Meeting date: Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 23 September 2020
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill, Prioritising Education, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Heart Valve Disease Awareness Week
- Portfolio Question Time
- Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill
- Prioritising Education
- Business Motions
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Heart Valve Disease Awareness Week
Portfolio Question Time
Education and Skills
Before we begin today’s business, I remind members that social distancing measures are in place in the chamber and across the Holyrood campus and I ask that members take care to observe the measures over the course of this afternoon’s business, including when entering and exiting the chamber.
The first item of business is portfolio question time. I remind members that if they wish to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or enter “R” in the chat function if they are online.
Outdoor Education Residential Centres (Support)
To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to provide the outdoor learning and youth work sector with the financial support required to prevent the permanent closure of outdoor residential centres. (S5O-04609)
Since the initial closure of schools, the Scottish Government has worked closely with the Scottish Advisory Panel for Outdoor Education to support the appropriate use of outdoor education centres during the pandemic and to highlight the valuable contribution made by centres across Scotland.
Earlier this year, third sector organisations that run outdoor education were able to apply for support through our £25 million third sector resilience fund. In addition, centres could apply for a 0 per cent interest loan, starting at £50,000, via Social Investment Scotland. Outdoor youth work is listed as a key objective in the newly created £3 million youth work education recovery fund, which was announced in mid-September. Funding awards of £20,000 to £60,000 are available through that fund. Finally, a number of third sector outdoor centres may be eligible to apply for funding under the forthcoming community and third sector recovery programme.
The minister will be aware from last night’s members’ business debate that outdoor education centres in my constituency and across Scotland are facing severe financial hardship—many face closure and a substantial loss of jobs in a matter of weeks. Guidance on day trips is helpful, but it is insufficient to sustain the centres, which are not eligible for the third sector resilience fund, at least, and some have difficulty in accessing some of the other funds that the minister described. Will the minister meet representatives of outdoor education centres urgently to arrange for funding to avoid closure?
As Jackie Baillie said, last night’s members’ business debate highlighted the importance that members across the chamber attach to the valuable role that is played by outdoor education centres in delivering valuable skills for Scotland’s young people. In that debate, I gave a commitment to members that ministers will engage with the sector in the coming days. We appreciate the incredible challenges that it faces as a result of the global pandemic, which is affecting all sectors of society. We are listening closely to what the sector is saying and we recognise the valuable role that it plays. We will engage with it in the coming days. In addition, local authorities and directors of education have a big role to play in the engagement with outdoor centres.
Shielding Pupils and Teachers (Support)
To ask the Scottish Government what additional measures it is considering to support pupils and teachers who were shielding before the return to school. (S5O-04610)
The guidance that was prepared to support planning for the return to school sets out the particular considerations for children, young people and staff for whom special considerations are required. The guidance is clear that although the requirement to shield is currently not in place, those who are clinically vulnerable or extremely clinically vulnerable were able to return to school and work, unless they were advised not to by their general practitioner or healthcare provider. The guidance also sets out the need to continue to monitor and review these matters and to plan ahead for any potential localised outbreak.
The cabinet secretary will be aware that hundreds of teachers and thousands of school pupils who were either shielding or living with somebody who was shielding will, understandably, all be feeling particularly exposed as we move into a partial lockdown. On the day that Scotland recorded its highest ever daily incidence of coronavirus infections, can the cabinet secretary advise the chamber what he feels is the tipping point for community transmission, when it will no longer be safe for students and teachers to remain in school? What additional measures to protect them is he planning?
The emphasis in my first answer on the published guidance is designed to assure Mr Cole-Hamilton and those on whose behalf he advocates that the guidance assumes that specific consideration is given to the circumstances of any individual who faces any form of clinical challenge and who therefore may have been shielding under the previous arrangements. That approach should be pursued by individual schools, with the support of local authorities, to make sure that the needs of staff and pupils are met.
