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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 15 December 2020 [Draft]

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Covid-19, Points of Order, Drug-related Deaths, Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Decision Time, No-take Zones


Contents


Drug-related Deaths

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Lewis Macdonald)

The next item of business is a statement by Joe FitzPatrick on drug deaths. The minister will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.

15:19  

The Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing (Joe FitzPatrick)

Presiding Officer, 1,264 of our fellow citizens lost their lives to drugs in 2019. That means that, on average, every week, 24 families in Scotland are holding funerals for loved ones who have died due to substance use. The scale of the deaths and the wider harms that are caused by substance use are nothing short of a public health emergency.

I have no words that will ease the grief. Nothing that I say can restore lost loved ones to their mothers, fathers, sons or daughters. However, I know that stigmatisation does not work, and it is fairly clear that the traditional approach to people who use drugs does not work for many of them. As with all public health issues, it is imperative that we follow the evidence. People who use drugs need to be treated with a public health response that prevents harms. Groups who push drugs and bring them into our nation need to be met with the full force of the criminal justice system.

The average age of people who have died due to substance use has increased over time. In today’s statistics, the median age of the people who have died was 42; in 1999, it was 28. In 2019, 68 per cent of deaths were of people aged between 35 and 54. The questions are, “Why?” and, “What can be done?”

People in that age group who are long-term users of drugs experience a wide range of social, health and economic inequalities. For many of them, traditional drug treatments and services fail to meet their complex health and social needs. We must change the way in which we provide services—and the services themselves—in order to provide that vulnerable group with some hope of recovery or, at the very least, death prevention.

Changes that are already being made and that will make a difference to that group include the introduction of heroin-assisted treatment, which began in Glasgow last year, and the implementation of our medication-assisted treatment standards, which I will talk more about shortly.

At the other end of the age scale, and of just as much concern, is the rise in the number of deaths among those in the 15-to-24 age group. That rose in 2019 to 76—the highest number since 2010. We have also seen an increase in hospital patient stays among young people, and we are working with partners, including Crew, to better understand the changing trends in their drug and alcohol use.

Today’s report highlights the pressing danger of multiple drug use, otherwise known as poly-drug use. In 2019, 94 per cent of the deaths involved more than one substance, which poses significant challenges for drug treatment services. Although that trend is being seen across Europe, in Scotland there is a particularly high prevalence of the harmful use of opiates alongside benzodiazepines—two substances that slow breathing and heart rates, making the risk of death much greater.

One of the most significant rises in deaths relates to the use of street benzos. Those substances barely featured in our statistics before 2010, but they are now found in more than 60 per cent of fatalities. They are pills that are produced on an industrial scale in Scotland and sold at extremely low prices. Police Scotland is working with domestic and international partners to tackle the issues surrounding pill press machines and their use in the manufacturing of those substances. For over a year, I have been calling for the United Kingdom Government to work with us on the regulation of the sale of those machines, which are readily available over the internet. I will come back to that point later in my statement.

Other worrying trends are also coming through, such as the increasing number of female deaths and the number of deaths related to the use of cocaine.

Our actions sit under the rights, respect and recovery strategy and action plan, and I have accelerated the review of the need and demand for residential rehabilitation services. The working group that leads on that published its report last week. I have accepted its recommendations and have committed £90,000 to further progress that work, on top of the £150,000 of additional funding that has already been announced for an enhanced offer of residential rehabilitation to support the recovery of people who are leaving prison during the pandemic. So far, that has supported eight people and has involved referrals from four different prisons. In the new year, we will carry out an evaluation of people’s experiences of using the pathway and of its impact on their individual recovery journeys.

I aim to set out early in the new year how we will substantially increase the provision of residential services in the short term. In addition, a project that is being supported through the drug deaths task force is targeting people who have experienced a near-fatal overdose, who are at most risk of drug death, by providing them with support that combines a community-based response with a residential rehabilitation service. The approach has never been tried in Scotland before.

Today’s statistics relate to 2019, and we are now at the end of 2020. This year, the drug deaths task force, which met throughout the pandemic, has taken forward a range of recommendations and has provided funding to a wide range of projects, with the aim of reducing harm. In January, the task force published a paper that set out six key evidence-based strategies for preventing drug-related deaths. Alcohol and drug partnerships have reported on how they are offering or adopting those approaches and on where they propose to do more.

More recently, the task force published a forward plan that sets out how and when it expects its intended actions to make a difference through three main areas of focus: emergency response, reducing risk and reducing vulnerability.

