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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, September 12, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 12 September 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Drug Deaths, Portfolio Question Time, Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 (Post-legislative Scrutiny Reports), Decision Time


First Minister’s Question Time

Edinburgh Royal Hospital for Sick Children and Young People

Given that today is his last First Minister’s question time after 20 years, I take this opportunity to thank Sir Paul Grice for his service to our Parliament and to wish him well. [Applause.]

This morning, we heard good news for people in Rosyth and excellent news for those enduring cystic fibrosis—both were first-class announcements.

There was less good news, though, for people who were hoping to attend the Royal hospital for children and young people. Formally proposed in 2008 and originally scheduled to be open by 2013, the sick kids hospital has had repeated delays to its opening. There have been four health secretaries, blunders and cost overruns, yet it was only yesterday that the Scottish Government decided to appoint a troubleshooter to sort out the mess. Is that not just too little, too late?

I, too, take the opportunity to thank Sir Paul Grice for his incredible contribution to the Scottish Parliament. That the Parliament has become the established institution of our democracy over just 20 years is in no small way down to his efforts and contributions. I am sure that the whole chamber wishes him well for the future. [Applause.]

I, too, warmly welcome the news this morning that Babcock has been selected as the preferred bidder to build the five type 31 frigates. That is good news for Rosyth, and I hope that it will also be good news for the wider supply chain across Scotland. The Scottish Government will certainly work hard to ensure that that is the case.

Given that it has also been mentioned, I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government has reached an agreement with the manufacturer of two cystic fibrosis drugs to ensure that those drugs are available to patients. We are the first nation of the United Kingdom to do so. The news will be warmly welcomed not just across the chamber, but across the country.

Turning to the Edinburgh sick kids hospital, I make it abundantly clear that the situation is unacceptable. To say that the health secretary and I are angry about it would be an understatement, and I know that that anger is shared by patients and staff. The Scottish Government’s focus is on putting the situation right.

At the start of the summer, the health secretary made it very clear that we will not allow the hospital to open until we are satisfied about patient safety. The health secretary instructed work to take place to, first, establish the work that requires to be done to bring the hospital up to specification and, secondly, establish the reason for the problem with the critical care ventilation system.

Both those reports were published yesterday and the health secretary is meeting Opposition spokespeople today. We have escalated our oversight of the project to level 4, so there will be closer scrutiny and oversight. There is an absolute focus on making sure that the problems are rectified. I think that that is what the public, patients and staff would expect from the Scottish Government.

Anger is all very well, but one did not need to be a high-ranking Government minister to know that there were major problems with this vital project going back years—one only had to read a newspaper.

We have had a Scottish Government with its head buried in the sand, so let me ask a specific question. In November last year, independent assessors made it crystal clear that the hospital could not be made operational. So deep were the problems that staff were emailed and told that they could not even be given a completion date. Did that not ring alarm bells?

To be clear, a number of issues were identified and publicly reported before July 2019. Those issues were why the hospital was already late in opening. In fact, the KPMG report provides a comprehensive summary of those issues.

However, the issue that has resulted in the delay that the health secretary confirmed to Parliament yesterday is one that relates to the critical care ventilation system that only came to light at the start of July this year. If Jackson Carlaw is telling me that he knew about that issue before then, perhaps the question is why he did not bring it to anybody else’s attention, because I did not know about it and the health secretary did not know about it.

That is the issue that has prevented the hospital from opening now and that is the issue that the health secretary is focused on rectifying. We will continue to focus on that work, as the health secretary set out in her statement to Parliament yesterday.

That was a new spin on project management shift, I must say.

The sick kids hospital is just 10 minutes’ drive from where we all are now and yet it seems that four successive health ministers either chose not to know or simply failed to ask about the full extent of the problems until way, way too late.

The truth is that when it comes to this project, confusion has reigned. For example, in June, the health secretary was confident enough about the project to tell members in this chamber that everything was on track and yet, just a week later, the health board told her that those assurances were unfounded—what an absolute shambles. Does that sound to the First Minister like joined-up Government?