On the additional point that the member raised in his supplementary question, we listen carefully to the advice of our clinicians, and consider the work of the national incident management team, which provides us with guidance on the appropriate steps that we need to take on any localised outbreaks. Of course, the Government has taken a number of those steps in relation to the situations in Aberdeen, the west of Scotland and Dumfries and Galloway, and yesterday we announced more widespread changes to the arrangements that are in place.
Attainment Gap (Covid-19)
To ask the Scottish Government what analysis it has undertaken of the impact of Covid-19 on the attainment gap. (S5O-04611)
I have committed to the implementation of an equity audit to deepen our understanding of the impact of Covid-19 on children from disadvantaged backgrounds and have set clear areas of focus for accelerating recovery.
Work on the equity audit has commenced and it will report in full in December. It will include a synthesis of key literature and will be supplemented with local evidence gathered from schools and other children’s services. It is an important part of the recovery process and will inform policy and practice.
The Scottish National Party pledged to set up a digital schools network in 2007, but almost two thirds of young people had no online teacher contact during lockdown. After 13 years, why could the SNP not get the most vulnerable pupils online?
Mr Golden is well and truly mistaken in his analysis. The Government has established the digital schools network—the Glow system is in place. Usage of the Glow system increased exponentially during lockdown. Obviously, the Government has supplemented that by providing 25,000 devices, and connectivity packages where appropriate, to schools around the country. In addition, local authorities, which carry the statutory duty for the delivery of education, have undertaken significant work to deliver devices to young children who did not have access to them. Indeed, this morning, in a call that I was involved in with headteachers, I heard some of the positive benefits of exactly that work. I suggest to Mr Golden that he look more widely at some of the issues and the progress that has been made on this important topic.
One impact of Covid-19, which may affect attainment and the attainment gap is the need for young people, not just in schools but in universities, to socially isolate. In recent days, hundreds of university students have been asked to do that. How will the Government respond to that issue?
Our response is in two parts. One important aspect is putting in place the arrangements to support individuals to self-isolate. Through the resilience partnerships that we have in place, practical support is available to individuals who have to self-isolate. Furthermore, in the context of supporting incomes, we confirmed yesterday that £500 payments will be available to individuals who must self-isolate.
The second aspect relates to curricular and digital support to individuals. I have rehearsed with Mr Golden some of the practical steps that have been taken on digital roll-out. Schools have been encouraged to develop models for the delivery of online learning, should there be disruption to learning, and they have those plans in place.
To ask the Scottish Government what the procedure and timescale is for probationary teachers to secure posts in schools. (S5O-04612)
I recently announced £80 million of additional investment in education staff. Although the recruitment and deployment of teachers are matters for local authorities, our workforce planning guidance makes clear that the recruitment of existing qualified staff should be prioritised. That includes all qualified teachers seeking work, including post-probation teachers and recently qualified teachers.
Local authorities are continuing to work through their recruitment processes. Current estimates from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities suggest that an additional 1,118 teachers have already been recruited, and plans are in place to recruit a further 250.
One of my constituents completed and passed her probationary teaching period earlier this year but, so far, she has been unable to secure a temporary or permanent teaching post. What advice can the cabinet secretary offer teachers in her situation, to enable them to move forward?
As I indicated in my first answer to Mr Kidd, local authorities are currently undertaking a recruitment process, using the additional resources that the Government has put in place. I therefore encourage Mr Kidd’s constituent to pursue relevant local authorities in relation to individual posts that might be available.
Although recruitment adverts for available posts are appearing, it might not be possible for post-probation teachers to secure employment in the local authority areas in which they undertook their induction placements. Nevertheless I encourage Mr Kidd’s constituent to make contact with relevant local authorities that have advertised teaching posts, to try to secure such an opportunity.
The cabinet secretary will be aware of comments made by the Educational Institute of Scotland that, during the summer, thousands of newly qualified teachers were desperate for work. The cabinet secretary might point to local authorities for the relevant numbers, but does he himself know how many such teachers have been given full-time teaching contracts this summer? What plans does the Government have to use such teachers to alleviate Covid-related pressures?
Those questions raise a number of points. It is a matter of routine form that a sizeable number of newly qualified teachers secure employment as part of local authorities’ annual recruitment process for replenishing the teaching profession.