On emergency response, the task force has been instrumental in bringing about significant changes in the distribution and availability of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone. For example, the Scottish Ambulance Service has introduced a national programme of take-home naloxone distribution, which enables life-saving kits to be given to patients and their peers and family members after a non-fatal overdose.

Police Scotland has announced that it will run a naloxone pilot in three areas. That task force-funded project will begin early next year and will give around 700 police officers the opportunity to administer the life-saving nasal spray if they find themselves in attendance at an overdose. That is a huge step forward, which I know has taken a significant amount of work.

In addition, the task force has provided funding to a range of projects to widen the distribution of naloxone. Those projects are being taken forward by ADPs and other partners.

Evidence shows that fatal overdoses often follow non-fatal overdoses. Therefore, the task force has supported several projects that support people after a non-fatal overdose, helping to reduce deaths and increase engagement with alcohol and drug services.

On reducing risk, one of the most important areas on which the task force has been leading is, arguably, the development of standards for medication-assisted treatment. The most important points about the standards are that they place the person at the centre of decisions that are made about their care and treatment, they acknowledge wider issues such as trauma, and they provide that services will operate a policy of no barriers to treatment.

The standards also offer people choice—something that has been missing for many people who have tried to access treatment in the past—whether that is to do with same-day prescribing, choice of medication or access to mental health care at the point of MAT delivery. Furthermore, the standards will provide a level of consistency that has not been seen before, moving us towards a national approach that ensures a consistent service throughout Scotland.

The standards will allow clinicians and others to make radical changes to their working practices. There is evidence of that from a clinician who was involved in the early roll-out of the standards. His service had undertaken a test of change to demonstrate the impact on people of a low-threshold model that allowed him to support people who were seeking immediate help—something that he had not been able to do previously. As a result, of the 35 people who came to his service in the two months during which the trial ran, 93 per cent received treatment within 24 hours. Nearly all those people had additional needs—for example, to do with food poverty, access to benefits, homelessness and depression—all of which could be addressed at roughly the same time as MAT was initiated—that is, on the day on which the person came for help. That is welcome progress, which I hope can be replicated in services throughout the country.

On reducing vulnerability, the task force identified the need to address the stigmatisation of people and communities who are affected by drug use. It published a stigma strategy in July and members of the task force who have lived experience are developing a stigma charter, to which organisations and service providers will be asked to sign up.

Furthermore, significant work is going on to look at drug law reform. Just this morning, a plan was published that sets out how we will explore how changing existing drug legislation, if the Scottish Parliament had powers in that regard, could improve access to health and social care services.

One of the most exciting developments of the past year has been the introduction of the enhanced drug treatment service in Glasgow, which provides injectable diamorphine to those who have been in the treatment cycle for a long time. I look forward to hearing more about that in the new year as the service evaluation progresses, and we can consider how similar services could be developed to support this most vulnerable group elsewhere in Scotland.

Last year also saw the conclusion of one of the most extensive inquiries into drug use and deaths in Scotland, which was carried out by the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster. It is hugely disappointing that all of the committee’s major recommendations, including the need to declare a public health emergency, were rejected by the United Kingdom Government. I would urge the UK Government to look again at those recommendations, which are based on robust evidence.

However, the UK ministers are engaging constructively with us on several important issues including the regulation, with appropriate sanctions, of the sale and use of pill presses. That could impact on the production of street benzos, which, as I have mentioned, are implicated in many deaths in Scotland. I hope that we can act on a four-nations basis to achieve that quickly.

The past year has also seen us cope with the impact of a worldwide pandemic. I, along with the chief medical officer, wrote to all health boards at the start of the pandemic to ensure that essential life-saving services were prioritised. I take this opportunity to thank all the workers and volunteers for their dedication in continuing to deliver their essential work throughout this challenging time.

Today’s figures are the statistical face of heart-wrenching human misery and devastated families. I again offer my condolences to each and every person who has lost a loved one. Other nations have shown that, when the approach is changed, the outcome is changed. We have examples that we can follow, and that is what I intend to do.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The minister will now take questions on the issues that were raised in the statement. I intend to allow up to 30 minutes for questions.

Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I thank the minister for prior sight of his statement.

Today’s figures are stark and heartbreaking. Each death that results from drugs is an individual tragedy. It is particularly worrying that the number of drug deaths has doubled in Scotland over the past decade, and that Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire, Lothian, Tayside, and Ayrshire and Arran health boards account for three quarters of all drug deaths. I, too, note with deep concern the rise in the number of deaths among 15 to 24-year-olds, which is now at its highest level in a decade.

