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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, November 28, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 28 November 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Point of Order, St Andrew’s Day, Portfolio Question Time, Women in Agriculture Task Force (Final Report), Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill: Stage 1, Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill: Financial Resolution, Decision Time


First Minister’s Question Time

Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (Infections)

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport has now ordered Government officials to go into NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to find out what has gone wrong at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital. What progress has been made? Can the First Minister set out how many individual cases of infection between 2016 and 2019 Government officials have now identified? If not, can she set out whether the number is substantially more than the figures about which we already know?

Since the health secretary’s announcement last Friday about the escalation of the oversight of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, particularly in the areas of infection prevention and control, and communication with patients and families, an oversight board has been established. That oversight board is chaired by the chief nursing officer, Professor Fiona McQueen. The board met yesterday and confirmed that it will focus on three key areas: infection prevention and control; clinical governance; and patient and family communication. The health secretary will keep Parliament updated on the progress of the board’s work, as appropriate.

On the second part of Jackson Carlaw’s question, work is on-going with Health Protection Scotland to ensure that we are fully aware of the number of infections. Following previous claims that were made relating to an internal, clinician-led review, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde confirmed to the Scottish Government that, in 2017, 26 organisms were identified and 14 children were affected. Other work is on-going on other years that have been affected. I am sure that Jackson Carlaw is aware of the Health Protection Scotland report that was published this week, which is a technical report but nevertheless provides important information.

Lastly, on what is being done to provide not just information but proper investigation into and assurance about the situation at the Queen Elizabeth, Lord Brodie has been confirmed this morning as the chair of the public inquiry. The health secretary will have discussions with him about the precise remit of the public inquiry before the Christmas break.

I welcome the appointment of Lord Brodie. The circumstances and conditions in the hospital are obviously such that urgent questions need to be asked and action taken now. I am pleased to hear about the oversight board. At the weekend, the health secretary was asked about the clinical report into infections at the sick kids hospital in 2017, which was revealed by a whistleblower two weeks ago. As the First Minister said, that is the clinician-led report that revealed that 26 infections affected 14 sick children in that year.

On Sunday, the health secretary said that she had seen some of the report but not all of it. Do the First Minister and the health secretary now have the full report on their desks? Have they had time to read it in full, and has action followed from that?

As I understand it, the oversight board has all the information that is contained in the report that was described as clinically led. Let me be clear: the oversight board will, as part of its work, gather all data from 2015, so that it can establish confidently the number of different bugs and cases of infection, as well as the number of children who were affected. That is important work and, as I hope and am sure Jackson Carlaw will appreciate, it is important that we do it rigorously and accurately, so that we can have confidence in the information that is provided.

That work is on-going and, as I said in my earlier answer, the Parliament will be kept updated as appropriate. The wider issues will of course be for the public inquiry to consider when it gets under way.

Also in the weekend’s press, we read reports that, in addition to the 26 infections in 2017, the whistleblower had identified a further 10 infection cases in the year before. As with everything else in this scandal, it seems that we have to wait for reports to emerge in the press before we find out what has been going on. What has the Scottish Government done in the four days since those claims surfaced to examine whether they are accurate? Were infection being reported as far back as 2016? If so, should that not have set alarm bells ringing?

The Health Protection Scotland report that I referred to earlier is a very technical report, but it points to the periods, including specific months, that Health Protection Scotland has identified during which there were what it calls spikes in infections. Health Protection Scotland has said that the infection rates right now are not abnormal or above what would be expected.

The detailed information that Jackson Carlaw is asking for is exactly what the oversight board, with the assistance, as appropriate, of Health Protection Scotland, is seeking to establish, so that we are confident that there is no underreporting of numbers of infection and there is no duplication in the figures that are reported. That work is on-going and will be taken forward as quickly as possible.

Whistleblowers who come forward with such information do a service to patient safety in the national health service and they should always be treated appropriately. I know that the health secretary will meet two whistleblowers next week, and anybody who feels that they have information that should be brought to the attention of the Scottish Government or the oversight board should come forward, directly to the health secretary if necessary, so that we can be absolutely clear that all information is being treated properly, with respect and is investigated appropriately.