The Government has added to that through our provision of £75 million for the recruitment of additional teachers. We are working with local authorities to ensure that those resources are delivered effectively around the country.
This year’s recruitment process is not yet complete. As I have just made clear to Parliament, more than 1,100 teachers have already been recruited. They will be substantially from the grouping of newly qualified teachers to which I have referred—some of them recently qualified, into the bargain. The employment position, including the relevant numbers, will become clear once that process is complete.
Social Distancing (Schools)
To ask the Scottish Government what measures it has put in place in schools to reinforce the message that pupils need to adhere to social distancing guidelines. (S5O-04613)
Our guidance makes it clear that 2m distancing between adults, and between adults and pupils, should be observed wherever possible. The Scottish Government has worked with partners to develop materials, such as the sector advice card for schools, to support understanding of the guidance. However, it is not possible for national guidance to address the varied and particular circumstances of individual schools, settings and pupils. Local authorities are best placed to identify how to meet the needs of the children and young people in their local area, and to design their school environments accordingly.
A recent survey by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers found that only 6 per cent of teachers working in schools in Glasgow said that school managers were reinforcing messages on the need for pupils to keep apart. That will be causing a great deal of concern to members of the teaching profession. Does the cabinet secretary recognise how serious the issue is? What more can the Scottish Government do to support local authorities to reinforce such messages to pupils?
The education recovery group devised guidance, which includes a number of mitigations, to ensure that our schools are safe. One of the mitigations is the physical distancing approach. The group monitors that guidance and tomorrow, at our next weekly meeting, we will reflect on its implementation at local level and will identify what further steps can and should be taken to enforce mitigation.
Schools have taken a number of different routes on that. For example, timetable changes have been put in place to reduce the amount of movement that goes on within the school day. There are enhanced cleaning arrangements; different routing arrangements and different entrances are being used in individual schools; and of course the Government has strengthened the guidance by putting in place the requirement for face coverings to be used by all pupils and staff in communal areas.
This issue will be the subject of continuing weekly review by the education recovery group to ensure that we maintain the high levels of safety that are prevalent in our schools today.
Education Staff (Recruitment)
To ask the Scottish Government what progress it has made with its commitment to recruit 850 extra teachers and around 200 additional support staff to help schools deal with the pressures arising from their reopening following the lockdown. (S5O-04614)
I recently announced £80 million of additional investment in education staff, sufficient for local authorities to recruit around 1,400 additional teachers and 200 support staff this year.
Although local authorities are still working through their recruitment processes, current Convention of Scottish Local Authorities estimates suggest that an additional 1,118 teachers have already been recruited, with plans in place to recruit another 250.
For full transparency, I remind the chamber that I am married to an Aberdeen teacher. I listened to the cabinet secretary’s previous answer to Murdo Fraser. The Scottish Government guidance asks schools to enable social distancing
“where staffing within the school allows it”.
However, 83 per cent of Aberdeen-based Educational Institute of Scotland members report no reductions in class sizes, Aberdeen Council says that its schools need twice as many staff to make that happen, and the local union secretary states that the money has to come from the Scottish Government.
Will the cabinet secretary provide the money required to allow Aberdeen schools to do as the Scottish Government requires or will he leave teachers and pupils at risk from the virus and schools at risk of closing?
I think that Mr Kerr gets more and more reckless with his language every time I hear him speak. Our schools are safe today and it does nobody any service whatsoever for a member of the Parliament to come to the Parliament and to say things as reckless as Mr Kerr’s remarks were about the safety of our schools.
We put in place guidance to ensure that our schools could be safe. They have returned on a safe basis and they have sustained their operations on a safe basis; instead of coming to the chamber and scaremongering, as he has done, I suggest that Mr Kerr looks at the evidence.
Clare Adamson is next. She is participating remotely.
I fear that we will not be able to hear from Clare Adamson due to technical difficulties.