In 2007, there were more than 300 residential rehab beds. That number has been cut and, this year, almost half of residential rehab residents have found difficulty in accessing residential rehab and services. We have a world-class rehab facility here in Scotland—Castle Craig Hospital, which cares predominantly for Dutch patients when it could also be treating Scottish individuals.

Given today’s alarming figures, will the Scottish National Party Government now support calls from drug recovery groups to reverse the bed cuts, and will it create a £20 million Scottish recovery fund. If not, why not?

Joe FitzPatrick

One of the things that has struck me since I have been in post is speaking to people who use services and those who are in recovery. It is important that we recognise that there is no magic bullet for dealing with the problem.

There are groups of people who say that it is really important that we take a harm-reduction approach. Other groups say that it is most important that we support abstinence-based residential rehab. Increasingly, however, people across Scotland on all sides acknowledge that all that is true.

It is clear to me, from speaking to people, that the journey into residential rehab has been too challenging for many. That is why I asked Dr David McCartney of the Lothians and Edinburgh abstinence programme to head a working group to look at access to residential and other rehabilitation, and to come up with recommendations for how we can improve that and provide more consistency. Dr McCartney has given some initial recommendations and statistics, which I encourage members to read. It is a strong piece of work. I chose Dr McCartney because he is a strong proponent of abstinence-based recovery, and I wanted to make sure that I got a robust proposal that we could take forward. The working group has recommended additional work to make sure that we have a robust system that works for everyone.

Residential rehab is not an easy solution; the person must want to do and it has to be the right thing for them. There is a relationship between the person and the residential facility. It is clear to me that for many people in some parts of Scotland, the journey into residential rehab is too difficult and challenging. We will continue to work with the working group to support its work and, as I said in response to an earlier question from Miles Briggs, I will come back in the new year with its further recommendations and a proposal on how we can, in the short term, deliver residential rehab in a more transparent and straightforward fashion across Scotland.

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

In my topical question earlier, I said that the public must have confidence in the public health minister. Our drug deaths rate is off the scale, and tonight we will make the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Today, the public health minister, Joe FitzPatrick, claimed in a press release that the Government

“is doing everything in its powers”.

That is simply not true, so he should apologise for saying it. He was given the chance to withdraw the remarks earlier, but the minister remains in denial. There is so much to say, but we know that on his watch residential rehab beds are lying empty. We have volunteers in Glasgow running an overdose prevention centre out of the back of a van, and the minister will not even meet them. They are showing us what courage and bold action actually look like.

On Miles Briggs’s point about cross-party working, we want to work with the Government and to assist the task force. We asked for that more than a year ago, but the minister and his chairperson said no. That is disgusting. If the minister will not do the right thing and resign, will he at least allow the Parliament to see what the task force is doing and let us sit around that table to find a way forward?

Joe FitzPatrick

I encourage members to look at the task force website to see the work that it is doing. I know that the chair of the task force has met members from across the chamber; I certainly have, too. Unfortunately, Ms Lennon was unable to attend the last meeting that I planned to have with her. I have just checked; as far as I can see, she has not managed to ask for another meeting. I have tried my best to engage with members from across the chamber.

I assure Ms Lennon that the grief that the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones weighs far heavier on my shoulders than do her remarks today.

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

Today’s figures show an increase in prevalence of benzodiazepines among the mix of drugs that have tragically ended the lives of users. That is of particular concern in rural communities such as Dumfries and Galloway, where there has also been an increase in drug-related deaths in recent years. Clearly, availability and use of street benzos are of serious concern. I recognise that regulation of machines that are used in mass production of counterfeit medication is reserved, but can the minister outline what funding is available for projects to reduce consumption of so-called street Valium, particularly in more rural communities?

Joe FitzPatrick

The harms that are associated with street benzos are hugely concerning, and the trajectory of numbers of drug deaths in which street benzos are involved is upwards. We need to reduce the wide availability of pill presses, which is one of the factors that allow the pills to be produced in our communities, including in more rural areas. That is why I am working constructively with colleagues in the UK Government to see whether we can take a four-nations approach to legislation, which would be partly about the internet and partly about use and regulation, which is devolved. The four-nations approach is the best way forward.