I hope that they do come forward.

Last week, I said that the issue is now about trust. Parents and patients are waiting for answers and need clarity from the Government on exactly what has happened at the hospital. The priority has to be to provide the truth to the families who, we have learned in recent weeks, have discovered the facts only thanks to whistleblowers and leaks to newspapers.

The First Minister and the health secretary are still asking for time to answer some of the key questions that remain unanswered. I appreciate that the oversight board has been instructed to report, but how much longer will patients and parents have to wait? When will the answers be available? The Government has now put itself in charge, so when will the First Minister and her health secretary be able to respond?

I absolutely understand that parents in particular, but the wider public as well, want to have information and answers to any reasonable, legitimate questions here—I want that, too. However, it is important that the information that is provided is robust and that it has been properly investigated. Anybody who reads the Health Protection Scotland report that was published this week will get an understanding of how complex some of the issues are. That is no comfort to parents whose children are affected but, in terms of understanding the types of infection, the number of cases and the number of children who are affected, it is important that the work is done properly.

The Government is committed to making sure that there is absolute transparency around all this. That is why Health Protection Scotland and the Healthcare Environment Inspectorate are both involved, it is why the independent review was established—which we hope will report early next year—it is why the public inquiry has been announced, the chair of which was appointed today, and it is why the oversight board is now working.

It is extremely important that there is transparency but also that the information that is being provided is accurate and robust, and that is what we are committed to doing. The health secretary intends to make an update statement to Parliament before the Christmas recess in order that Parliament is fully appraised of the progress of the work and any timescales that flow from it.

Post-mortem Reports (Toxicology)

2. Richard Leonard (Central Scotland) (Lab)

Will the First Minister tell us when she last discussed with the Lord Advocate delays to toxicology services for post-mortem reports?

I have had briefings from the Lord Advocate over recent weeks and months about such issues. I would have to go and check the exact detail of those issues, but I am happy to report back to Richard Leonard once I have had the opportunity to do so.

Is the First Minister aware of the backlog of delays in toxicology reports from the University of Glasgow, which has an arrangement with the Crown Office, but which is currently in a contractual dispute with the Crown Office over the provision of toxicology services?

It is a matter of public interest and public concern. Bereaved families, such as brother and sister Gary and Emma from Lanarkshire, are paying the price. Their mum, Susan, died suddenly at the end of May. They are grieving the loss of a much-loved mother and much-missed grandmother. Instead of getting answers to give them some closure and peace, they have been waiting 26 weeks for a final post-mortem report—they are still waiting. They have a received a standard six-weekly letter—three times.

The Crown Office says that a contractual dispute is to blame, but that is no consolation to Gary and Emma, who have told us that their mum’s life insurance will not pay out without a death certificate, so they are being chased by a mortgage lender that is threatening repossession of the family home. They could and should have been spared that deep anxiety, additional uncertainty and unnecessary pain.

Will the First Minister take the opportunity today to apologise to Gary and Emma and to all those bereaved families across Scotland who have been going through the same ordeal?

First, I take the opportunity to put on record my deepest condolences to the family whose situation has been raised by Richard Leonard. Beyond what Richard Leonard has just told us, I am not familiar with the detail of that case. I would be very happy to look into it. I am sure that the justice secretary or the Lord Advocate, as appropriate, would be happy to correspond with or meet the family.

On the substantive matter that Richard Leonard raises, there has been an issue with the Glasgow contract and there is now an agreement to extend that contract to resolve that in the short term. In the longer term, the Crown Office is considering the future of the service and what the appropriate arrangements would be if it cannot continue to be performed by Glasgow university.

That is the issue that, as I said in my first answer, the Lord Advocate has been keeping me briefed on. If there are more details that I can usefully make available to Richard Leonard about the general issue as well as in relation to the individual case, I would be happy to do so.