The previous issues that were identified had been resolved, which is why the health secretary made those comments in June. The issue that has resulted in this delay did not come to light until the start of July. I did not know about it; the senior management team in the health board, as far as I am aware, did not know about it; and the health secretary did not know about it.

As soon as the issue came to light, the health secretary acted properly and appropriately. It would have been wrong to allow the hospital to open before assurances about patient safety could be given. Substantial work has been done over the summer to make sure that any other issues have been identified; that was the subject of the NHS National Services Scotland report that was published yesterday. Substantial work has been done to set out a timescale to carry out rectification, particularly of the critical care ventilation system, and for the opening of the sick kids hospital and the department of clinical neurosciences.

That is the responsible action that the health secretary has taken, and we will continue to make sure that that work is carried out so that the hospital opens. I deeply regret that the hospital will be opening extremely late. It is important to make sure that every issue that has been identified is addressed so that when the hospital opens, it is safe for the patients who use it.

That is all very well, but, in relation to accident and emergency alone, since January 2013, when it was supposed to open, more than 300,000 children have been denied access to the new sick kids hospital that they and their parents were entitled to expect.

This is a saga from which nobody emerges well—not the health board, not the contractor and certainly not this Government. It is a saga that, sadly, is altogether too predictable: ministerial assurances are given, completion dates are put back, costs spiral out of control and, at the end of it all, it seems that absolutely nobody is held to account. I think—and the country thinks—that, for once, heads should roll. Does the First Minister agree?

Yesterday, the health secretary set out the work that will be done to establish issues of accountability within the health board. It is important that that is done in line with due process. The focus is on making sure that the rectification work is done, particularly in the critical care unit, although there were other aspects of work that were identified in the NSS report that will be taken forward in parallel with that.

Yesterday, the health secretary also confirmed that, as I announced last week in the programme for government, we will set up a new national body—a centre of excellence—to oversee in particular the construction and technical specification aspects of such new builds. Traditionally, the Scottish Government oversight looks at finances and delivery timelines.

It is absolutely the case that lessons must be learned from what has happened. I very much agree that the situation regarding the new children’s hospital in Edinburgh is completely unacceptable, but our focus will remain patient safety, and that should be the priority of everybody who has anything to do with the project.

Hospitals (Building and Procurement)

I add my thanks and best wishes to Paul Grice, whom I have known for longer than either of us would probably care to admit. He has been a figure of great stability in the Parliament since its very inception, as well as a source of wise counsel. He will be a very hard act to follow, and we wish him well. [Applause.]

In March this year, my colleague Daniel Johnson asked the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport in the chamber whether the issues at the Royal hospital for sick children Edinburgh,

“coupled with the issues at the Queen Elizabeth hospital, point to wider problems regarding hospital building and procurement in the national health service in Scotland”.

With her customary disdain, the cabinet secretary replied:

“I do not think that the issues point to wider problems.”—[Official Report, 12 March 2019; c 6-7.]

She also accused Daniel Johnson of being “wide of the mark”, but he was not, was he?

Richard Leonard is absolutely right to point out that there have been issues with the Queen Elizabeth university hospital, and there are clearly problems with the sick kids hospital. Other hospitals have been built without such issues.

The question, of course, is about how we ensure appropriate oversight. That is why I referred to my announcement about the establishment of a new body, which I had hoped Labour would welcome. Its purpose is to make sure that we reflect carefully on the issues that have arisen in the two hospitals.

Our focus is very much on ensuring that the problem that was identified in early July with the ventilation system at the sick kids hospital is put right. That has been the focus of the work that has been done over the summer, which has allowed us to get to the point that the health secretary announced yesterday. That focus will continue. We owe it to the patients and staff of the sick kids hospital to put those issues right and to make sure that the new hospital will, when it opens, be safe for the patients who will use it.

Is the First Minister really telling the people of Scotland that the answer to that abject failure in new hospital building is the creation of another, as yet unnamed, public body?

