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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, November 9, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 09 November 2017

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Global Entrepreneurship Week, Business Motion, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time, Writers to the Signet Dependants’ Annuity Fund Amendment (Scotland) Bill: Preliminary Stage, Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill, Decision Time


General Question Time

General Practitioner Shortages (Fife)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking in response to reported concerns by social workers in Fife regarding health problems being caused as a direct result of GP shortages. (S5O-01405)

NHS Fife has refuted the claims and stated that it was not aware of any such issues having been raised with the practices concerned or with the health board. It has reported:

“these practices continue to offer the full range of appointments to all patients who need them”.

NHS Fife and the health and social care partnership routinely engage with patients and, of course, have robust processes to deal with any concerns that might be raised.

More widely, the Scottish Government is aware of the pressures that face general practice and is fully committed to supporting a sustainable model now and in the future. That is why we have made additional investment this year of £71.6 million across Scotland in direct support of general practice. The health and social care partnership and NHS Fife are developing a new multidisciplinary-team approach to support general practices. That will include, for example, nurses, pharmacists and physiotherapists working together to transform the way that services are delivered in the community.

This week, it has been revealed that the GP recruitment and retention programme, which was announced in 2015 and has cost over £7.5 million to date, has failed to deliver the required GPs in the NHS Fife area and other areas across the country. When that programme was announced, the Government promised that it would deliver extra GPs for rural and deprived areas, including many areas in Fife. It is clear that it has failed to do so. Will the cabinet secretary please explain why that programme has failed to deliver the GPs that Fife and other areas so badly need?

The retention and recruitment fund covers a huge number of areas and initiatives, one of which is about recruiting GPs directly. Many are about building capacity in rural communities. That rather begs the question: would the Tories prefer that we had not started those initiatives? Everything possible is being done to recruit GPs; perhaps undermining of those programmes by the Tories does not really help matters.

Let me tell Dean Lockhart about some of the areas that the fund covers. It has, for example, delivered a GP enhanced returner and induction scheme; the Scottish rural medicine collaborative; the NHS Forth Valley stressed-practice pilot and supported induction programme; the deep-end pioneer scheme in Glasgow; NHS Ayrshire and Arran’s GP early-career posts; the NHS Borders GP recruitment, retention and return project; the NHS Lanarkshire recruitment, retention and return project; the NHS Lothian wisedocs initiative, GP early-career fellow posts and a local marketing campaign; general practice specialty training bursaries; the development of a national GP recruitment website by NHS National Services Scotland; the Royal College of General Practitioners’ recruitment programme; the NSS primary care workforce survey; the NHS Education for Scotland broad-based training pilot—

Okay, cabinet secretary. You have made the point very well.

—NHS Shetland “promote Shetland” GP recruitment, retention and motivation campaign; the island-wide practice initiative on Mull and Iona; NHS Shetland’s supporting GP trainees in practice work; and, finally, NHS Shetland advanced nurse practitioner prescribing training.

Surely the Tories accept that those are good things to do. Maybe for once, they could congratulate the Government on the initiatives that are being undertaken in order to recruit and retain GPs in Scotland.

The cabinet secretary made her point very well. I wonder whether she could be briefer in subsequent answers.

Does the cabinet secretary welcome the fact that Jeremy Hunt is now following the Scottish Government’s lead in announcing that a national workforce plan will be developed for NHS England?

It is interesting that, after all that we have heard about national workforce planning from certain quarters in the chamber, Jeremy Hunt is finally getting round to developing his own workforce plan for NHS England. I record that I am happy to help Jeremy Hunt with development of that national workforce plan—in fact, we will offer to share with him the work that we have undertaken in developing and delivering our national workforce plan. Perhaps the Tories will reflect on the fact that they need to get their own house in order before they come here and tell us what to do.

I have a straight question that requires a straight answer: how many additional GPs have been recruited in Lothian as a result of the £2 million fund?

As I outlined in my initial answer, three projects have been funded in NHS Lothian. It is early days for such projects—many are in their very early stages. In Lothian, the wisedocs scheme, the GP early-career fellow posts initiative and the local marketing campaign have spent £115,000 in total over two years. Those projects are at an early stage, but we expect all of them to come to fruition over the next few months to deliver what is required. Neil Findlay will be aware of the other initiatives that are being taken to try to recruit and retain GPs in some of the hard-pressed areas in his constituency. He should be assured that the Government and NHS Lothian are making every effort to recruit and retain GPs in his area.

Equality and Human Rights (Older People)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on equality and human rights for older people. (S5O-01406)

Older people are a huge asset to Scotland. We are committed to working with others to promote and protect older people’s equality and human rights and to empower them so that they continue contributing to Scotland’s communities.

