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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, March 19, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament 19 March 2020

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Portfolio Question Time, Covid-19 (Education), United Kingdom Coronavirus Legislation, Business Motion, Female Genital Mutilation (Protection and Guidance) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Female Genital Mutilation (Protection and Guidance) (Scotland) Bill, Point of Order, Business Motions, Decision Time


General Question Time

Good morning, colleagues. Thank you for your understanding—these are exceptional circumstances.

We begin with general question time. Question 1 has been withdrawn, so we move to question 2.

Mental Health Services (NHS Lothian)

To ask the Scottish Government what action NHS Lothian is taking to recruit additional clinical staff, in light of recent ISD Scotland figures suggesting that one in three young people in the area are waiting over a year for mental health support. (S5O-04295)

NHS Lothian has assured me that it is committed to recruiting key clinical staff in order to reduce waiting times for child and adolescent mental health services. It has invested, and it will continue to invest, £3 million of additional funding in CAMHS annually. The funding aims to create new capacity and will be ring fenced, as far as possible, to start the treatment of those who have waited the longest. To date, an additional 23 staff have been recruited, with another 17 expected by the end of April.

Currently, the CAMHS additional workforce includes a range of clinical professionals from psychology, nursing and occupational therapy, and NHS Lothian will aim to recruit a cohort of administration staff to support and develop local service activities. All of that will ultimately improve current waiting times for children and young people who are seeking the services that CAMHS provides.

I thank the minister for her very full answer. My next question will be slightly broader than I had intended it to be. Given the change in circumstances that the First Minister announced yesterday, with regard to schools closing, there will clearly be an effect on the mental health of both children and adults, particularly with social isolation. Will the minister advise parents, in particular, how they should monitor and deal with such issues and what help will be available if they have to take matters to a higher level?

Mr Balfour’s question is very pertinent and topical, given the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Mental health can and will be affected by social isolation, and the current pandemic is, no doubt, having an impact on the mental health of children and young people, as well as across the general population. We are developing strategies and advice, not only for children and young people, but for the whole population, on how to keep mentally healthy and improve wellbeing, whether during self-isolation, when having to go to work or just in the general circumstances. We are progressing those pieces of work and will announce them in the coming weeks.

Does the minister accept what we are being told repeatedly by young people and their families who are going through mental health crises, which is that the system is failing them and the services that they require are simply not there?

I am always open to hearing about service users’ and their parents’ experiences. As a national health service, we need to learn from their feedback about how we can improve services right across the country.

I share many of the concerns about younger people suffering from increased mental ill health due to stress and isolation, but what about the people who will look after them? I am talking not just about parents, but about mental health care workers. What steps are being taken to ensure that those people are not overburdened in the difficult weeks ahead, given the workloads that they will obviously have to wade through?

That is another really important issue. We are looking at it as we speak, including at how we can develop support and guidance for our mental health staff and NHS staff across the piece. There will be changes to how services are delivered, and we are working with NHS managers to ensure that staff feel supported in dealing with those changes.

Questions 3 and 4 have been withdrawn.

A801 Avon Gorge Crossing (Upgrade)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress has been made on discussions with Falkirk Council and West Lothian Council regarding upgrading the A801 Avon Gorge crossing. (S5O-04298)

Falkirk Council is leading the delivery of that scheme and, along with West Lothian Council, is responsible for ensuring that the business case remains robust and for setting the final timetable for delivery, which is expected to come forward in 2021.

Transport Scotland officials remain in dialogue with council officers to ensure that an agreement can be reached between all three partners. Nevertheless, my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity will seek assurances from the respective councils that they remain committed to delivering the project and that they have the necessary funding to do so.

The minister might be aware that another accident occurred recently on the A801 near the Avon gorge and that one person was taken to hospital. He will also be aware that the “Strategic Transport Projects Review Final Report”, which was published in October 2009, advised that, if we upgraded the A801—thereby improving Grangemouth’s connectivity with the M8—there would be

“a reduction in the accident rate of around a third”.

Given the importance of Grangemouth to Scotland’s economy, the dire need to reduce the number of accidents on that stretch of road and the fact that, as part of Falkirk Council’s second cluster of investment under the tax incremental financing scheme, that shovel-ready project is scheduled for a 2021 start, will the minister agree to ensure the upgrade of that road as scheduled?

I share Mr MacDonald’s concern about the serious accident that took place on 10 March, and I recognise the point that he makes about the importance of that road to the local economy and the community in Falkirk.

Given the passage of time, it is important that the business case for the scheme remains robust and offers value for money in economic terms. We must ensure that the project will still deliver its anticipated benefits, which Mr MacDonald alluded to, and the scheme’s objectives. Mr MacDonald and local stakeholders might be aware that work has been done to revise the costings of the project. Scottish ministers wrote to Falkirk Council in 2015 to confirm that we would provide a 50 per cent contribution towards the scheme. The most recent estimated cost that the council provided for the scheme, in May 2018, was approximately £32 million. That cost has recently been reviewed, and the cabinet secretary is awaiting further detail of it before proceeding. In line with normal procurement rules, the contract to construct the scheme will be subject to a competitive tendering process, which Falkirk Council will manage.

Question 6 has been withdrawn.