The report that came out yesterday told us some important truths. First, it told us that the Scottish Government was on the project board for the hospital. It also told us that “frequent” meetings were held between NHS Lothian and the Scottish Government

“in order to allow the Cabinet Secretary to be briefed”,

yet, in March, the cabinet secretary told Parliament that

“It is excellent news that the board will take over the hospital from July and that patients will be in it from then.”—[Official Report, 12 March 2019; c 7.]

We know who is “wide of the mark” now.

Yesterday, the health secretary was forced to come to Parliament to admit that this

“major facility of strategic importance”—[Official Report, 11 September 2019; c 33.]

will not now open until autumn 2020.

The cabinet secretary was wrong in her response that the hospital would open in July. Does the First Minister accept that the cabinet secretary was also wrong to dismiss the wider issues in hospital building and procurement?

Nobody is dismissing any of those serious issues.

When the cabinet secretary made her statement to Parliament in June, at that point it was our firm expectation that the hospital would open in July. All the issues that had been identified previously had been resolved: that was the information that the cabinet secretary and the Scottish Government had. An issue then came to light that was not previously known to us.

The KPMG report that was published yesterday—it is a long and technical report—sets out, in summary, that a particular document called the environmental matrix had contained, in part, the wrong specification for the ventilation system. That is something that the board should have picked up—the report sets out when there were opportunities for it to have done that, but it was not done. When that came to light at the start of July, the health secretary took the action that has been reported to Parliament, and set in train the work that is required in order to rectify the problem and ensure that the hospital opens safely. That is the responsible conduct of a health secretary who is focused on making sure that patient safety is the overriding priority.

Completion of the hospital was already way over timetable. Does the First Minister not understand just how angry people are? We have in Edinburgh a children’s hospital that cannot open its doors, and we were reminded at the weekend that we have in Glasgow a hospital, which was built by the same contractor, that has been closing the doors of its children’s cancer ward. Audit Scotland is saying that there needs to be a review of “whole-project contracting” to

“help with ... preventative and reactive measures”.

We need to get to the bottom of the matter; we need full public transparency in order to restore public trust. What will it take for the First Minister to listen finally, and to deliver a full public inquiry into the abject failure of governance and the Government?

The Scottish Government will continue to do the work and to take the action that is needed to rectify the issue that has been identified at the sick kids hospital in Edinburgh. That is the responsible thing to do.

Richard Leonard asked whether I understand the anger. Yes—I absolutely do, and I share the anger that patients and staff feel about the thoroughly unacceptable situation. The health board’s responsibility was to ensure that the hospital was built to the right specification. In respect of the problem, it has not discharged that responsibility and there are questions that must still be asked.

Our job now is to make sure that the work is done to rectify the problem as quickly as possible, to the requisite standards, and to make sure that when the hospital opens it is a safe environment for the patients who will use it. The Scottish Government will remain absolutely focused on discharging that responsibility.

There are some constituency supplementaries.

Glasgow City Council (Prohibition of Marches)

Given the problems around marches in Glasgow over the past two weekends, does the First Minister agree that Glasgow City Council has made the right decision by prohibiting marches this weekend?

Yes, I think that the city council has arrived at the right decision to not give permission for the marches that were planned for this weekend. I believe, as I said last week, that the right to march is an important part of our democracy, but people who are abusing that right are jeopardising for others. It is vital that the rights of the majority who are law-abiding citizens are protected and given priority.

Glasgow City Council has taken the right decision. It obviously takes such decisions in the light of the advice that it receives from the police. There are longer-term questions about whether changes are required to the law; we will continue to have that dialogue with Glasgow City Council.

Type 31 Frigates (Construction Contract)

The First Minister will, as I am, be delighted by the news that five new type 31 frigates will be built at Rosyth by a consortium led by Babcock International. That contract will secure millions of pounds of investment in my region—Mid Scotland and Fife—and will guarantee hundreds of jobs. An order of that nature being guaranteed and secured goes to show, once again, the outstanding skills of the Scottish workforce and the strength of the United Kingdom. Will the First Minister join me in welcoming that boost to the Scottish economy?