It is critical that we find better ways to support people with such addictions, so one workstream of the task force’s medication-assisted treatment sub-group relates to how we can help folk in relation to benzos. Tackling the source of the drugs, which are sold at pocket-money prices and are often made in our communities, is an important aspect. I hope that we can make progress on that, but the challenge is not easy. We must understand why the drugs are being used.

We need to make progress on understanding what is in the drugs, so the task force has proposed a drug testing facility. That involves licensing issues that we want to resolve before the task force spends significant amounts of money on a facility. However, a pilot of drug testing in a number of parts of Scotland, as the task force has proposed, could be significant in saving lives.

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

We have just heard from a minister who is in denial. It is 10 years since the Christie report, and things have got exponentially worse. Investment in rehabilitation beds, needle-exchange programmes, properly funded alcohol and drug partnerships, a fully funded third sector that is integrated with statutory services, and the offer of special mental health services at the same time as addiction treatments are all measures that are available to the minister right here and right now.

The minister said that he and his Government intend to change their approach. Given the continuing failure of policy to date, that is a must. Will the Scottish Government ditch the constitutional football, reverse the cuts and invest properly in the solutions for which the front line has called for decades?

Joe FitzPatrick

It is unfortunate that Mr Whittle wrote his question before he had heard my statement. I have clearly been careful not to bring the constitution into the debate and I have talked as many times as I can about the four nations working together. I have made extensive efforts to emphasise the positive relationships and how we are working together positively. I am not satisfied with the collaboration in a couple of areas, so I will continue to try to make progress on them as positively as possible. However, we are collaborating on a four-nations basis in a number of areas. My opposite number, Jo Churchill—who is a UK public health parliamentary under-secretary—and I are collaborating on a number of significant matters.

I encourage Mr Whittle to read the detail about the task force’s work, particularly on the MAT standards. He talked about services working together. The approach is all about ensuring that our services are person centred—the person, rather than delivery, being at the centre. The standards try to change and improve the approach. That work is on-going.

I encourage Mr Whittle to have a good read of that work. A lot of people have put a huge amount of effort into developing the standards that are to be rolled out across Scotland, and they should be praised for that. It is all very well for the member to attack me, but I ask him, please, to look at the work that the task force is doing and to give praise where it is due.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I am keen to get in as many members as I can, so I ask for succinct questions and answers and for due attention to be paid to answers when they are given.

Shona Robison (Dundee City East) (SNP)

The minister said that we should follow the evidence. Will he give more information on the outcomes of the important project to work with those who have experienced a near-fatal overdose? When will the changes to working practices to enable same-day treatment and support for those who are in the trial to be replicated in services across Scotland?

Joe FitzPatrick

On the second question, the medication-assisted treatment standards are out for consultation, but same-day prescribing is being rolled out in alcohol and drug partnerships across Scotland and a number of places have made the change.

Often, when people come for help and support, that is the day when they are ready to make the substantial leap and change their life, so they need support as quickly as possible. We have seen some really good examples of how that can be done safely. There is a risk in prescribing drugs very quickly. We have seen evidence of low-dose regimes making a difference. That is making a difference. I am afraid that I have forgotten the first part of the member’s question.

Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab)

What an absolute disgrace! The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister walked out when the statement started and for most of the debate there has been no member of the Cabinet on the front bench. What a woefully inadequate statement from the minister. Drug deaths have doubled since 2014—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Please ask your question, Mr Findlay.

Neil Findlay

It is the minister who has taken up all the time.

There has been a 55 per cent cut in drug and alcohol budgets over 10 years. The situation in Scotland is three-and-a-half times worse than anywhere in the UK—with the same legislation, minister. Working class communities are in crisis. We will have working groups and take pill presses off people and think that that will resolve the issue. The minister is a nice man, and I believe him, but we do not need a nice person in charge—we need a competent person in charge. Please stand aside and let somebody drive the change that we need.

Joe FitzPatrick

I thank the member for recognising that I am a nice person. I am not sure that there was a question in there.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

I share the sense of grief at the figures that have been released. I wish that I could say that I was surprised.

The decisions on prosecution are fully within the devolved competence of the Scottish Government. Is there not an overwhelming case for saying that Scotland should adopt a principle now, that, in the absence of other criminal offences, the provision of life-saving health interventions such as safer consumption facilities should not be prosecuted, because shutting down such services can never be in the public interest? If we adopt that principle, would not those services have the chance to develop in order to provide a service of the standard that is required?