The facility at Glasgow university that deals with sudden and unexpected deaths also handles 90 per cent of suspected drug-related deaths in Scotland. The First Minister is well aware that Scotland is in the grip of a drug deaths emergency, so she must also be aware of the key role that that unit plays in informing the allocation of resources to prevent future drug deaths.

It is a public service for which the First Minister is responsible and the dispute is one that she can resolve. The damage done is not just financial, but human. Will the First Minister step up, step in and find a resolution to the long-running contractual dispute, for the sake of our public health, to prevent future drug deaths and for the sake of the grieving families?

Those are important issues and I do not demur from that for a second—the services are vital. There has been a contractual dispute. I do not think that it would be possible, appropriate or helpful right now for me to get into the reasons underlying that, but, to be clear, the Crown Office and Glasgow university have been working together to manage the transition to a new provider for those services. That is obviously a priority for the Crown Office, but it is also a priority for the Scottish Government, because we understand the importance of having such services in place. Toxicology services play a vital role in the justice system and also in investigating drug-related deaths, so we know that the issues are important.

On my involvement, as I said, the Lord Advocate is keeping me updated. The issues have priority attention from the Lord Advocate and the Crown Office. If there is more information that it would be helpful for me to provide to Richard Leonard—or other members with an interest in the matter—I would be happy to do that, and I would be happy to keep him updated as the discussions proceed.

There are several constituency supplementary questions.

Aberdeen Royal Infirmary (Dermatology Waiting Times)

One of my constituents, Mr Watson, has raised a serious issue around waiting times for the dermatology department at Aberdeen royal infirmary. Mr Watson attended his general practitioner two years ago, and was diagnosed with a basal cell carcinoma near his eye. After diagnosis, he had to wait a full year to see a specialist in the department, who informed him that he would need surgery on the surrounding area. He has been waiting a further 10 months, and no treatment has been received. As such, nearly two years later, nothing has been done. A second lesion has now appeared on his ear.

The situation breaches numerous waiting time targets on cancer treatment and referral, and is totally unacceptable. Does the First Minister agree, and will she say what is being done to address this scandalous situation?

Firstly, from what Peter Chapman has recounted to the chamber, I agree that that is not an acceptable wait for Mr Watson; through Peter Chapman, I convey my best wishes to him. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport will be very happy to look into the individual case, if Peter Chapman provides the details of his constituent.

More generally, as Peter Chapman will be aware, the £850 million waiting times improvement programme is under way to make sure that, as demand for healthcare services rises—in Scotland as elsewhere—the health service is building the capacity to meet that demand. We would be very happy to look into Mr Watson’s case.

Queen Elizabeth University Hospital

Two weeks ago, I revealed details of a child’s death at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital due to contaminated water. More damning evidence has now been shared with me. The evidence shows that the health board knew that the water was contaminated when the hospital was transferred from the contractor to the health board. A report that was done the week that the hospital was opened revealed that the water supply was not safe, and that there was a high risk of infections.

Months before Milly died, infection control doctors raised concerns about line infections in the children’s cancer ward. Three weeks before Milly died, infection control doctors alerted management of further concerns about infections, escalated them to Health Protection Scotland and the Scottish Government, and requested testing of the water. A month after Milly’s death, another assessment of the water supply was done. It found—again—that the water supply was not safe, and that there was still a high risk of infections.

At each of those stages, the warnings were ignored and the appropriate action was not taken. It led to the death of at least one child. If that had happened in the private sector, there would not be a public inquiry—there would be a criminal investigation.

What did the First Minister, her ministers and her officials know, and when? Who will take responsibility and be held accountable for this? Be in no doubt—I and many others will not rest until we get justice and answers for Milly’s parents, and for all the parents of the children who are affected.

I thank Anas Sarwar for raising this issue again. I give him an assurance that the Scottish Government is determined to get the answers that Milly’s parents, and the parents of any children who have been treated at the Queen Elizabeth, want and deserve.