Disabled Children and Young People (Pandemic Support)
To ask the Scottish Government what support it has provided to disabled children and young people during the Covid-19 pandemic. (S5O-04615)
We recognise that disabled children and young people and their families may be finding this difficult time particularly challenging. As we work through the phases of recovery from Covid-19, it is essential that we continue to support and safeguard the wellbeing of all children and families.
Throughout the pandemic, we have worked to ensure that disabled children and young people can continue, where appropriate, to access education or childcare settings to secure continuity in their care and support and to access social care with minimal disruption. Funding has been provided to support organisations and charities through a number of funding initiatives, as well as through continuing core grant funding. Support for unpaid carers has also been improved by implementing the coronavirus carers allowance supplement. We have also opened a number of digital inclusion projects to mitigate against isolation and to improve access to services, particularly for those who have been shielding.
We all know that, for many families across Scotland, the pandemic has made an already challenging situation even worse. For all too many disabled young people, moving on to further or higher education or finding work or training can be an insurmountable challenge. Parents across Scotland have told me that they need legislation and a statutory right to a transition plan now more than ever. The current system is simply not working.
At the end of this month, I shall introduce a transitions bill to help young people to meet the challenges of adult life and I am delighted to have secured support for the bill from members across the chamber. Will the minister agree to work with me, parents and disabled young people to ensure that my proposal, guaranteeing the support that they so clearly need, is introduced in this parliamentary session?
I am more than willing to work with the member to ensure that those needs are met. There is already a lot of published policy and legislation in the area, but the lived experience of children and young people is undoubtedly still inconsistent. I think that all in the chamber would agree.
I am keen to work together towards solutions. Johann Lamont will be aware, however, that until I see the bill and examine the detail I cannot give a guarantee of Government support. The member will also be aware that the Government has had to shelve plans for legislation over the next year because of the pressures related to the pandemic.
Despite that, however, we are very focused on work in the area. We have a work plan that focuses on improving front-line practice and has a number of strands. I also expect the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill to provide some transformation in this landscape, with children’s rights being justiciable in future.
We have not been able to get Clare Adamson back and question 8 was withdrawn, so that concludes portfolio questions on education.
Addiction (Treatment Options)
To ask the Scottish Government what progress it has made on ensuring that a range of treatment options are available for people living with addiction. (S5O-04617)
Good progress has been made, locally and nationally, to ensure that a range of treatment options is available for people in need of support.
Locally, services are already responding to Scotland’s eight-point plan for the establishment of a recovery-oriented system of care around alcohol and drugs. The eight-point plan, which comes from the “Rights, respect and recovery: alcohol and drug treatment strategy”, includes an emphasis on the need for a full range of treatment options to be available locally. At national level, we have developed quality principles for alcohol and drug services, which set out what people can expect when they access an alcohol or drug treatment service.
Alongside that, the drug deaths task force is currently establishing standards for the delivery of opiate substitute therapy. A growing range of opiate substitute treatment options is emerging, including long-acting alternatives such as Buvidal. In response to the Covid pandemic, we made £1.9 million available to improve access to Buvidal in prison settings, and we are developing plans to support further roll-out of those alternatives across the wider community.
I am pleased that the minister agrees that having a range of treatment pathways is absolutely crucial. On that front, I am pleased that he will be meeting the Sustainable Interventions Supporting Change Outside group in my constituency soon. The group offers support for people in recovery in the communities that I serve. However, the minister knows of my on-going wish to see additional capacity in residential rehabilitation. Will he update me on that capacity and on any on-going work to develop treatment pathways for residential rehab?
I look forward to joining Bob Doris at the meeting to hear about Sisco’s work. It is important that we have a range of support, some of which comes directly from our public services, but I do not underestimate the importance of third sector organisations, particularly those that are based on lived and living experience.
Our strategy includes a clear commitment to better understand the need for residential services across Scotland and to develop effective services to meet that need. We have started work to map out existing pathways of rehab, to access current funding models and to scope out the overall demand for services, in order to gain a better understanding of the number and type of residential beds that are required. We are working with a range of partners to improve the pathways from prison to residential rehab as an enhanced service to support people’s recovery at that time, and we have been able to accelerate that work during Covid.