Will the Scottish Government use the Social Security (Scotland) Bill to replace, for people over 65, attendance allowance with the personal independence payment? Does the cabinet secretary agree that attendance allowance is discriminatory against older people and their human rights?

I suggest that the best way to improve benefits for our older citizens is for our colleagues in the Conservatives to put significant pressure on their UK Government colleagues to address those discriminatory practices and thereby to ensure that the funding that is transferred to the Scottish Government is adequate for doing the things that Conservative members now press us to do.

I might declare an interest as an older person, given some of the looks that I am getting.


Thank you.

Is the minister aware that, over the 15 years since the introduction of free personal care in 2002, the UK Treasury has retained £600 million in attendance allowance? Does she agree that Jeremy Balfour and the Conservatives should demand not only that that practice cease, but that we be repaid the £600 million that the Treasury has kept from Scotland’s older people?

Ms Graham has just made my previous point for me very well. I should say that it is not entirely at the hand of the current UK Government that that money has been taken from the Scottish budget and therefore from older people in Scotland, because it was a previous UK Government that initiated the practice. However, it is open to the current UK Government to address that wrong and to provide us with the guarantee that we have sought but have not yet received, that our intention to increase provision for under-65s—an intention that I think was welcomed across Parliament—will not impact on those individuals’ benefits or on the Scottish Government’s budget.

Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology (Scottish Witch Trials)

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to mark the Scottish witch trials during the year of history, heritage and archaeology 2017. (S5O-01407)

The year of history, heritage and archaeology has provided a range of exciting events and activities during 2017, celebrating our traditional music, our storytelling, our world-renowned historic collections and our heroes. The year has been very well received, but a full evaluation of its success will be carried out. There are no plans to mark the Scottish witch trials during the remainder of the year, but we recognise the significance of that episode in Scottish history.

I note that 2017 marks the 420th anniversary of the great witch hunt of Scotland. The minister will be aware of the calls for memorials to be erected to mark the deaths of the thousands of women who were brutally tortured and murdered during the Scottish witch trials. Does he agree that the current lack of recognition is representative of a wider dearth of visible monuments to Scotland’s women? Does he support the efforts of those who are striving to raise awareness of that significant period in Scotland’s history?

Although we do not maintain a register of existing statues and memorials, it is fair to say that women are almost certainly underrepresented in those that we have. Historic Environment Scotland runs a commemorative plaque scheme to celebrate the achievements of figures in our history, and I am particularly pleased to note that half of this year’s successful nominations were for women.

Although the Henry Wellcome library in London has digitised and made available online its witchcraft collection regarding the Scottish regions, will the minister join me in asking it to consider a Scottish tour of that material?

Although it is certainly not up to me to make decisions, curatorial or otherwise, about what exhibitions are held, it is fair and reasonable for us all to recognise the tragedy that took place at that point in our history and to recognise any attempt to commemorate it throughout Scotland.

Migration Advisory Committee

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the Migration Advisory Committee. (S5O-01408)

This week, we published our response to the Migration Advisory Committee’s call for evidence on the economic and social impacts on the United Kingdom labour market of the UK’s exit from the European Union. While developing our response, Scottish Government officials met the chair and secretariat of the committee. Officials welcomed the committee’s intention to look at regional systems of immigration and made clear the importance of stakeholder engagement in Scotland to ensure that Scotland’s interests are represented in the committee’s work. My officials will continue to engage with the committee as appropriate to set out the evidence for an immigration system that meets Scotland’s specific immigration needs.

I ask the minister to impress on Westminster colleagues—and to ask Scottish officials to impress on them—that Scotland has very different needs when it comes to immigration, all the way through our country and our systems. That has been recognised not just by the Scottish Affairs Committee but by committees of the Scottish Parliament and, I understand, by the vast majority of MSPs. Can it be put to the Migration Advisory Committee in no uncertain terms that Scotland’s voice needs to be heard in this regard?

I was in committee this morning making some of those very points. It is important to recognise that Scotland faces a different migration need from the rest of the UK. In the UK, 50 per cent or thereabouts of population growth in the next 25 years will come from people coming from other countries, but it is important to note that 100 per cent of Scotland’s population growth in the next 25 years will come about as a result of the fact that we are open to people from other European countries living here. We should recognise that, and the UK should recognise it in the policy that it allows Scotland to have on migration.

The minister will be aware that there is a shortage of teachers in Moray, as I raised that with him in committee this morning. I am aware of two young teachers who were born overseas who wish to work in Moray schools but cannot get visas. Is that something that the Scottish Government could intervene on and move forward?