I am not aware of the evidence that Anas Sarwar cited in the chamber today—[Interruption.] When I say that I am not aware of it, I mean that I have not seen the specific evidence that he cited. I would encourage him to share it with us. If I could see that evidence, I and the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport will be able to see whether it is information that the Scottish Government already has, or whether it is information that the Scottish Government is not aware of. The reason that we have ordered the public inquiry is to make sure that, in addition to all the work that is being done, there is complete transparency and, if necessary, complete accountability around those issues.

Anas Sarwar referred to criminal investigations. Clearly, it is not for me to direct criminal investigations. That is not my job, but it is my job to make sure that the Scottish Government takes all appropriate action to get to the bottom of all those issues. That is what I and the health secretary are determined to do.

Deaths Abroad

The First Minister has taken a keen interest in my constituents who have been affected by a death abroad. I warmly welcome the commitment in the Scottish National Party manifesto to press the next United Kingdom Government to implement all the recommendations in the recent report by the all-party parliamentary group on deaths abroad and consular services.

However, some of the recommendations in that report are Scotland specific, so will the First Minister commit to implementing those recommendations where she has the power to do so?

Where the Scottish Government has the power to act, we will certainly do everything that we can to take forward the recommendations. I welcome the work of the all-party parliamentary group on deaths abroad, which has been helpful and productive in allowing us to ensure that progress has been made on the issues. The Scottish Government will do what we can within our powers, and we will continue to press relevant United Kingdom Government departments, agencies and services, and in some cases third-party organisations, to recognise the issues and ensure that they take the required action. In summary, we will press for all the recommendations in the all-party parliamentary group report to be implemented.

Meat Production (BBC Documentary)

The First Minister will be aware of the recent BBC programme highlighting the environmental impacts of meat production in the US and South America. Does she share the concern of many farmers in Orkney and in farming communities across the country that the programme made little or no attempt to explain the vast differences between massively intensive American livestock production and practices here in the United Kingdom, which generally adhere to much higher environmental and animal welfare standards? Does she agree with the leaders of the four main UK farming unions that such one-sided and partial portrayals of the agriculture sector do

“nothing to help people make informed choices about food which can be grown and reared in ways that offer benefits for the environment”?

Yes, I agree strongly with those comments. I have not yet had the opportunity to see the programme, but I have heard the concerns that have been raised about its inability to draw distinctions and to point out the differences that Liam McArthur referred to. Clearly, there are environmental challenges for our sector, but it is important that we recognise its quality and the work that is being done, and that we do not allow lazy reporting to impugn the integrity of the sector here in referring to practices elsewhere that we all deplore. I thank Liam McArthur for raising that important issue.

Short-term Lets (Scottish Government Consultation)

In response to a Scottish Government consultation on short-term lets, Highland Council reported 8,000 people needing a home. Scottish Government research showed that nearly 20 per cent of the houses on the island of Skye are now Airbnb lets. A month ago, the First Minister promised my colleague Alison Johnstone that the Scottish Government would publish its response to the consultation before the end of the year. Given that there are nine sitting days left until then, can the First Minister advise me about what measures the Scottish Government is considering and when members are likely to see proposals for much-needed regulation in the short-term letting sector?

We are committed to better regulation in that sector, because we understand the pressures in particular areas of the country, such as here in Edinburgh and the areas that John Finnie mentioned in his region. I do not have the specific date on which we will publish the response, but I will provide it to Mr Finnie. More generally, the Scottish Government is investing heavily in homes supply in order to increase the availability of good-quality homes. We are determined to take forward that work at pace.

Police Scotland (Officers’ Health and Wellbeing)

Two weeks ago, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Humza Yousaf, said that he was “very satisfied” with the support provided to police officers. New research published this week has found that just 3 per cent of police officers believe that Police Scotland really cares about their health and wellbeing. Does Humza Yousaf know what is going on?