Joe FitzPatrick

The member will be aware that prosecution is in the realm of the Lord Advocate, rather than being the responsibility of ministers as such. I am sorry, but I cannot comment on those specifics.

In general terms, the law should be changed to allow actions that could potentially save lives and that are evidence based. There should be a legal framework for such actions. I have lobbied the UK Government on that on several occasions. I am disappointed that there has not been meaningful engagement on that particular matter. I have not given up, because I know that the UK Government’s advisory panel has made it clear that there is evidence that such facilities save lives and that the law should be changed.

Prosecutorial advice is a matter for the Lord Advocate.

Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

Covid has shown that in a crisis radical changes can be made in a heartbeat. This, too, is a pandemic; it is Scotland’s hidden pandemic and it is time for an equivalent response.

I know that the Scottish Government says that it supports safe consumption rooms, but I have a straightforward question for the minister: does he believe that any individual citizen, watching over people, standing ready to intervene to prevent them from overdosing and dying, is doing so in the public interest and is providing a public safety service?

Joe FitzPatrick

I am very clear that the law on such matters should be changed. The member has been very careful in how he has framed the question, but he is asking me to comment on matters that relate to a live case. I am sorry, but I have to be really careful about that.

The member knows my views on developing a framework in Scotland to introduce such facilities. If the UK Government does not want to change the legislation, it should devolve the powers to the Scottish Parliament and let us get on with it.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is right that the Scottish Parliament would introduce such legislation at pace. There is overwhelming cross-party support, certainly from most parties, to do that. There is a well-thought-through proposal for an overdose prevention facility in Glasgow, for which there is cross-party support among all parties on Glasgow City Council.

Such action should not be impossible. I call on members from across the chamber to put a bit of pressure on Kit Malthouse. It is possible that we could work together in a way that does not result in the UK Government losing face—or whatever the reason for the inaction is—but which allows us to introduce a policy that will save lives, as the international evidence makes clear.

Sandra White (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

It is a tragedy that so many lives have been lost and so many families affected. I do not want the issue of all those tragic deaths to turn into a political bun fight. That would help no one, least of all the people who have died and those who are suffering.

I want to pick up on the questions from Patrick Harvie and Alex Cole-Hamilton on safe consumption rooms. We know that Peter Krykant has been operating successfully in Glasgow. In my opinion, he has saved many lives and has supported many people by giving them life chances. The minister said that the matter is in the hands of the Lord Advocate. How can members bring the Lord Advocate to the Parliament to answer questions on why he feels that it is outwith the competence of the Scottish Parliament to introduce legislation that would allow us to operate safe consumption rooms in Scotland?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I advise all members to bear in mind the sub judice rules on the mention of live cases.

Joe FitzPatrick

I hope that Sandra White will appreciate that I cannot comment on the case, because a criminal charge has been reported by the police to the Crown and the outcome of that case has not yet been finalised. As I said, in policy terms, I strongly support the introduction of medically supervised safe consumption or overdose prevention facilities in order to save lives.

Annie Wells (Glasgow) (Con)

It is heartbreaking that, as we have heard today, Scotland’s drug deaths rate is the highest that it has been since records began. More shamefully, each and every one of those deaths was preventable. As Faces & Voices of Recovery—FAVOR—Scotland has said, it is abundantly clear that Scotland’s drug services are not fit for purpose. The setting-up of task forces and the warm words that have been expressed by the minister are all well and good, but the simple fact is that actions speak louder than words. Once again, I ask the Scottish National Party Government when it will treat this emergency with the seriousness and urgency that it deserves, to prevent Scots from losing their lives needlessly.

Joe FitzPatrick

Annie Wells makes several points with which I concur. This is a public health emergency that we need to treat seriously. We need to treat it by considering all the options—ultimately, what is done needs to be what is right for an individual at the right time—and that is what we are doing.

The task force has been set up and had its first meeting in the middle of September—towards the end of this year. The evidence shows that the task force has taken forward a huge amount of work that is saving lives every day, particularly through the emergency response, which is the way to stop someone dying right at the time. The evidence shows that more naloxone is accessible to people at the point of a potential overdose than was ever the case previously. That is a world-leading programme in Scotland, but it is clear that we have to do many other things to get our harm-reduction response right. That involves considering innovative programmes such as the heroin-assisted treatment service in Glasgow.