We have also asked David McCartney of the Lothians and Edinburgh abstinence programme to lead a working group that will look at how we can take those options forward in order to ensure that, on the basis of information and evidence, we have not only appropriate rehabilitation services but appropriate access to those services right across Scotland.
Supplementary questions and answers should be short, please.
The minister will be aware that, during lockdown, the third sector was invaluable in maintaining contact with the most vulnerable people in our communities who suffer with addiction. How does the Scottish Government plan to ensure that the third sector is appropriately supported to maintain its services throughout the Covid-19 crisis and beyond?
Prior to Covid, I spent a huge amount of time visiting many of the third sector organisations of the kind that Mr Whittle refers to and which Mr Doris mentioned in his question. Throughout Covid, we have provided extra funding. There is an additional £20 million within the system; there is also additional money for a range of options that is being routed through the drug deaths task force. Some of that money has been committed and some of it is being allocated through the grants process.
Mr Whittle can be absolutely assured that, from all the personal contact that I have had, I do not underestimate the huge value of the contribution of third sector partners, which is at its strongest in places such as Lanarkshire, where the third sector is working hand in hand with the public sector.
Scotland’s drug deaths emergency is not easing. How many people have been referred to residential rehab during the pandemic? How many places are currently available? How much of the task force’s money has been spent on rehab in the past year?
The drug deaths task force is focusing on a range of work. Before I talk specifically about rehab, I want to wind back a bit. The first point that we must remember is that, in addressing this really difficult and long-standing problem, there is no magic bullet. Whether we are talking about rehab, Buvidal or anything else, we must remember that it is important that a range of options is available. It almost sounded as though Monica Lennon was suggesting that, if we just spent all our money on rehab, the problem would go away, but it is clear that that is not the case.
The drug deaths task force is working on establishing a test of change to look at how an offer can be made in relation to residential rehab as part of a longer recovery journey, particularly to protect in the next stages those people who have experienced a non-fatal drug overdose.
As I said in my answer to Mr Doris, a short-term working group led by David McCartney from LEAP is looking at what more we can do to open up routes into rehabilitation for those people for whom that is appropriate.
Protect Scotland App
To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to reassure people in the north-east and elsewhere that signing up to the Protect Scotland app does not make them more at risk of scamming. (S5O-04618)
Downloading the Protect Scotland app does not increase the risk of exposure to scamming. The app does not collect your name, address or age and it does not hold your phone number. The app cannot track your location and cannot reveal the identities of anyone you have been in contact with or who has tested positive. There is no information on the app that a scammer can use to access your identity.
Phone calls or texts from genuine NHS Scotland contact tracers will always come from this number: 0800 030 8012. Callers will always introduce themselves and the reason for their call, and they will never ask for your computer passwords or your bank details.
The app is an important additional tool for our NHS test and protect system. It helps with contact tracing, particularly in circumstances in which you will not know the name or any of the details of someone you have been in close contact with—for example, in a shop or on public transport.
I thank the cabinet secretary for that full reply.
I hope that, by ensuring that people have confidence in the safety of the Protect Scotland app, we will increase its uptake. For it to be as effective as possible, we need people to download it. The Government has previously written to the people of Scotland regarding the pandemic. In the light of yesterday’s announcement, does it plan to do so again? If that is the case, will it include in the letter details of the Protect Scotland app and the means of downloading it, such as the QR code?
Yes. Work is already under way for a further national door drop during November. It will cover a range of topics with respect to the health service, including information on the test and protect service, the reasons why it is important that people download the Protect Scotland app if they have not yet done so, and those additional reassurances. They are also in the app, so people who download it can see them there.
“Warning Lights: Ten Actions for Covid Elimination” (Government Response)
To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to Common Weal’s paper, “Warning Lights: Ten Actions for Covid Elimination”. (S5O-04619)
We welcome Common Weal’s publication. Indeed, we already have in place many of actions recommended in its report. Our approach and principles, which guide us as we take decisions, are in our publication “COVID-19: A Framework for Decision Making”. Scotland has a tried and tested approach to managing outbreaks of any infection here and we continue to work closely with local incident management teams, which are critical in that work, as we respond to the outbreaks of Covid-19.