Yes. That contract is good news for the Scottish economy. It is also a real tribute to the expertise of the workforce at Rosyth. I will not, because that is good news, dwell on the fact that promises that were made years ago about the number of type 26 frigates were not kept.

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work spoke to Babcock this morning to congratulate it and give it assurance that it has the full support of the Scottish Government. Our job now is to work with Babcock to ensure that benefit is realised not just to Rosyth—which is obviously significant—but to the whole Scottish supply chain. We hope that there may also be benefits to Ferguson Marine in the course of the work. We will continue to work with Babcock and the workforce to ensure that all the benefits are realised.

Cystic Fibrosis Medication

I thank the First Minister and Jeane Freeman for listening to cystic fibrosis campaigners, including my constituent Kelli Gallagher, and for agreeing a deal with Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated to make Orkambi and Symkevi free for all on the national health service. What arrangements are in place with health boards to ensure that patients receive medication quickly?

We will ensure that the impact of the announcement about the agreement between the Scottish Government and the manufacturers is fully reflected in the decisions that are taken by health boards. It is good news. It has not been an easy agreement to reach and there have been several complexities. The fact that we have arrived at a five-year agreement that will allow data about the benefit of the drugs to be gathered is also good news. There might be lessons in that for our approach to other drugs.

I know that there are cystic fibrosis patients and their families across the country today who will be very relieved about the announcement. I know that everyone will welcome what is exceptionally good news.

School Climate Strike

First, on behalf of the Scottish Green Party, I congratulate Paul Grice on his 20 years of service, good humour and wise counsel to us all.

The First Minister will be aware that there is a planned school strike for climate change next Friday. She might also be aware that the City of Edinburgh Council has refused permission for the planned rally to use some streets in the capital. Although such decisions are properly for the council, there have been media reports that young people might face arrest or be locked up. In the light of those reports, does the First Minister agree that such action is nonsense and that no young person should face such action for exercising their right to peaceful protest? Does she agree that we should all reassure young people that they have the right to protest peacefully, and that they should be encouraged and supported to exercise that right?

There are two things to say on that. Issues of permission to use roads are for the council to consider, and issues around arrest and criminal justice in general—I am not talking about this particular matter—are for the police. It would be thoroughly inappropriate for me to comment on operational matters.

I have made my views in relation to the climate strikers very clear in the past; I think that my views accord closely with those of Andy Wightman. It is very positive, heartening and uplifting to see that the younger generation feel so passionately about climate change that they are prepared to protest and make known their views, as they are doing. I hope that all of us will listen to that and take account of what the younger generation is telling us. I know that the Scottish Government is doing so; I hope that Governments across the world are doing so, too.

I wish those who are taking part in the protest next Friday the very best.

Business Rates (Aberdeenshire)

Last weekend, Kiko Milano in Aberdeen announced that it would close, with the loss of all jobs. It was reported that that was partly down to the eye-watering business rates that are faced by businesses in our city. Will the First Minister heed the demands of businesses in Aberdeen and instruct her Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work to review the rates regime, or will she stand by while more Aberdeen businesses go under?

The business rates regime has been reviewed very recently and several changes have been introduced. Individual decisions are taken independently through the valuation system.

We have one of the most competitive business rates regimes in the UK, and we will continue to look at how we support businesses in all parts of our country—especially given the increasingly difficult circumstances that they face as a result of Brexit.

Brexit (Operation Yellowhammer)

I, too, thank Paul Grice for his work and wish him well for the future.

We are closer than ever in our efforts to stop Brexit. The publication of the yellowhammer paper lays bare the mass disruption of our way of life that would come with a no-deal Brexit and yet that is what Boris Johnson’s Conservatives want to embrace. What is most shocking is that those horrors are the prediction of the Conservative Government, yet the Conservatives still plough on.

