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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, March 7, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 07 March 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, European Union Settlement Scheme, Portfolio Question Time, Local Government Finance (Scotland) Order 2019 [Draft], International Women’s Day 2019, Committee Announcement, Decision Time


General Question Time

NHS Boards (Budgets)

To ask the Scottish Government under what circumstances a national health service board would limit the amount of necessary operations that a patient requires due to budgetary concerns. (S5O-02963)

No clinically necessary operation should be curtailed because of budgetary or other financial concerns. Funding for NHS Borders will increase to £207.7 million, which is a 44.8 per cent increase in real terms since 2006-07. In addition, NHS Borders will receive £987,000 to target specialties such as ophthalmology and radiology as part of the first tranche of funding to reduce waiting times.

I was contacted by a constituent who had gone through the whole process of being referred and put on the waiting list for a double hip operation. He was asked whether he would be willing to go to the Golden Jubilee hospital for his treatment and he agreed to that. I have to say that the treatment was very good, the operation was successful and he was very happy, although only one hip could be done at a time—we know that that is the clinically recommended approach. However, at his 12-week assessment he asked when he would be admitted for the operation on the other hip and he was told that there were no plans to do his other hip and that he would have to go back to the beginning and start again.

My question is not about my constituent himself but about the concern that he raises. When he tried to find out why NHS Lothian—it was that health board—had not approved having both hips done, which is the treatment for which he was referred, the only whisper that he got back was that the budget that was allocated was for only one hip. That raises some concerns.

Will the cabinet secretary assure others who might face that issue that they will not have the same experience?

If Ms Ballantyne emails me with some of the details of that case, I will look into the issue specifically. I am pleased that her constituent’s first operation went well. The situation that Ms Ballantyne described does not make sense to me and it does not sound correct. If she sends me the details I will look into it and, as soon as I have an answer I will ensure that she has an answer, too.

To go back to the first question that Michelle Ballantyne asked, on budgetary considerations, does the cabinet secretary agree that it is a bit rich for the Tories to talk budgets when their proposal to cut tax for the richest would have taken £500 million out of our budget, which pays for an awful lot of medical staff?

Ms Grahame is correct to say that the Tories’ proposal would have reduced our health budget by that amount. Fortunately, the Parliament took a different view. That money represents a significant number of nurses, doctors and allied health professionals, all of whom are committed to delivering the quality of healthcare that the Government is committed to and to ensuring the reduction in waiting times that I intend to see over the next period, as I have made very clear.

Cosmetic Procedures (Non-medically Qualified Practitioners)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on non-medically qualified practitioners providing Botox and other similar treatments. (S5O-02964)

I put on record that I have a family member who is a qualified beautician.

We are currently considering a range of options for phase 2 of the regulation of independent clinics, which focuses on cosmetic procedures, including Botox and dermal fillers, that are provided by non-healthcare professionals within non-regulated sites—those procedures are principally, although not exclusively, administered by beauty therapists or hairdressers.

Given that desperate circumstances sometimes force people to undergo such risky treatments, what steps is the Scottish Government taking to improve access to such services on the national health service and to better regulate the industry?

Botox injections and similar procedures are not provided by the NHS for cosmetic rather than medical reasons. In April 2015, the Scottish cosmetic interventions expert group published a report on the regulation of independent healthcare and its recommendations were accepted by ministers. Phase 1 of the regulations, which came into effect on 1 April 2016, focuses on independent clinics run by a doctor, dentist, nurse, midwife or dental technician that administer cosmetic procedures such as dermal fillers and lip enhancement drugs such as Botox, which is a prescribed drug. Those clinics are required to be registered with Healthcare Improvement Scotland.

Road Improvements (A84)

3. Dean Lockhart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government when the feasibility study on junction improvements on the A84 near Blair Drummond Safari Park will be completed. (S5O-02965)

Transport Scotland commissioned its operating company to undertake a feasibility study and to outline the design for potential improvements at the location. That has taken longer than anticipated, as new information relating to historical accidents came to light during the final evaluation stage. That information is currently being reviewed to see how it relates to the completion of the study. The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson, has asked Transport Scotland officials to conclude the report at the earliest opportunity.

I thank the minister for that response and update. Community representatives first met in December 2017 to discuss options to improve safety at the junction. The feasibility study was meant to appear in summer 2018 but has since faced the delays that the minister mentioned. Does he share my frustration about the delay to the report and does he share the concerns of local communities about the junction?

First, I absolutely recognise the strong community interest in the issue. I know that Mr Lockhart and Mr Crawford have raised the issue in the course of their work and I understand the frustration of the local community about any delay to such a key study. As I said, the cabinet secretary is keen for the final report to be presented to him at the earliest opportunity and I am sure that he will be keen to communicate it to Mr Lockhart.

