000 people each year will receive support.

Moreover, we have developed the new funeral support payment in line with our social security principles to treat all clients with dignity, fairness and respect.

Police (Response to Individuals Experiencing Mental Ill Health)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to reduce the amount of time that the police spend assisting people with mental health issues on matters that should not require their presence. (S5O-03876)

I thank John Mason for raising this important issue.

The Scottish Government, Police Scotland and partners are committed to working together to ensure that the right service provides the right response for individuals experiencing mental ill health. It is widely recognised that Police Scotland plays a significant role in assisting and safeguarding individuals who present to services in emotional or mental health-related distress or who are vulnerable in a variety of ways.

We have a collective responsibility to address the complex issues that arise from mental ill health. Police Scotland is working hard with partners to gain a clear picture of mental health-related demand so that we can fully understand the demand that is placed on our front-line officers and, importantly, so that we can work together to deliver the best outcomes for individuals.

We are continuing to deliver on the commitment that is set out in our programme for government to develop a 21st century approach to adult mental health. That includes our intention to establish a new adult mental health collaborative and the creation of the new multi-agency distress intervention group to develop and oversee new approaches to improving collaborative responses to distress. We are also on course to deliver our commitment to 800 additional mental health workers in four priority settings: accident and emergency, general practices, custody suites and prisons.

I thank the minister for that answer, and I am glad that progress is being made. I spent a day with the police in August, and the subject came up repeatedly. If a police officer takes someone with mental health issues to accident and emergency, they have to stay with that person, which can be for some time. Is there another system whereby somebody from the health service could take over and release the police officers in such instances?

As I stated in my initial response, we know that police officers often play a significant and valuable role in assisting those in mental health distress. However, it is crucial that we develop a strong collaborative approach, with public services, the third sector and communities working together to improve support for those with mental ill health.

Police Scotland’s new call-handling approach is being rolled out across Scotland, and it is already helping the service to respond more effectively to demand, putting resource where it is most needed and ensuring that people receive the support that best meets their needs. Working with other partners to address risk and vulnerability is a key feature of that approach. In addition, a new mental health hub service has been operational since March 2019, delivering dedicated support to people who contact Police Scotland in mental health distress, with calls referred to psychological wellbeing practitioners.

The distress intervention group that I mentioned, in which Police Scotland is a key partner, will provide strategic leadership across the Scottish justice and health and social care sectors to ensure that more effective pathways are available to people who present to public services in distress.

I endorse Mr Mason’s concerns. Will the minister again examine the supply and availability of medium and low secure facilities for those with serious mental health issues, as was raised at the Health and Sport Committee this week?

Mr Stewart will be aware that we are holding a review of all our forensic mental health services. The review is led by Derek Barron and we expect it to report next summer. The review’s remit covers high, low and medium secure community forensic mental health services.

Out-of-hours Services (Vale of Leven, Inverclyde Royal and Royal Alexandra Hospitals)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to concerns that the out-of-hours services at the Vale of Leven, Inverclyde royal and Royal Alexandra hospitals are not functioning effectively. (S5O-03877)

I agree that the current situation is not acceptable. I am aware of the challenges faced by Glasgow’s out-of-hours service. Out-of-hours services covering NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde are currently under review. As part of that, Glasgow is recruiting 70 salaried general practitioners to work in the service. Recruitment started in early September this year, and seven salaried GPs have so far been recruited. It is important that Glasgow continues recruiting at pace to fill those posts, and that the health board takes on board the advice that it commissioned from Sir Lewis Ritchie on how to deliver a more sustainable out-of-hours service.

Out-of-hours services at the Vale of Leven were closed for 128 days between January and September this year alone, and there have been more closures in October and November. In fact, the unit has been closed more often than it has been open, and there are also problems at Inverclyde and at the Royal Alexandra hospital in Paisley. The result is that people end up at accident and emergency when they do not need to go there, and waiting times increase. I am sure that the cabinet secretary will share my frustration that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde seems incapable of organising out-of-hours rotas. What can she do to ensure that this most basic of emergency services is provided in my local area?

