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, February 9, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 09 February 2017

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Barnardo’s Scotland Nurture Week, Scotland’s Social Enterprise Strategy 2016-26, Decision Time


General Question Time

Mental Health First Aid (Training)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to increase the number of people trained in mental health first aid. (S5O-00659)

The Scottish Government funds NHS Health Scotland to provide a range of programmes to improve mental health, including Scottish mental health first aid training. NHS Health Scotland is currently conducting a review of its training provision for mental health, with a view to making the resource more flexible and responsive to changing evidence, and with a view to improving accessibility to targeted audiences. The review is due for completion in late February this year, and we will consider the recommendations on how best to provide the resource and increase the numbers of those who are trained.

I welcome much of what the minister said. Poor mental health is one of the biggest public health challenges facing society, and it is the leading cause of sickness absence in the workplace. Official statistics show that, between 2009 and 2014, the suicide rate increased and suicide accounted for 4,500 deaths across Scotland. Will the minister ensure that the Government’s upcoming mental health strategy will put mental health first aid on a par with general first aid, and will ensure that it constitutes a mandatory element of workplace health and safety training? Will she also ensure that it is properly resourced so that it can be delivered across the country, including in the islands that I represent, where the choose life initiative has struggled in recent years because of a lack of funding?

Liam McArthur has raised a number of issues. The suicide rate in Scotland is going down, although obviously there is still much more work to do.

On the allocation of funding, an amount goes to NHS Health Scotland as part of its wider resource funding. It is then up to it to allocate the resources according to needs and priorities. Obviously, roll-out of first aid training will be a key part of the mental health strategy.

To what extent will the Scottish Government provide assistance for people who want to receive mental health first aid training but cannot afford to access the programmes?

As I said to Liam McArthur, NHS Health Scotland receives funding, and it is then up to it to assess priorities and needs. Organisations should get in touch with NHS Health Scotland about that.

Young Farmers

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the report by the Royal Bank of Scotland, “Harvesting the future for young farmers”. (S5O-00660)

We welcome the report, which adds to our understanding of some of the challenges and barriers to new entrants to farming, and we look forward to discussing its findings with RBS in the very near future.

One of the key challenges that is mentioned in the report is the lack of land for young farmers to farm. What can the Scottish Government do to make more land available in order to allow young farmers to get a foothold in the sector?

Gail Ross is absolutely right to raise the issue, which is extremely important. Attracting and supporting young and new entrants into farming is vital to the long-term health of the sector and is a priority for the Government, as the First Minister and I made clear to the annual general meeting and other meetings of NFU Scotland earlier this week.

We have done a great deal of work. Forest Enterprise Scotland has had a successful scheme that has already brought new entrants into farming. We are following that with the establishment of a new group, which met on 14 December last year, called farming opportunities for new entrants—or FONE, with an F. That group will, inter alia, look at opportunities to deploy public land that is owned across all public bodies. That is a highly important area of work and one in which we are fully engaged.

I declare an interest, as a farmer.

The cabinet secretary will recall discussions that I have had with him about fallow land that lies unused around wind farms—often in the middle of forests, on land that can no longer be afforested. Such land might have a value if it were packaged up and turned into agricultural land, to provide units for new entrants.

Mr Scott makes a good point, to which we shall give attention.

In addition, and in addition to the work that Forest Enterprise Scotland and the Forestry Commission Scotland do on public land—nearly 700,000 hectares, I believe—we are working with many other public bodies, including Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Water and Orkney Islands Council, and with private estates, to ascertain to what extent they can make land available. Even a relatively small acreage can be of use to potential new entrants. I am happy to continue to work constructively with Mr Scott on the matter.

Question 3 was not lodged.

Minor Ailment Service

I remind members that I am a pharmacist, registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council.

To ask the Scottish Government what the benefits could be of extending the minor ailment service to all patients registered with a general practitioner. (S5O-00662)

As part of our programme for government, we are examining the feasibility of extending the minor ailment service, which is provided by community pharmacies. A pilot is under way in the Inverclyde health and social care partnership area to test opening up of the service to all patients who are registered with a local GP.

As part of the pilot, community pharmacists will be able to assess and provide treatment for some of the most common uncomplicated conditions that normally require a GP prescription, which will help to free up GP time. The approach will also promote and support self-care when that is the most appropriate course of action.