Although the Scottish Government has no say over who gets a visa, we have raised many times—and I am happy to continue to raise—the UK’s unhelpful policy on this and many other aspects of migration. It seems to be driven by the very unhelpful net migration target that it has set itself with absolutely no regard for the skills and workforce shortages that exist in Scotland or its migration needs as a country.

Social Housing (Accessibility)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that there is an adequate supply of ground floor properties in the social housing sector for people with accessibility needs. (S5O-01409)

All local authorities have a statutory requirement to produce a local housing strategy that is supported by an assessment of housing provision and related services, which is known as a housing need and demand assessment. The local housing strategy sets out the priorities and plans for the delivery of housing and housing-related services within the local authority’s area, including for those with additional accessibility requirements.

The delivery of affordable homes to meet specialist provision is important to achieving this Government’s desired housing outcomes, as evidenced in “A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People—Our Delivery Plan to 2021 for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”. The plan states that we will work with local authorities, disabled people and other stakeholders to ensure that every council sets a realistic target within its local housing strategy for the delivery of wheelchair-accessible housing across all tenures and reports annually on progress.

According to Inclusion Scotland, 14 per cent of households in Scotland include someone who uses a wheelchair or a mobility aid, yet only 0.7 per cent of local authority homes and 1.5 per cent of housing association homes are accessible to wheelchairs. There are an estimated 17,000 affected wheelchair users in Scotland.

Question, please.

I am struck by the number of people who come to my surgery who for health reasons are unable to do everyday things easily because they are trapped in their homes—I am sure that I am not alone in that. Will the minister consider an aspirational target of 10 per cent of new stock being wheelchair accessible? At the very least, will he assure me that he will be proactive in encouraging more new-build properties to be accessible?

I assure Pauline McNeill that I will be proactive in that area. Since this Government came to power in 2007, we have seen an increase in the amount of homes that are specifically designed for wheelchair users. I have had the great privilege in recent times of going to new developments across the country and seeing wheelchair-accessible houses that are new on stream, including the developments by Glen Oaks in Arden in Glasgow and by Blackwood in Dundee.

I understand Ms McNeill’s aspirational figure, which Glasgow has used in its housing strategy. However, the Government has asked for more details on how that percentage was arrived at and how it will be achieved. She can be assured that I will keep a very close eye on that. Ms Freeman has been robust in dealing with those matters, and I continue to encourage all local authorities and housing associations to take due cognisance of the need and demand assessments in their areas.

NHS Grampian (Funding)

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of the reported funding problems that are faced by NHS Grampian, what its position is on whether providing the lowest funding share of the national average, per head of population, meets its priorities for healthcare in the north-east. (S5O-01410)

Population level is only one of the range of factors that are taken into account when allocating funding to national health service boards. Other factors include, for example, relative deprivation.

NHS Grampian has received an additional £16.2 million in 2017-18, which is an increase of 1.8 per cent that brings the board’s overall funding to £898.6 million and within 1 per cent of its target share of funding in line with the NHS Scotland resource allocation committee formula. Since 2015-16, NHS Grampian has received additional funding of £47 million for the specific purpose of accelerating NRAC parity.

In furthering the Scottish Government’s priorities for healthcare, I also recently announced a new collaborative group to transform scheduled care and put services on a sustainable footing, and I look forward to NHS Grampian engaging in that.

Is the cabinet secretary aware that, according to the Scottish Parliament information centre, over the past 10 years, Grampian NHS Board has been underfunded against the Scottish Government’s own target—never mind that fact that it has the lowest share of the national average—by £165 million? The cabinet secretary’s response is that it has had £16 million, or up to £47 million, to redress the balance; are my constituents in the north-east supposed to be grateful for that?

The NRAC formula is specifically designed to distribute funding equitably across all communities, including deprived communities. NHS Grampian is within 1 per cent of parity. As I said in my initial answer, it has received £47 million for the specific purpose of accelerating that NRAC parity, and it has received a £3 million share of the £50 million additional funding to enable it to tackle some of the waiting times challenges that it currently has.

I have recently been contacted by constituents who are concerned about the lack of mental health facilities for those with eating disorders in the NHS Grampian area. Will the cabinet secretary give her reassurance to those suffering from such conditions that they will not be disproportionately affected, despite being in the lowest-funded region, and that more support will be given to NHS Grampian to support sufferers and their families?

I visited the eating disorders unit in Aberdeen, which is an important specialist service. I am happy to write to the member with more details about the eating disorder issues that he raises.