Although I am grateful for the information that the minister provided to Dean Lockhart, I hope that he will understand my disappointment that it has taken a parliamentary question for the delay to emerge from Transport Scotland. In October last year, I was informed that the study would be available in a number of weeks, and I informed the community of that response.

I hope that the minister will also understand that there will be considerable frustration about the delay in the Blair Drummond community, because the people there have been gallantly campaigning on this important road safety issue for a number of years.

I absolutely accept the concerns that Mr Crawford raised and—for what it is worth—I apologise to Mr Crawford for the delay in the production of the report. As I explained in my initial answer to Mr Lockhart, the reason for the delay is the presentation of additional accident data. I hope that Mr Crawford understands the need to take that on board to ensure that the final report reflects that data if necessary. However, I am sorry that the delay was not communicated to Mr Crawford and that he has had to wait to hear that news today. I am sure that Mr Matheson will be keen to ensure that all members who have an interest in the issue are communicated with as soon as possible once the final report has been produced.

Neonatal Expenses Fund

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the progress of the neonatal expenses fund. (S5O-02966)

A mid-year evaluation report will be published by the end of this month. An evaluation of the full year, following the end of March, will be published in autumn 2019. To date, over the first four months of the scheme, £60,000 has been spent, which has helped 435 families.

The cabinet secretary will know of my interest in the operation of the fund because of my experience of the time that my daughter spent in a neonatal ward. How does the number of applications to the fund compare with the number of admissions to neonatal or special care wards, and is there any variation across health boards? Some health boards perhaps need an extra push to ensure that parents know about the fund.

I cannot give Mr Griffin that information at the moment—it will be part of the first full-year evaluation that will take place at the end of March. Although that evaluation is not due for publication until autumn 2019, I will look specifically at that data in advance of publication to address those questions.

We are also conscious of other areas in which improvement is needed. In particular, we are looking at the availability and appropriateness of accommodation for parents in those circumstances, and at the quality and reach of the information that is given by our health boards to parents who should qualify for such support but who might not be aware of it.

We will look at some of that information in advance of the full-year evaluation, and I will ensure that Mr Griffin understands the basis of what we are looking at. Given his keen interest and pivotal role in the issue, we will see whether he thinks that there is anything more that we might do.

Pupil Equity Funding (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn)

To ask the Scottish Government how much pupil equity funding has been given to schools in the Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn constituency. (S5O-02967)

Schools in the Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn constituency have been given almost £2.9 million of pupil equity funding in both 2017-18 and 2018-19. In the forthcoming financial year, schools in the constituency will receive over £2.9 million as part of the more than £22.3 million that is allocated to schools across Glasgow.

The funding is to be spent at the discretion of headteachers and will continue to the end of this parliamentary session as part of our commitment to invest £750 million to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap.

I commend the imaginative use of pupil equity funding by Chirnsyde primary school in Milton, in my constituency, where the social enterprise Highballs Low CIC works with students to improve physical literacy and build confidence in a fun way. More importantly, teachers see improvements in children’s readiness to learn.

How does the Scottish Government disseminate around Scotland examples of such good practice? Given the success in my constituency and the benefits to my constituents of such initiatives, I hope that the Scottish Government will consider continuing to extend pupil equity funding not just in this parliamentary session but into the next one.

I would love to be in the position to continue pupil equity funding into the next parliamentary session under the leadership of a Scottish National Party Government, but the public will, of course, make their choices on that question in 2021.

I commend Chirnsyde primary school in the Milton area of Mr Doris’s constituency. A tremendous amount of imagination has been deployed in the utilisation of PEF. Mr Doris cites a good example of how schools acknowledge that some young people face barriers that have to be overcome before they can participate in effective learning.

We look for solid, sound, evidenced examples of good practice and share them widely through, for example, the regional improvement collaborative events that are taking place this spring. On Tuesday, I was at the first event in Murrayfield for the south-east collaborative. We will ensure that, through networks such as glow and the national improvement hub, there is a wider understanding of the effective ways in which young people’s performance can be enhanced as a consequence of the utilisation of pupil equity funding.

Practice of Medicine (Gender Inequality)

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of the recent comments by the chief medical officer for Scotland, what action it is taking to tackle gender inequality in the practice of medicine. (S5O-02968)

This month, the First Minister’s national advisory council on women and girls will shine a spotlight on the issue of women’s and girls’ health, inviting individuals and communities to provide feedback on women’s and girls’ health-related questions. A summary of that feedback will be published on the advisory council’s website, and responses will inform future reports to the First Minister.

In addition, with the chief medical officer, I will look at how we can strategically—but at pace—focus on necessary improvements across the national health service to tackle women’s health issues.

That is a welcome answer, and I will certainly highlight this month’s activities.