To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has for addressing potholes on Scotland’s roads. (S5O-04300)

We note the challenges that face road maintenance across the network and the importance of a safe, well-performing road network. As set out in the budget, the Scottish Government expects to invest £471 million in managing, maintaining and safely operating the trunk road network in 2020-21.

Local road maintenance is the responsibility of local authorities, which allocate resources on the basis of local priorities. Despite a £850 million real-terms cut by the United Kingdom Government to Scotland’s discretionary resource budget since 2010-11, we have ensured that local government receives a fair funding settlement that supports vital public services.

Would the minister consider discussions with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to plan a strategic economic approach that would pull resources together, work with companies, create the jobs that are needed, address the skills gaps and get our roads fixed? There is something like £55 billion-worth of road repairs that need to be done. The poorest people have cars because they need cars; their cars get damaged as a result of the potholes and they are unable to fix their cars. We need a more strategic approach to national planning, which goes back to the Keynesian approach of investing in the economy, planning jobs and delivering what is desperately needed to fix our roads across Scotland. Sometimes, it is like a third-world country.

I recognise the importance of this issue at a local level. Mr Rowley touched on a number of points with regard to the impact that potholes have on individuals; we recognise that there are impacts on vehicles and individuals. From the point of view of encouraging active travel, the road surface is important to ensuring the safe conduct of cycling on our local roads. The member might be aware that the National Infrastructure Commission has looked at these issues and at all Scotland’s infrastructure needs and has made recommendations to the Government. The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson, is looking at how we respond to that National Infrastructure Commission report. I will pass on the issue that Mr Rowley has raised today for Mr Matheson to take forward.

Potholes are a problem in many parts of my Cowdenbeath constituency, including Benarty. Although it is understood that Fife Council’s key focus in the months ahead must of course be on dealing with coronavirus, work in this area could surely go on at pace. It would be outdoor work and it would mean that contractors could stay in work and get paid.

I certainly recognise the nature of the work that Ms Ewing accurately described as outdoor work. These matters are, obviously, led by local authorities, and we have to trust that the local authority in this case will make sensible decisions about how to take forward work to repair the roads, which is a key priority. However, as Annabelle Ewing recognised, local authorities face a significant challenge at this time. We have to trust them to make sensible decisions as to how they deploy their resources at this most challenging of times.

What assessment has the minister made of the role of potholes in accidents, particularly in rural areas? Will he ask his colleagues in Transport Scotland and the police to do specific assessments of the role of potholes in accidents across Scotland?

David Stewart will appreciate that such matters stretch across portfolio boundaries. I note that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Mr Yousaf, is sitting next to me. I will certainly raise the matter with the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Mr Matheson, and indeed with Mr Yousaf, who will have heard the points that David Stewart made, to see how we can respond. I am not aware of an evidence base that would give us granular detail about how many accidents are caused by potholes, but there may well be data that we can draw on. We will come back to David Stewart on the matter.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, and what was discussed. (S5O-04301)

At present, Scottish Government officials are in daily contact with national health service boards on planning and preparations to respond to Covid-19.

At NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, the oversight board on infection prevention, management and control continues—and will continue—its work as we respond to Covid-19. It is chaired by the chief nursing officer and it met most recently on 19 February and 5 March. The second performance oversight group, which has been established with the turnaround director, Calum Campbell, and is chaired by NHS Scotland’s chief performance officer, met on 7 February and 27 February, and its third meeting is today.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer and, indeed, for her round-the-clock work on behalf of all of us as we prepare for this unfolding crisis. The cabinet secretary and I have corresponded before about the Yorkhill site in Glasgow, which is largely, but not entirely, decanted. What consideration is being given to using that site which, although not in full use at the moment, is still owned and managed by the NHS, and other similar sites as facilities as the crisis unfolds?

We have talked about that site before, and I am grateful to Mr Tomkins for raising it again. I have asked my officials who are currently working on increasing the capacity in the NHS about it. I note that the committed increase in capacity of 30,000 additional beds and the committed doubling of intensive care units relate to existing operational sites. However, we need to look at what more we can do to maximise our health service. The Yorkhill site and one or two others are in that mix and are being considered as we speak. I am very happy to ensure that members are informed as we make decisions on their viability and robustness as we go forward.

Covid-19 (Advice for Pregnant Women)

To ask the Scottish Government what advice is being given to women who are pregnant regarding the coronavirus, Covid-19. (S5O-04302)

Current evidence does not suggest that pregnant women are more susceptible to the virus than the general population as a result of their pregnancy, or that they are more likely to be ill. However, we know that pregnant women are, generally, more susceptible to infection. Therefore, as a precaution, it was announced on Monday that pregnant women have been advised to take particular care to minimise their social contact.

All pregnant women will continue to receive high-quality maternity care throughout their pregnancy. Guidance for pregnant women and the maternity professionals who look after them has been produced by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and is available on the NHS inform website. Pregnant women who have any concerns about their pregnancy should contact their maternity care provider. If they have concerns about worsening symptoms, or if they need urgent medical advice, they should contact NHS 24 on 111.

A constituent of mine who is a teacher is now at home, as per Government advice. Are we advising other women who are pregnant to do likewise?

As I said, pregnant women along with people over 70 and those who have underlying health conditions are being strongly advised to stay at home as much as possible and to significantly reduce unnecessary social contact. We expect employers to support pregnant women and others to do that.