I hope that Willie Rennie will accept that we all care deeply about the health and wellbeing of our police officers. I certainly do, Humza Yousaf does and I absolutely believe that Willie Rennie does. We all do, because we know that police officers do an exceptional job, day in and day out. By coincidence, the police bravery awards will take place later today, so I take this opportunity to place on record my gratitude to and appreciation of our police officers the length and breadth of the country.

Mental health support and support for wellbeing are extremely important in Police Scotland. Police officers and police staff can access a range of services to care for their physical and mental health, including through Police Scotland’s your wellbeing matters programme.

Police Scotland is one of the first police services in the United Kingdom to implement mental health and suicide intervention training for all officers. The Scottish Government is providing funding to extend the lifelines Scotland wellbeing programme to blue-light responders, including the police. In 2017, Police Scotland launched its wellbeing programme, which included the introduction of wellbeing champions. A force-wide wellbeing and engagement survey will be launched early next year.

I am not saying at all that we should not always be looking to do more to support public sector workers, such as police officers, who are on the front line. We all care about their health and wellbeing, and that is reflected in the action that has been taken and the support that is available.

The question that I asked was whether the justice secretary knows what is going on, and the First Minister has refused to answer that question. How can anybody be satisfied when just 3 per cent of officers feel that Police Scotland really cares? How can we be satisfied with that woeful position?

The justice secretary is out of touch, while our police officers are struggling. Let us look at the research. New research has found that one in 10 police officers turns to alcohol or prescription drugs to cope. Almost half suffer from exhaustion. Most devastating of all, one third of officers are turning up to work mentally unwell. How can anybody be satisfied with that position? The men and women of our police force are sacrificing their mental health to keep us all safe. Calum Steele, the general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, told me that those findings are “frightening”.

Why has the welfare of our police in Scotland gone so horribly wrong? Will the First Minister answer that question?

Nobody—not me, not Humza Yousaf and, I imagine, not anybody in the chamber—is satisfied if police officers, nurses or any public sector workers report that they do not feel as supported in their jobs as they want to be. The Government has a duty to respond to that. Much of what I said in my earlier answer to Willie Rennie set out the action that the Scottish Government is taking and will continue to take to ensure that we do everything that we can to support our front-line police officers.

One of the things that we have done to support them is to ensure that there are 1,000 more police officers working in Scotland than there were when this Government took office. We did that and sustained that during the very period when the Liberal Democrats were helping the Tories to impose austerity on our budget. Of course, austerity led to a situation in England in which 20,000 police officers were cut from service.

It is because of the actions of this Government that there continue to be 1,000 more police officers in Scotland than there were, which demonstrates that we will always work to support the police officers of Scotland, who do such a fantastic job day in, day out.

There are quite a few supplementary questions.

Whole-life Sentences

This week, a significant case review on the Dundee Law killer was published. Among a number of damning conclusions, it exposed terrifying flaws, such as that officials believed that he was playing the system and that he had psychopathic tendencies that increased the likelihood of future violent reoffending.

Linda McDonald, who was the victim of a brutal attack by that violent criminal when he was on home leave, said that that cannot be allowed to happen again. She is right. Does the First Minister agree with Linda McDonald that the time has come to look at giving judges the option to put the worst criminals in prison for the rest of their lives?

I acknowledge Mrs McDonald’s bravery, and I again extend my deepest sympathy to her and to the family of Robbie McIntosh’s first victim.

The significant case review was an important exercise. It found that the attack on Mrs McDonald could not have been predicted and that Robbie McIntosh alone was responsible for that. Nevertheless, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Prison Service are committed to learning from all the findings of the review, and will build on actions that have already been taken. For example, the SPS has already implemented improvements to its risk assessment and progression processes, and it has delivered new training. We will take forward all the recommendations, which we take seriously.