The paper, which proposes a decentralised strategy, states:
“it is simply not credible to believe that an elimination strategy can be delivered if there is no monitoring of routes of new infection entering the country”.
It recommends measures to prevent incoming infection, including diverting people who arrive in Scotland’s airports through testing stations and requiring inbound travellers to isolate in a secure location, such as a hotel, to ensure that there is compliance with quarantine rules. Is the cabinet secretary considering such measures?
We have never said that we have complete control over the elimination strategy that we are pursuing, because we do not control our own borders. We have had the debate and discussion about testing at airports many times. The current test that is available, valid and reliable is the polymerase chain reaction test. All that it does is tell us whether the person is positive or negative on the day of entry. It does not tell us what would happen the day after, or the day after that. That is why quarantine is so important.
I am not convinced about putting everybody into a single location to quarantine them. There must be a rights question involved in that. Australia does it, and I am mindful of the experience in Melbourne. The major outbreak that led Australia to close down that city started in one of the hotels that was used to put inbound travellers into quarantine.
On a decentralised strategy, I note that our test and protect strategy is built from the ground up. It is built on the local health protection teams and the local incident management teams, which look at the themes that are emerging as the test and protect approach identifies the index cases, the contacts, the connections between them all and so on, and makes decisions accordingly. We have that decentralised approach; equally, we have to have a national approach and a national framework that people can be accountable for.
Chronic Pain Treatment (Restoration of Services)
To ask the Scottish Government what measures it is taking to restore chronic pain treatment services, in light of official statistics for the quarter ending 30 June 2020, which recorded that over half of new patients waited over 18 weeks for a first appointment. (S5O-04620)
I appreciate how difficult postponement of treatment has been for people with chronic pain. We remain committed to ensuring that health boards resume a full range of specialist pain services as quickly as it is safe to do so. Tomorrow, we will publish a recovery framework for pain management services, and as part of that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport will write to national health service boards to set out our expectation that they will take immediate action to ensure that pain clinics are prioritised alongside other essential services as we remobilise our NHS.
I thank the minister for that answer. It is very encouraging that there will be immediate action, because many chronic pain patients have suffered without specialist pain relief for up to six months, including some in my region, since Scotland’s NHS clinics were halted. Some patients have had to seek relief in England and pay for their treatment, which is of course not possible for everybody. Those in excruciating pain are desperate to regain the services.
I highlight that the First Minister has mentioned reducing
“long-term reliance on specialist services and treatments”
that the Government claims
“demonstrate limited health outcomes.”
Will the minister explain what “limited” means in this case? Some patients get six weeks of relief from agony while others get many months. What treatments will be targeted? Were any charities consulted on the framework that is being published tomorrow, which I recognise is an important step forward? Patients are concerned, and it would be valuable to hear whether lignocaine infusions and injections are at risk of being on the list of limited treatments.
I ask the minister to stick to answering the question and not to respond to the preamble.
Okay. Sorry—I am mixed up about what was the question and what was the preamble.
The member makes a number of important points. I think that one of the questions that she asked was about consultation with organisations that represent stakeholders. She is absolutely right: it is important that we hear from those organisations and that we listen to the voice of lived experience as we take forward the recovery framework for pain management services. That is a really important point.
The recovery framework for pain management services will clearly set out the Government’s expectation that health boards will take immediate action to ensure that people with chronic pain have access to the support that they need to improve their quality of life and wellbeing.
The most important thing that I said in that answer was about the voice of lived experience and the fact that we have consulted closely with organisations that represent the people who suffer from chronic pain.
The impact of Covid and lockdown undoubtedly will have been difficult for anyone who suffers from chronic pain. Can the minister provide an update on the modernising patient pathways programme and say how it will be factored into the Scottish Government’s NHS remobilisation plan, which is prioritising the resumption of some paused services?