Can the First Minister tell us whether any of the details that were laid out in the yellowhammer paper that was published this morning were new to the Scottish Government? If they were, what new measures is she putting in place to mitigate that damage?

The publication of the yellowhammer planning assumptions yesterday lays bare for the public the horrors of a no-deal Brexit. It is shocking that it has taken so long for the information to be published.

I say very directly to Willie Rennie, in terms of yellowhammer planning assumptions, what we in the Scottish Government have seen is what was published last night. The only difference that I can confirm is in the title of the document. The version that we had, had the title “Base” scenario rather than “Reasonable Worst Case” scenario, which is what appeared on the document that was published last night. It is for the United Kingdom Government to explain whether there is any significance to that difference.

The document is dated 2 August and we have been expecting an update of it, which we have not yet received. We also receive the papers for the cabinet sub-committee meetings that we are invited to, which has only been four meetings out of around 30 since the new Government took office. The Deputy First Minister has just come from one of those meetings this morning. We also know that there is a series of mitigation plans lying behind the planning assumptions.

With regard to our work, we are planning on the basis of the yellowhammer assumptions—although we continue to await the update of that document—and we have a range of mitigation plans in place. We are currently considering what format of the information it would be most helpful to publish, and we intend to make a statement to Parliament about that as soon as possible.

The issue is affecting real people’s lives right now. Anna-Ruth Cockerham from St Andrews has a chronic condition called functional neurological disorder. She takes controlled medication that can be prescribed for only 28 days at a time. Any break in medication worsens her seizures and the pain can last for weeks. Her prescription is due at the end of October and she is anxious about her health in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Those are the real-life consequences of the Conservatives’ cavalier approach to Brexit.

Anna-Ruth wants the Government to allow prescriptions of such controlled drugs to be issued two weeks early, to ensure that there is no break in the supply. Has the First Minister made arrangements for that to happen?

I am happy to provide more information on that specific point. We are doing everything that we can to mitigate any impact on drugs and medicine supplies. Obviously, the key player in this is the UK Government, and to some extent we are dependent on the information flow that comes from it.

We have a range of mitigation plans in place. I undertake not only to Willie Rennie, but to Parliament generally, as I said a moment ago, to consider how we best publish the information about assumptions as well as our mitigation plans, which will inform Parliament and the wider public.

Willie Rennie is right to say that it beggars belief and is completely outrageous that we have a Government that is prepared to contemplate a scenario that, as it says in the UK Government’s planning assumptions, could result in delays to the supply of medicine. The yellowhammer document that was published last night is very clear about the restrictions of stockpiling to mitigate against those impacts.

I share Willie Rennie’s deep concern about the matter and I share his anger that we are in this situation. I give an undertaking that the Scottish Government will do everything that it can to mitigate the impacts. However, I also have a duty to be frank with people. We will not be able to do everything to mitigate every impact, and it is important that, over the next few weeks, we have a very frank dialogue with this Parliament and with the wider public as we help members of the public to prepare as well as they possibly can.

There are a few further supplementary questions.

Knife Crime

In advance of a major United Kingdom-wide conference tomorrow on the serious problem of knife violence, and given the fact that a five-year study in Edinburgh found that, of the sharp instruments that are used in homicides, 94 per cent are kitchen knives, does the First Minister agree that Scotland can be at the forefront of the campaign to replace sharp, pointed knives—which have been proven to have significant penetrative capabilities—with round-ended ones?

Yes, there is the potential for Scotland to be at the forefront of such initiatives. Maureen Watt is right to raise this very important issue. Tackling all forms of violence, including knife violence, is a priority for the Government and indeed for any Government. Our approach to knife crime in particular is focused firmly on prevention and early intervention.

Over the past decade, police-recorded crimes of handling an offensive weapon have fallen and emergency admissions to hospitals have also fallen. We recognise the devastating consequences that violence has on individuals, families and communities, so we know that much more needs to be done. That is why we continue to invest in the no knives, better lives programme, the Scottish violence reduction unit and Medics Against Violence. As I said at the outset, we are open to exploring any evidence that shows that anti-stab knives are an effective approach to tackling violent crime.