Mrs McDonald has written to me on the subject of whole-life sentences and I pay tribute to her for doing so. I have said to her that I will never close my mind to any suggestions that are about keeping the people of Scotland safe. However, as I have said to Liam Kerr and to others in this chamber, it is possible, if a judge thinks it appropriate, to impose a punishment part of a sentence that extends beyond the natural life of a prisoner, as happened in the World’s End case. It is also the case that when the punishment part of a sentence expires, it is for the Parole Board for Scotland to decide whether it is safe to release somebody from prison. Those are the arrangements in place, but in the interests of victims of crime, such as Mrs McDonald, who has shown exceptional bravery in this, the Scottish Government will always consider what more can be done to make sure that we are keeping people across Scotland safe.

Estranged Students Solidarity Week

This week is estranged students solidarity week. What is being done in Scottish colleges and universities to support estranged students with no parental support?

We are very committed to ensuring that all students, including estranged students, have the same opportunities. In response to the student support review, we have increased and expanded access to higher and further education bursaries. Estranged students in higher education have access to a minimum income of £7,750 through a combination of bursaries and loans, and students in further education can access a maximum bursary of £4,500.

I am conscious of the excellent campaign by the charity Stand Alone, working with Gillian Martin, to extend the care-experienced bursary to estranged students. We are looking at that issue and once we have had the opportunity to consider it fully we will report back as quickly as possible.

Abellio Trains (Service Levels)

I know that the First Minister does not travel on my local train service from Dumbarton to Helensburgh or Balloch, because if she did she would know that trains are regularly cancelled or delayed; they arrive in rush hour with three carriages instead of six; and it is standing room only for passengers who are crammed in like sardines. Stop skipping is back and passengers are being left stranded at stations far from home. To add insult to injury, prices continue to rise while the service continues to get worse. When will the First Minister come down on the side of passengers, rather than protecting the really poor service from Abellio?

The Scottish Government always acts to seek the improvements to services that passengers deserve. Abellio has an obligation to make sure that it is tackling the issues that Jackie Baillie described, and it is doing so, as is right and proper. Consideration of the future of that franchise will continue, in line with the requirements that we work within, but I make no bones about expecting Abellio to deliver the improvements that passengers deserve and which Scottish taxpayers pay handsomely for.

Treatment Time Guarantee

I have been contacted by a 72-year-old constituent in East Kilbride, Matthew Rodgers, who worked for 50 years as a nurse in the national health service, retiring at the age of 67. He has osteoarthritis and has been in pain for 15 years. Mr Rodgers has been told that he needs a new hip. He has also received a letter saying that the treatment time guarantee has been missed and he has no idea when he will be treated.

I visited Mr Rodgers on Sunday and asked to see any correspondence he has had, so he crawled upstairs and crawled back down backwards. He told me:

“I am at the stage where my life is totally on hold. I suffer daily. We are considering using the money we have set aside for our funerals to pay for treatment. That is difficult to bear.”

What can the First Minister say to Mr Rodgers and thousands like him for whom the treatment time guarantee has proved worthless?

In respect of Mr Rodgers, whenever an individual case is raised in this chamber, the health secretary is happy to look into it if details are provided. I thank Mr Rodgers for his service to the NHS.

Of course, this is about not just individual cases that are raised in the chamber but patients across Scotland. We have embarked upon the waiting times improvement plan, backed by substantial resources—£850 million—because we recognise the increasing demand on our health service and are determined to support health boards to build capacity to meet that demand. That work is under way; the health secretary and I monitor it closely and carefully, and we will continue to do so.

Action on Climate Change

Tomorrow is the next youth strike for climate. I look forward to joining a number of my constituents at George Square in Glasgow. The First Minister has told many young climate activists that this Government and her party are leading the world in tackling the climate emergency. If that is the case, why does Greenpeace’s independent assessment of Westminster manifestos on the climate and nature emergency, which was published today, put the Scottish National Party below even the Conservatives and above only the Brexit Party?

Actually, for many of the reasons that people keep saying to me—most of those issues are the responsibility of the Scottish Government, and that is why we are getting on and doing it. It is not a matter for our Westminster manifesto; it is a matter for the Scottish Government.

We have set the most ambitious emissions reduction targets anywhere in the world; we have gone beyond the United Kingdom Government; we are taking actions that are way beyond those of not just other Governments in the UK but most other Governments across the world and we will continue to do so.