Ms Baillie will recall that, when I visited Vale of Leven hospital with her and others, we had what I thought was a very productive discussion with local GPs about the work that they undertake currently and how they could expand it. I share her disappointment that we have not yet seen that approach realised, but I think that those local discussions are the route by which we can resolve some of the out-of-hours matters.

I could not agree more with Jackie Baillie that, if the out-of-hours service does not work, along with people going to the pharmacy first service and NHS 24, we see people appearing for appropriate unscheduled care at A and Es, as opposed to the current situation that is often driven by people not knowing where else to go.

Today in the chamber, I am prepared to make my commitment to Ms Baillie that I will not only pursue what I thought were productive discussions at the Vale of Leven but talk to NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde about the matter—and, of course, about other matters—and raise exactly how it proposes to improve the out-of-hours service and its delivery. I am happy to keep Ms Baillie updated on that.

Does the cabinet secretary consider that it is unacceptable that although GPs from Inverclyde are regularly used to cover elsewhere in the health board area, reciprocal arrangements do not seem to apply? Further, the most recent health board figures reveal that out-of-hours services closed 40 times in 2018, rising to 77 up to 17 November this year.

I do not consider it unacceptable that GPs across our cohort of areas, such as the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde area, co-operate and help to cover for one another. What is not acceptable is if that is not reciprocal and co-operative. As I said in response to Ms Baillie, I will pick up the matter with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde—and with the British Medical Association’s GP committee, with which I think that we have a productive relationship—to ask what more can be done to ensure that there is reciprocity and willingness to ensure cover across the piece. At the core of the issue is fixing the out-of-hours service in Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

NHS Forth Valley (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met NHS Forth Valley to discuss the board’s performance. (S5O-03878)

I met the chair and chief executive of NHS Forth Valley on Monday 2 December, when I chaired the board’s mid-year review.

In December last year, NHS Forth Valley was escalated to level 3 in the national health service board performance escalation framework, requiring tailored support. Although there have been improvements in accident and emergency waiting times and Forth Valley is no longer at level 3 in the framework, in 2018-19 it missed six of its eight national waiting time targets, and the areas that had seemed to be improving have begun to slip again. One year on from the previous escalation, is the cabinet secretary confident that Forth Valley will not be escalated again within a year?

It is important to understand that we do not escalate boards lightly and that, when we do, we do so to provide the additional tailored support that they need to help them improve their performance. Of course, that tailored support ranges from what might be provided at level 2 or 3 to what might be the case at level 5, when intervention is much more direct.

Alison Harris is right that there have been improvements in A and E at Forth Valley and very welcome improvements in the 31-day cancer targets, with the most recent figures showing that the target was met 100 per cent. The discussion that we had on Monday was about what more the board is doing to improve on its 62-day target. The treatment time guarantee is improving, but there is more to be done with regard to out-patients. At this point, my focus is on making sure that the board has in place the right plans, the right recruitment options and the right financial performance to ensure that, when I do its annual review, we will have seen considerable improvements in its performance.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that a Labour MSP has attacked the Golden Jubilee hospital in my constituency for using a mobile catheter laboratory temporarily, as is done throughout the United Kingdom. Is it not an utter disgrace that Labour is willing to undermine the hospital, which has an exemplary record, and put vulnerable people in doubt at the worst time in their lives—when they are having a heart attack—which could cause them not to report the heart attack speedily, thus putting their lives in jeopardy?

I am not entirely sure that that hospital is in Forth valley, but the cabinet secretary can give a very brief answer.

The Golden Jubilee hospital covers patients from the Forth valley area, Presiding Officer.

I agree with the member. Members need to decide: do they want us to focus on delivering high-quality patient care in a timely fashion, or do they want to make political points? The NHS in Scotland is doing what the NHS in Wales and the NHS in England are doing: it is ensuring that we have resources on time and in place to deliver that quality. I am interested in delivering high-quality patient care, rather than making cheap political points.