Children (Scotland) Bill (Grandparents’ Access Rights)

Last week, the Government published the Children (Scotland) Bill. Many respondents to the consultation on the bill, including two of my constituents who are in the public gallery, asked that there should be a presumption in law in favour of granting grandparents an automatic right of access to contact with their grandchildren. Prior to the bill’s publication, on three occasions in the chamber, the Minister for Community Safety advised that next steps in regard to that were being considered. Can the First Minister advise the reason why that presumption was not included in the bill, and whether this Government will ever introduce or consider such a presumption?

I welcome Michelle Ballantyne’s constituents to the chamber.

I will say two things. First, I will ask the relevant minister to write to her to give detail of the consideration of that particular provision and the reasons why it is not included in the bill.

The second and perhaps more important point, to which Michelle Ballantyne alluded, is that the bill is at its early stages. It is open for consultation. It will go through the normal stage 1 process. It is open to individuals, organisations and members of this Parliament to bring forward suggestions for amendment. There will be opportunity for the Justice Committee and Parliament as a whole to consider them. If Michelle Ballantyne’s constituents feel that they have evidence to bring to bear, I encourage them to take part in that consultation and that process.

Diageo Workers Strike

Next week, Scotland’s whisky workers will take unprecedented strike action to try and win a pay offer that meets the cost of living. Their employer, Diageo, is a large and important employer that plays a key part in Scotland’s economy and has a strong reputation nationally and internationally. This year, it recorded a pre-tax profit of more than £4 billion and it awarded a 30 per cent pay rise to its chief executive.

Does the First Minister agree that that business can afford to give its workers at Shieldhall in Glasgow, Leven in Fife and distilleries all around Scotland a fair pay rise? Will she join me in calling on Diageo to get back around the table with the GMB and Unite unions and find a fair resolution?

First, I am aware of the dispute in general terms—as Anas Sarwar alluded to, Diageo is a private company. I am not aware of all the details of the dispute but I hope that my commitment to fair work and to the fair treatment of workers is well known. I join Anas Sarwar in calling on Diageo to get back around the table with the trade unions, Unite and GMB, to find a fair resolution to the dispute in the interests of the workforce.

United Kingdom Parliament Suspension

How does the current suspension of the United Kingdom Parliament affect the First Minister’s Government and this Parliament’s preparations for Brexit? If prorogation is unlawful, why is Westminster not back to work?

First, when it comes to the practical implications of the UK Parliament being suspended, particularly in light of the publication last night of the operation yellowhammer planning assumptions, it is vital that Parliament is there to scrutinise and hold to account the UK Government. That would be a helpful process for the Scottish Government’s planning; we need to get as much information out of the UK Government as possible.

The big question for the Prime Minister and the Government this morning is why Parliament is still suspended. Yesterday, Scotland’s highest civil court declared that the prorogation of Parliament is unlawful. Parliament should be back to work, scrutinising the Government, because, if any Government needed scrutinising, the UK Government certainly does.

Yesterday, the Court of Session ruled that the First Minister acted unlawfully by proroguing—[Interruption.] I beg her pardon. [Laughter.] I would never suggest any inappropriateness on the part of our First Minister.

Yesterday, the Court of Session ruled that the Prime Minister acted unlawfully by proroguing the UK Parliament. Regardless of whether we agree with any individual judgment, does the First Minister agree that it is outrageous that Downing Street sources seek to undermine the court, with a minister on television implying that the judges were biased? Can the First Minister outline what action the Scottish Government will take to defend the judiciary from those outrageous and unfounded attacks?

I am glad that John Finnie clarified that, yesterday, the Court of Session found the Prime Minister to have acted unlawfully.

Yesterday’s judgment is of huge constitutional significance. As I said yesterday and today, the political implications of it should be straightforward. Parliament should immediately be back in session.