I look forward to taking part in the Channel 4 leaders’ debate on climate change this evening. When I was last updated on the debate, Boris Johnson was still running scared of it. I hope that he changes his mind and joins us on the platform tonight.

Post-Brexit Trade Deal

The First Minister will be aware of leaked documents outlining initial trade discussions between the United Kingdom and United States Governments. What impact could a trade deal along those lines have on our national health service?

A trade deal with the US potentially could open up our health service to private operators. It could lead to an increase in drug prices, if agreements were done with drug companies, for example, to extend patents, which I believe is mentioned in the paperwork that was leaked yesterday. That is the risk to our health service if Boris Johnson and the Tories get their way. I think that the priority for people in Scotland over the next couple of weeks is to make sure that Boris Johnson does not get his way, we get him out of office and we protect our national health service.

Violence against Women and Girls

To ask the First Minister what actions the Scottish Government is taking to eliminate violence against women and girls. (S5F-03755)

Today is the fourth day of the international 16 days of activism to highlight that violence against women and girls is still too prevalent globally. It serves as a reminder to all of us that each and every part of Government, the public sector and wider society has an important role to play in tackling that violence. I am sure that the chamber is united in agreeing that violence against women and girls must become a thing of the past.

On Monday, the Scottish Government published “Equally Safe: Scotland’s strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls”. The strategy sets out recent actions, including the implementation of our domestic abuse legislation, support for front-line services and improvement work across a range of settings. In addition, yesterday we introduced new legislation on improving forensic medical services for victims of rape and sexual assault.

The First Minister will be aware that Zero Tolerance has referenced a survey that was carried out by Women’s Support Project, which indicated that disabled women are twice as likely as non-disabled women to experience violence by men. The statistics also show that black and minority ethnic women and trans women have a higher risk of experiencing gender-based violence. Will the First Minister provide assurances that groups of women and girls who are thought to be at greater risk of male violence will receive the targeted support that they require?

I thank Stuart McMillan for raising the issue in general and for raising that particular aspect of it. We should never stop being shocked at the violence that is perpetrated against women. All of us should be aware that women and girls, in addition to their gender, have other protected characteristics that can increase their level of risk of experiencing violence and abuse. Our equally safe strategy recognises that. We are also funding initiatives to target support at particular groups.

We must continue ensuring that our efforts are targeted at tackling men’s violence against women. We must also be very clear that all forms of violence are a fundamental violation of human rights, which will not and must not be tolerated.

The First Minister may be aware of BBC research, published today, which shows that violence during consensual sex is becoming normalised. We need to challenge that attitude in Scotland. To do that, we need to invest properly in preventative work.

Rape Crisis Scotland estimates that, by 2020, it will deliver a programme in 48 per cent of secondary schools. I understand that the mentors in violence prevention programme is being delivered by 25 local authorities. Those figures are encouraging, but when will all young people receive proper preventative programmes?

I thank Claire Baker for raising the issue, which is of acute concern. She rightly described it as the normalisation of violence within consensual sex and sexual relationships. I do not want to tread into matters of criminal justice or decisions of independent courts, but I have also been alarmed, as I am sure many people have been, at some of the use of defences in criminal court cases about violence being part of consensual sex.

There is a real danger that younger women are encouraged to see that as something that they have to accept as part of a consensual sexual relationship. It is a really big issue and we need to make sure that young women, in particular, have information, awareness and education. Claire Baker is right to talk about the importance of education on this in schools, and that has to be part of the routine education around relationships and sexual health. We will continue to consider what more we can do to focus on that particular issue, in addition to the programmes that are already being taken forward in schools.

Road Maintenance and Repairs (Backlog)

To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking to address the reported £3 billion backlog in road maintenance repairs. (S5F-03754)

Responsibility for local roads maintenance lies with local authorities. The majority of funding to local authorities from the Scottish Government is via block grant. We do not stipulate how they should utilise their allocations, but in 2019-20 we are delivering a funding package of £11.2 billion for local authorities, which is a real-terms increase of £310 million.