The pilot will test the benefits for patients and primary care services. We want to know whether the approach will reduce the burden on GPs and other local services, whether it will deliver and support better and appropriate access to primary care for patients, and how the current service could be further developed nationally.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that there is merit in exploring extension of the number of clinical conditions that can be treated by pharmacists to include, for example, uncomplicated urinary tract infections and exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, in order to determine the further benefits that the approach could bring?

I agree. In the pilot in Inverclyde, pharmacists—in addition to treating the ailments that are currently treated as part of the existing minor ailment service—will assess and treat patients for some uncomplicated common conditions that normally require a GP consultation and prescription, including UTIs, impetigo, shingles and acute COPD exacerbations. Pharmacists in the pilot will also provide bridging contraception.

Some health boards have introduced locally negotiated services for such conditions. For example, community pharmacies in NHS Grampian and NHS Forth Valley treat patients for uncomplicated UTIs. The approach makes the best use of pharmacists’ clinical skills and reduces demand on general practices. It therefore merits further exploration.

Just this week, NHS Dumfries and Galloway was forced to suspend admissions to Thornhill hospital in Dumfriesshire and to halve the number of beds, because the local GP practice that provides cover to the hospital has been running with half the number of GPs that it requires.

Given that the Royal College of General Practitioners predicted the current recruitment crisis, and given that this Government has been in power for 10 years, will the cabinet secretary hold her hand up and acknowledge that the Government has been far too slow off the mark in tackling the GP crisis, whether through extra funding, the development of GP hubs or extension of the minor ailment service?

Colin Smyth will be aware of the extensive work that is going on to ensure that we have a primary care model that is fit for purpose. The GP is critical, as the clinical expertise behind a multidisciplinary team, which is how the future model will look.

Mr Smyth will also be aware of the commitment of additional investment of £500 million by the end of this parliamentary session, which will mean that, for the first time, more than half the spend will be on community health services.

We have a clear plan to ensure that we have more GPs and more of the other health professionals who will make up multidisciplinary teams. That will be good for people in Dumfries and Galloway and the rest of Scotland.

We are taking immediate action to help to reduce workload—for example by getting rid of some of the bureaucracy around GP payments. We are working with the profession, including the Royal College of General Practitioners and the British Medical Association, to take other short-term measures, while the new model is introduced.

Schools (Communication with Parents)

To ask the Scottish Government how it ensures that schools communicate with both resident and non-resident parents. (S5O-00663)

The Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 2006 imposes a range of duties on local authorities and schools to promote the involvement of all parents in their children’s education. Paragraph 20 of the statutory guidance on the act makes it clear that

“It is important that education authorities and schools do as much as they can to support the continued involvement of parents who don’t live with their children.”

The National Parent Forum of Scotland has been undertaking a review of the 2006 act and will make its recommendations to the Scottish Government in the spring. The Government will consider the forum’s report, including any conclusions that relate to communication and consultation between schools and non-resident parents.

There is much research that shows that children learn better when both parents are actively involved in their education. Unfortunately, a significant proportion of non-resident parents find themselves excluded from involvement in their children’s school life, often through the poor engagement practices of local authorities.

There is good practice by Western Isles Council, which does not start from the presumption that all children live with both parents. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the issuing of guidelines to encourage local authorities to share best practice would benefit the educational attainment of the up to 30 per cent of children who do not live with both parents?

I agree with Mr McKee’s conclusions about the research evidence. The issue is strongly reflected in the national improvement framework, which highlights the involvement of parents in young people’s educational experience as a significant consideration that schools and local authorities should take into account. I am familiar with the good practice that emanates from the Western Isles on the question and I certainly agree that the quality of guidance is important to inform improved practice.

As I indicated in my original answer, we expect a review of many of the issues from the National Parent Forum. I will reflect on that and on Mr McKee’s points, which will inform any further development of guidance by the Government.

Music Therapy (Support)

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests, which lists my membership of the Musicians Union, and to my professional background in music.

To ask the Scottish Government what support it provides to music therapy groups that work with people who have long-term health conditions. (S5O-00664)

The Scottish Government recognises the therapeutic benefits of live and recorded music therapy interventions for people who have long-term health conditions and people with illnesses such as dementia. Integration joint boards are responsible for commissioning such services and interventions in their areas. Many health boards have taken steps to make personalised music therapy services available in hospitals and specialist settings. Care homes take group and individual approaches.