If that was not bad enough yesterday, what we heard, directly and indirectly, from people within the Conservative Party, who attacked the independence and integrity of the judiciary, was absolutely disgraceful and shocking.

I was glad to hear Jackson Carlaw and other members of the Tory benches here defend the integrity and independence of the judiciary. Whatever our views on individual judgments, our court system and the separation of powers are a vital part of our democracy. It is not just wrong but deeply dangerous for politicians of any party to attack the independence of the judiciary. It is incumbent on us all to stand up for that.

Funeral Costs (Support)

To ask the First Minister what support the Scottish Government is providing to people struggling to meet funeral costs. (S5F-03537)

From next Monday, we will start providing funeral support payments, which will provide people on low incomes with much-needed help with the cost of arranging a funeral. As with all Scottish benefits, we have simplified the process and removed barriers to applying for payments. We have also made changes to eligibility, so that around 40 per cent more people will be able to access support than would receive help under the predecessor United Kingdom Government scheme.

The funeral support payment complements work that the Government has undertaken to tackle funeral poverty, including our guidance on funeral costs, which encourages providers to make the cost of their services more transparent and accessible.

I welcome what is being done.

This month marks the first anniversary of Social Security Scotland. It is clear what a positive difference the Scottish Government has made by using its new powers over social security, especially when we compare the approach in Scotland with the UK system that it replaces.

That is welcome, but does the First Minister think that the Scottish Government will always be limited in what it can achieve while the majority of powers remain in the hands of an incompetent and uncaring Government at Westminster, which is entirely distracted by Brexit chaos?

Richard Lyle is absolutely correct; in Scotland many people are receiving financial support who would not be receiving support if the Scottish Government had not taken responsibility for those benefits. We are demonstrating, day in and day out, in practical and tangible terms, the value of powers lying in the hands of a democratically elected Scottish Parliament, and not in the hands of a Westminster Government, particularly a Tory Westminster Government.

It is common sense to look at the experience of our delivery of benefits so far and come to the conclusion—if one was not already of this view, as of course I was—that the sooner we have the entirety of welfare decisions in the hands of this Parliament and out of the hands of a Tory Westminster Government, the better for all of us.

Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation (Residential Services)

To ask the First Minister when an action plan for delivery of residential services for drug and alcohol rehabilitation across the country will be provided, in line with its drug and alcohol strategy. (S5F-03530)

We are engaging with stakeholders on the draft action plan for the rights, respect and recovery strategy, with a view to publishing the finalised plan in October. The plan will include actions on residential rehabilitation and support the development of more effective services across Scotland.

The recent drug deaths figures show that we are facing a public health emergency, which is why we have announced an additional £20 million over the next two years to support efforts across the country to bring the numbers down.

I thank the First Minister for her announcement. I understand that she is including the action that is called for by the Aberdeenshire alcohol and drug partnership, and I thank her for that. However, that was communicated to the partnership yesterday by telephone, it seems in response to my lodging the question and The Press and Journal picking up the issue. When will the First Minister’s Government start to tackle the issue proactively, rather than in reaction to bad headlines?

My genuine apologies; I am not entirely aware of the phone call to which the member referred. I would be happy to look into that.

The Government is responding to and dealing with the issue proactively. We have acknowledged—rightly, and I think that this view is shared—that we face a public health emergency. We recognise that increased investment is necessary, which is why the £20 million to which I referred was announced in the programme for government.

We also recognise that we need to do things differently and to be open to new approaches. That is why, for example, we continue to press the Home Office to allow, or to devolve powers to the Scottish Government that enable us to allow, the safe consumption facility that Glasgow is so keen to have, because experts say that such a facility can make a difference. That is just one part of the overall solution; it is not the whole story.

We will continue to invest and we will continue to be open to new approaches, as I encourage all members to be. This is an issue on which we absolutely should be prepared to come together, and which we should be determined to tackle.