Is the cabinet secretary aware that women’s inequality in medicine includes thyroid patients, whose diagnosis and treatment is deeply concerning? In recognition of that, her colleague, the Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing, wrote to health boards, advising them that the Government expects triiodothyronine—or T3—to be prescribed when an endocrinologist initiates that.

What will the cabinet secretary do about NHS Tayside, which has blatantly ignored the Government’s letter? Only yesterday, the board refused the prescription of T3 to a patient, saying that T3 is non-formulary—that is wrong, as the cabinet secretary will know, as it is on the formulary—and allowed a panel to overrule a specialist clinician who has recognised that the woman needs that life-saving medicine.

I am grateful to the member for raising that issue with me. From what she has said, that sounds like a completely unacceptable response from NHS Tayside. I will ask the minister the pursue the matter with NHS Tayside with some urgency in order to resolve it, so that the Tayside board follows the guidelines and the clear views that we have expressed, as other health boards are doing.

Question 7 has been withdrawn.

Ferry Capacity (Highlands and Islands)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to improve ferry capacity in the Highlands and Islands region. (S5O-02970)

The Scottish Government remains committed to improving ferry capacity on the Clyde and Hebrides ferry services network and on the northern isles ferry services network to support the economic, social and cultural development of our island and remote mainland communities.

The Government works closely with ferry operators to try to ensure that demands on our ferry services are met. In line with the vessel replacement and deployment plan, a number of initiatives are being taken forward to ensure that future capacity challenges are met and that ferry services are further developed.

The minister might be aware of recent reports that distilleries on Islay have raised concerns about the ferries that serve the island and the space that is available on vessels, not just for commercial reasons but because of the vital tourism that the whisky industry brings. What action is the Scottish Government taking to improve the situation on Islay and elsewhere?

The introduction of the road equivalent tariff has brought significant and continuing benefits to Islay. As the member has indicated, there is increasing demand on the capacity that serves Islay. We are very much aware of that. The fact that a 35 per cent increase in demand is forecast from the distilling sector alone will put additional pressure on the capacity that serves Islay.

We have discussed how we can respond to that demand in the long term with the Islay ferry committee and the local member, Mr Russell, and I would be happy to have similar discussions with Mr Cameron. Islay is, of course, the next island that we are looking to provide a new vessel to serve. We have also had discussions with other ferry operators, including Western Ferries, that have expressed an interest in that area. We are doing everything that we can to look at all options to improve ferry capacity to serve the very important community on Islay and make sure that its economic aspirations can be met.

The minister will be aware of the importance of upgrading CalMac’s booking system to allow better management of capacity, not least during times of disruption. Can the minister provide an update on progress in that area?

I certainly can. I recognise that the issue is an important one, which was raised at a summit that was chaired by Dr Allan in Uist last November, and I am grateful to him for hosting that event. I can confirm that I requested that Transport Scotland officials prioritise that area in their discussions with CalMac. The proposals for the introduction of smart ticketing that CalMac outlined in its tender bid for the Clyde and Hebrides service are under discussion with Transport Scotland. I recognise that an updated system could significantly benefit communication with customers and help with different packaging of tickets to incentivise the use of CalMac’s services.

Fair Food Transformation Fund

To ask the Scottish Government whether the fair food transformation fund will continue to provide funding to community-based organisations beyond the 2019 tranche. (S5O-02971)

We are currently reviewing the way in which organisations apply for funding through the fair food transformation fund and several other communities-related funds.

As was set out in the draft budget statement, this year we aim to launch a new, single, harmonised communities fund that will replace several current funding mechanisms including the fair food transformation fund. That streamlined application process will seek to make things easier for third sector and community organisations, which we know that the sector would value and has requested.

Throughout the review, my officials have been keeping in contact with organisations and with those who are interested in applying to the fund, and we will update them as soon as plans are finalised.

What support might the Scottish Government give to food banks that apply for funding to develop a wraparound food justice system such as the one that is provided by Drumchapel food bank, in my constituency? The food bank also provides referrals to health and social care services, including mental health and suicide prevention services, and to local money advice services. Where appropriate, it also interacts with local education services.

I thank Mr Kidd for raising awareness of the incredible work that is being done in his constituency. Those are exactly the sort of activities that the current fair food fund seeks to support, because they allow people to access food in a dignified manner and provide holistic, person-centred support. That is clearly the hallmark of the approach in Drumchapel. I can confirm that the new unified fund will also endeavour to support that innovative work.

What a pity it is that we are having to deal with increasing levels of food insecurity, which the United Kingdom Government has only now, finally, conceded are down to its appalling roll-out of universal credit.

Before we move to First Minister’s question time, I invite members to join me in welcoming to the gallery Dr Husam Zomlot, the head of the Palestinian mission in the United Kingdom. [Applause.]