The Scottish Government is investing £470 million in managing, maintaining and operating the Scottish trunk road network in 2019-20, which is an increase of £33 million on the year before. We have also invested significantly in the motorway network, as is evidenced through the recent completion of the Aberdeen western peripheral route and the M8, M73 and M74 projects.

Last week, the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity expressing concern about the state of Scotland’s roads. It is clear that on current funding levels the problem will only get worse. The First Minister talked about local road maintenance, but the reality is that there is a £1.2 billion backlog of trunk road maintenance—roads that are the direct responsibility of the Scottish Government. Poor road conditions are not just an inconvenience to drivers, but are a serious safety issue for cyclists, motorcyclists and other road users.

The First Minister will be pleased to know that the United Kingdom Government has committed to investing an additional £2 billion for dealing with pot holes, of which £176 million will come to Scotland. Will the First Minister confirm that that money will be directly invested in road maintenance and—more important—will she tell us when we can expect the huge backlog of repairs to be dealt with so that Scotland’s roads are finally fit for purpose.

Those are serious issues that are raised with me by my constituents—as, I am sure, they are raised by the constituents of every member, which is exactly why the Scottish Government has delivered the increases in funding that I mentioned in my first answer. I point out that the Conservatives voted against those increases in funding in our budget and urged us to give—instead of investing in road maintenance and public services such as health and education—a tax cut to the wealthiest people in our country, which would have taken even more money out of our budget.

On the so-called additional money that has been promised by the Conservative Party, Jamie Greene said that we are, apparently, going to get £176 million. I welcome any extra money that comes from the UK Government, but it has to be set against the real-terms £1.5 billion that our budget will lose next year, compared with what it was at the start of this decade. The Tories have taken money out of Scotland’s budget, and want to take even more out with their tax cuts for the richest people, which makes it a bit galling that they come here week after week asking for more money to be spent on all sorts of things. Perhaps the Tories should focus on stopping robbing from Scotland’s budget before they come and raise such issues.

Queen Elizabeth University Hospital and Royal Hospital for Children (Safety)

To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking to reassure patients and families of the safety of the Queen Elizabeth university hospital and Royal hospital for children. (S5F-03756)

I again express my sympathy to the patients and families who have been affected by the infection incidents at the Queen Elizabeth and the Royal hospital for children. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport has met a number of affected families and patients and is in correspondence with others. On 4 October, she appointed Professor Craig White to be the single point of contact for families, and to lead work to ensure that issues that they raise are considered and that they receive responses, information and support as necessary.

In addition, as I covered earlier, on 22 November NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde was escalated to stage 4 of the Government’s performance escalation framework so that we can be more closely involved in oversight of infection prevention and control, clinical governance and patient and family communication.

Today, the First Minister encouraged whistleblowers to speak out. Anas Sarwar has just informed her of more new and extremely serious information that has been passed to him. It is no wonder that parents and the public fear a cover-up. We still do not even know whether all the families whose children have been affected have been notified. It is obvious that parents lost trust in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde long ago, but the Government was slow to act and has allowed the board’s leadership to remain in post. Surely the First Minister must see that that situation is no longer tenable.

I have made it very clear, not just today but in previous sessions when we have discussed these serious issues, that the Government treats them with the utmost seriousness. There is absolute determination to ensure that we understand and get to the bottom of all the issues, and that parents have the information and the answers to questions that they want. That is why we have taken the action that we have taken. The escalation of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde is the right and appropriate action to take, and the oversight board will be able to ensure that the particular issues on which we consider greater oversight is required are properly monitored.

Over and above that, and as I have already mentioned on more than one occasion today, the independent review and the public inquiry are crucial parts of the process of making sure that parents get answers to their questions. In the meantime, as I said in my initial answer to Monica Lennon, Professor Craig White is the single point of contact for parents who feel that there are answers that they could get but are not getting, in order to make sure that that information is provided.