On those new approaches, can the First Minister say what communication the Scottish Government has had with the UK Government on the drug deaths crisis, including the use of supervised overdose prevention rooms to help to reduce drug deaths in Scotland? Does she believe that the approach of the UK Government reflects the spirit of working together on this important issue?

Towards the end of last week, we received communication from the UK Government confirming its current position on the safe consumption room proposal. I deeply regret its response. I believe that we all have a duty to look at new approaches. I readily concede that it is not the only answer, but experts say that it is a significant part of the answer. Therefore, I call on the Home Office again to reconsider its position.

Also regrettably, the Home Office indicated that it would not be prepared to take part in the drug summit that we will convene in Glasgow. Again, I think that that is the wrong decision, and I take this opportunity to ask it to reconsider.

We should be coming together. I recognise the principal responsibility that lies on the shoulders of my Government, but drugs law is largely reserved. Therefore, we need the active co-operation of the UK Government to make sure that we take a full holistic approach to the issue. I hope that the UK Government will think again about both aspects referred to in its letter and come to different conclusions.

I note that, yet again, there is a lot of interest across the chamber in asking supplementaries on this issue, but we do not have enough time. There will be an opportunity to participate in our members’ business debate later.

Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (Patient and Staff Safety)

The members’ business debate starts immediately after First Minister’s questions, so please do not rush away.

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to reported concerns for patient and staff safety at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital. (S5F-03523)

The safety and wellbeing of staff at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital, and indeed at all hospitals, is the absolute priority. We welcome the input of NHS Education for Scotland and the General Medical Council, which is part of an independent scrutiny regime across NHS Scotland, with regard to doctors in training. I expect NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to work closely with those bodies to implement their recommendations. I know that the GMC has welcomed the progress that has been made so far.

Following recent concerns, the health secretary commissioned an independent review of the hospital’s process of procurement and delivery, and of how that contributes to effective infection prevention. The co-chairs of that review made a call for evidence in June, and are currently assessing the responses that have been received so far.

The Herald and the Herald on Sunday have reported that children with cancer have been hit by infections at the hospital. The kids cancer ward remains closed to new admissions. Safety faults at Edinburgh sick kids hospital were caught hours before patients moved in, but the problems at the Queen Elizabeth hospital became public only after it opened and are affecting some of Scotland’s sickest children right now.

Both hospitals were built by the same contractor. Can the First Minister vouch for the safety of children and other patients at the Queen Elizabeth hospital? Is she satisfied, and will she apologise for the shocking failings there?

As I have said in this chamber before, I have no hesitation in apologising to any patient who does not get the treatment that they have a right to expect in our national health service. The overwhelming majority of patients do, but when the NHS falls short of the expected standards, there is a duty for lessons to be learned and for apologies to be made. I have never hesitated in doing that.

In terms of its safety, the Queen Elizabeth hospital provides some of the best healthcare anywhere in the world. It has some of the best healthcare staff, who provide exemplary care, day in and day out. When issues arise, it is essential that the right actions are taken. There are issues that are not unique to that hospital. As we have debated before, unfortunately, infection is a challenge for healthcare systems across the world. Infection prevention and control are vital, and we expect health boards to put in place the right process to keep patients in their hospitals safe. Everybody has a right to expect that from our national health service.

That concludes First Minister’s question time.

In the 20 years in which I have had the pleasure of knowing our clerk and chief executive, Sir Paul Grice, I have never known him to be at a loss for words. I should explain to members, those in the gallery and those who are following proceedings that our officials are not allowed to take in part in formal proceedings, other than in swearing in members, so Paul could not respond to any of the kind tributes that have been paid to him this afternoon. However, there will be an event after parliamentary business this evening at which I, other members of staff and members of the Scottish Parliament will be able to talk about Paul’s leadership role in building the reputation of this institution, and he will be able to respond and tell us, unencumbered by office, what he really thinks of the members of the Scottish Parliament. [Laughter.] On that note, I suspend the meeting briefly before we resume with members’ business. [Applause.]

12:45 Meeting suspended.  


12:51 On resuming—