The modernising patient pathways programme—MPPP—has been working closely with health boards to offer support with remobilising and redesigning patient pathways during the pandemic. That includes supporting triage processes to ensure that people are on the right treatment pathway for their needs.
As part of our wider efforts to remobilise and redesign pain services, the MPPP is funding a number of projects across Scotland to explore the provision of skilled pain practitioners in primary care and improve access to pain management support. That will help to reduce demand and relieve pressure on specialist pain management services, and allow for prioritisation of those most in need.
I hope that members see not only that I am determined that we will take immediate action, but that we are looking at how we can take longer-term action to improve the overall support that people with chronic pain receive.
Dentists (Pandemic Financial Support)
To ask the Scottish Government what financial support it has put in place for national health service dentists during the Covid-19 pandemic. (S5O-04621)
The financial support that the Scottish Government is providing to NHS dental practices and individual contractors during the pandemic is unprecedented and greatly contributing to the continuity of NHS dental service provision in Scotland. The Scottish Government is making exceptional payments of £12 million per month to support NHS dental practices specifically. That includes additional investment of £2.75 million per month to support practices with running costs and to mitigate lower numbers of patients due to the current public health measures, which are placing restrictions on patient volume.
I have been contacted by a number of constituents who have advised me that they have been unable to get dental care through their NHS dentist. They have been advised to seek treatment privately, but in some cases they cannot afford that. Can the minister advise whether the Scottish Government has plans to allow NHS dentists to carry out the same level of treatment that private practices are offering, while, of course, keeping all patients safe from Covid-19?
It is important to point out that, throughout the pandemic, we have ensured a strong network of NHS provision for urgent dental care. As far as I am aware, no similar level of access to urgent care has been provided anywhere else in the United Kingdom. Clearly, however, a number of people have indicated that there appears to be a difference between what is available in NHS dentistry and private dentistry. I want to provide some context for that difference.
Dentists who perform NHS work are regulated primarily by their local NHS health board. Private dentistry is regulated by Healthcare Improvement Scotland. Whether they carry out NHS work or work privately, all dentists are subject to the same requirements to control the spread of coronavirus. The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions and Requirements) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 require all healthcare providers to take all reasonable measures to ensure safe practice in the controlled environment in which they are currently operating. There is, of course, scope for different practices to take slightly different approaches to meeting the same requirements, depending on the nature of the practice premises and individual situations, but those measures may necessarily include strictly limiting the number of patients who are seen each day.
Let me be clear: the most sensible way of ensuring compliance is for all dentists to comply with the dental remobilisation plan, whether they are a private dentist or an NHS dentist. Within that plan, we are continuing to look at how and when we can further increase the range of treatments that are available on the NHS.
That does not really answer the question why someone can be refused NHS treatment and can then be offered the same treatment privately at the same dentist. I have a constituent who has paid well over £1,000 for fillings for a child at the same dentist because of the lack of personal protective equipment for NHS patients.
Let me be absolutely clear: appropriate PPE is made freely available for NHS dentistry across Scotland. That has to be used for NHS dentistry in line with the remobilisation plan and the chief dental officer’s guidelines. I encourage all dentists in Scotland to look at the CDO’s guidelines and to follow them. The CDO is working really hard with the British Dental Association and others to look at how we can remobilise all dental services across Scotland in a safe way. The suggestion that there is not enough PPE is not factual.
We seem to have a problem getting Clare Adamson connected to ask question 6, so we will move on to question 7.
NHS Ayrshire and Arran (Covid-19 Control)
To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions it has had with NHS Ayrshire and Arran regarding measures to control the spread of Covid-19. (S5O-04623)
There are weekly meetings between the chief executive of NHS Scotland and senior officials and chief executives of our national health service boards, including NHS Ayrshire and Arran. In addition, the Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing and I meet board chairs on a fortnightly and monthly basis, and the chief executive of NHS Ayrshire and Arran is on the recovery group for the remobilisation of the NHS, which I chair. In all those meetings, aspects of our response, our preparedness and our planning for the pandemic are discussed.