Later this year, with support from the Scottish Government, Alzheimer Scotland will publish “Connecting people, connecting support”, which is about the effectiveness of allied health professional-led interventions for people with dementia, including music therapy interventions. The Scottish Government will support the implementation of “Connecting people, connecting support” as part of the forthcoming 2017 to 2020 national dementia strategy.

I thank the minister for that thorough answer, which has anticipated my follow-up question. She will be aware of the incredible effects of music therapy on people with dementia. Does she agree that music therapy can play a vital role in treating people with dementia?

I absolutely agree with Tom Arthur. Many MSPs go into care homes regularly as part of our jobs and we know the importance of music there. Music therapy is just one of many therapeutic interventions for people with dementia. A number of people in care home settings have taken up the playlist approach, which has been useful and successful.

Does the minister agree that any reduction in funding to organisations that deliver crucial services such as music therapy, sports such as powerchair football and run and bike groups does not save any money but in fact shifts the cost to health or welfare interventions, which end up being more costly?

The Scottish Government works closely with local organisations and councils to make the best use of the limited resources that we have as a result of Westminster Government policy.

The minister will be aware of the outstanding work that is delivered by the music therapy charity Nordoff Robbins Scotland. Its main fundraising event of the year—the Scottish music awards—is held every November in Glasgow. Although that event has delivered much-needed support for the charity, there has been a considerable rise in demand for the services that it offers, including dementia services. Will the minister consider offering much-needed Scottish Government support to the charity to ensure its continued success?

I am aware of the vital work that Nordoff Robbins does. Like other charities, it should engage with the designated third sector interface organisation for each integration joint board to get advice, information and support in pursuing local funding. Some IJB areas also have innovation funds on which third sector interface bodies can advise. The charity should contact such bodies.

National Health Service (Support for British Sign Language Users)

To ask the Scottish Government how the NHS supports patients who communicate using British Sign Language. (S5O-00665)

The patient charter clearly sets out what patients can expect when they use NHS Scotland services and receive care. That includes the right to be given the information that they need in a format or language that they can understand. Under the Equality Act 2010, NHS Scotland is required to provide translation and interpreting services and written material whenever that is possible and reasonable. All NHS boards have a published accessibility policy and arrangements in place to support such needs. People who are deaf or hard of hearing can access Scotland’s national health and information service, NHS inform, by using the contactSCOTLAND-BSL service, by textphone or by web chat, which is available on the NHS inform website.

A constituent of mine—Rosemary Mitchell from Ellon—is launching a campaign to get BSL training for end-of-life care staff, after she lost her mother, who was hearing impaired, to cancer last year. Will the minister outline what assistance there is for training in British Sign Language for NHS staff?

It is each NHS board’s legal responsibility to comply with the equality legislation as it applies to British Sign Language training. However, the Scottish Government has asked NHS Health Scotland to engage with boards to ensure that they understand their legal obligations and to develop plans to support improvements and share best practice in the use of BSL in NHS settings throughout Scotland, including palliative care settings.

Pupils with Additional Support Needs

To ask the Scottish Government what action it will take in light of the figures suggesting that 95 per cent of pupils identified as having additional support needs are in mainstream schools. (S5O-00666)

The number of children and young people who are identified as learning in mainstream provision reflects the implementation of the presumption to mainstream. While the majority of children and young people learn in mainstream provision, a significant number of children and young people are, and continue to be, educated in special schools. That reflects the legislative position.

Many families throughout Mid Scotland and Fife whose children have additional support needs are having to fight to secure the best educational experience for them. Since 2010, mainstream education has experienced a dramatic 13 per cent fall in the number of additional support needs teachers, while the number of pupils who have additional support needs has increased dramatically. Surely the Scottish Government must accept that the current situation is not sustainable.

No—I do not accept that point. Mr Stewart should be aware that the definition of additional support needs was expanded significantly in 2010 to take in a much wider cohort of young people who have needs that may be temporary and to cover a much wider range of needs than those that have historically been covered by the definition.

I point out to Mr Stewart that, in the most recent year for which data is available, there was an increase of £24 million in local authority expenditure on additional support needs and a rise in the number of personnel who work with young people who have additional support needs.

I say in principle to Mr Stewart that local authorities have to make judgments, in active and open dialogue with parents and families, about the most appropriate educational setting in which to educate young people with special needs. In some circumstances, that will be in mainstream schools; in other circumstances, it will be in special schools. The judgment should be made on each case on the basis of the needs of every young person.