The cabinet secretary will be aware from those meetings of the growing concerns of family members who are having difficulty accessing elderly relatives in care homes, particularly in the Ayr constituency. As Dr Donald Macaskill has observed:
“The longer we keep people apart, the more people will be lost to our Covid response rather than to the disease itself.”
My constituents are suffering from that. What can the cabinet secretary do about that unfolding tragedy in Ayrshire and elsewhere?
I am very glad that Mr Scott has asked that question, because there are a number of points that I need to make.
First of all, 40 per cent of our care homes already meet the criteria, which are that they have to be Covid free for 28 days and they have to take part in the care home staff testing programme. The 40 per cent of care homes that meet those criteria already have indoor visiting, and outdoor visiting remains.
I spoke to Mr Macaskill and the Care Inspectorate this morning. I have fortnightly meetings with both of them. When I spoke to Mr Macaskill, I raised my concern that I, too, am receiving emails from family members who tell me that their care home has now stopped all visiting, saying that it has been stopped as a requirement of the Scottish Government. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have asked him to make that clear to all his members and I intend to write to all care homes, as I did about testing, to remind them that the restrictions that were introduced yesterday do not impose additional restrictions on care home visiting.
On the contrary, part of what we are trying to do with the new restrictions that the First Minister announced is not only to keep education open but to protect and keep our care homes open to visiting. Last Friday, I had the benefit of a discussion with the care home relatives Scotland Facebook group about how we could increase the length of time of indoor visits and the frequency of those visits for the designated indoor visitor. I will meet that group again this week or early next week.
We are actively looking with our care homes clinical and professional advisory group to see how we can do that, because I would like to be able to, in a way that continues to protect our residents—of course that is our primary objective—but also ensures that we can allow family members to be with their loved ones for longer, to eat with them and to have as close to normal visiting as we can possibly manage. That work is under way, as is the work to reintroduce health and personal care services and outdoor visits to our care homes—both of which had been paused during the pandemic.
Community-based Football Clubs (Covid-19 Support)
To ask the Scottish Government what support it is giving to small community-based football clubs that are facing financial difficulties and closure due to the Covid-19 crisis. (S5O-04624)
The Scottish Government has been working closely with football authorities to ensure that clubs at all levels have access to the support and advice that they need at this difficult time.
Since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, the Scottish Government has worked closely with the United Kingdom Government as well as private and public sector partners to develop a range of support mechanisms for business. In addition, the £20 million third sector resilience fund provides support for charities, community groups, social enterprises and voluntary organisations that are working in Scotland. The fund supports organisations that already deliver services and products, but find themselves in financial difficulty directly as a result of the pandemic. The fund’s primary intention is to help third sector organisations to stabilise and manage cash flows over this difficult period.
In order to safeguard our wider sporting sector, I have written to the UK sports minister to request an urgent meeting to discuss the possibility of a recovery package for sport.
For community-based sports clubs, the return of ticket paying fans is, for understandable reasons, a distant prospect. Many of those clubs, such as Stirling Albion Football Club in the area that I represent, face challenging times, both financially and operationally.
Will the Scottish Government consider taking additional non-financial measures to support those clubs? That could include helping with health risk assessments to identify how clubs can use their premises for other purposes, assistance with live streaming matches to local communities and helping them to explore alternative sources of revenue so that those clubs, which are very often at the heart of their communities, are able to survive the crisis.
I thank the member for his constructive question.
It is important that we do all those things. My officials are working closely with the Scottish Football Association and the Scottish Professional Football League on those areas. All the suggestions that the member made are things that I think are being looked at. Certainly, I have heard a fair bit about the concept of streaming tickets, for example, and some clubs are seriously looking at that.
The member is absolutely right about the challenge that making such changes presents for our clubs, which is why I have written to the UK sports minister in the same spirit of co-operation to see whether we can work together across the four nations to support what, for many people, is at the heart of their communities.
That concludes questions on the health and sport portfolio. Members should note that that session lasted almost 30 minutes and we got through only seven questions. I ask members to have a think about how they ask their questions, and about the length of the answers.
Please maintain social distancing when leaving the chamber.