We need to consider how we ensure that people have access to a residential rehabilitation route rather than a community rehabilitation route when that is the right route for them to take. I look forward to seeing the evidence from the task force’s work on combining the benefits of residential rehabilitation with those of community rehabilitation. One of the challenges is the lack of evidence about a lot of services, but, as we fight this public health emergency, I cannot ignore it when I speak to people who are clear that something was the most important thing to their recovery.

Gail Ross (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)

Iceland has dramatically reduced substance and alcohol use among young people in the past 20 years by adopting a five-step plan, and groups in Caithness are currently piloting a similar model thanks to funding that has recently been received from the Scottish Government. The Icelandic model is now in operation in 35 cities across Europe. Will the Scottish Government give it serious consideration with a view to its implementation in Scotland?

Joe FitzPatrick

The Icelandic model is one that—hopefully across the chamber—we can take very seriously. I was pleased that we were able to fund the pilot in Caithness. It is being led by some amazing people, whom I had the fortune of meeting to discuss the Icelandic model. I also attended a couple of events in Dundee, where Tessa Parkes is considering the potential for the Icelandic model to be rolled out in an urban setting. She is pursuing a project, as part of which she is speaking to a number of people about the possibilities and considering how that might be done.

Clearly, there is a slightly different dynamic in Dundee compared with most places in Iceland. However, we are also able to consider how the model has been implemented in parts of the Republic of Ireland. The model certainly gives us hope for the future, and I look forward to the outcome of what is going on in Caithness.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

So far in this afternoon’s statement, there has been no recognition whatsoever that Scotland’s record on drug deaths is completely out of step with that of every other nation, region and country in Europe. Is it not time to stop looking elsewhere to solve Scotland’s drug deaths scandal?

Safe consumption rooms are part of the answer—the minister seems to agree with that—yet Peter Krykant faces prosecution for mobile safe consumption rooms. We already frame prosecution policy on domestic violence and race; we have the answers within our own powers, on the grounds of public health, to save lives. Can the minister tell me why, in the frame of public policy, we cannot direct prosecution—as we do on domestic violence and race—in relation to saving lives when it comes to Scotland’s drugs scandal?

Joe FitzPatrick

We have already talked about why it would be inappropriate for us to comment on that specific case today. As I said, it has been reported to the Crown in respect of a criminal charge.

In response to the wider point, I absolutely recognise the challenge that we face in Scotland, which has been some 20 or more years in the making. We cannot change things overnight, but we have to ensure that we are working to improve services across Scotland.

I am confident that services across Scotland are stepping up and changing things. Some amazing work is going on and some amazing people are working hard in that area. However, there is no silver bullet. I wish that there was and that you could shout at me and say, “If only you did this one thing, nobody would die tomorrow.” If you could do that, I would find the money. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet. We need to consider our systems and improve them to ensure that everything we do is person centred. As a society, we also need to knock down the barriers to support, and one of the biggest barriers is the stigmatisation of treatment for people who have drug use issues.

Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

I remind the chamber that I am a member of the management board of Moving On (Inverclyde), which is a local addiction service.

Inverclyde saw a near 50 per cent increase in the number of drug deaths in 2019. Although I note the change of delivery at local authority level by bringing alcohol and drugs teams together last year, it is imperative that an increase in rehab use takes place across NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde. Will the minister commit to delivering that investment, and will he also agree to meet local agencies and partners in Inverclyde to explain more about what has to be done to help those who are suffering with addiction in Inverclyde?

Joe FitzPatrick

Although he was unable to join me, the member will be aware that I visited the safe as houses project, which is a residential rehab facility with a community outpost. It is a good project and there is integration between that service and the local ADPs.

I would be keen to have another discussion with the member. Inverclyde has particular problems that we must understand, but it is also an area where I have seen good examples of innovative work that makes a difference on the ground. When I speak to people who use those services, they value them and the commitment of the people who work in them.

James Dornan (Glasgow Cathcart) (SNP)

The minister is aware of the good work that is done by LEAP UK, and he will be aware that LEAP Scotland now exists. Will the minister tell us what discussions the Scottish Government has had with LEAP Scotland? If there have been none, does the Scottish Government intend to have such discussions in the near future?

Joe FitzPatrick

The Lothian and Edinburgh abstinence project was founded using Scottish Government money. One important aspect of that project is that it is one of the few residential rehabilitation projects to have a strong evidence base, which is published and peer reviewed.

Because of the work that goes on in that relatively small facility, I asked Dr David McCartney to lead our work on residential rehab and to look at how we can take that forward across Scotland, to give more people access to that service when they need it. That is crucial. There may be a time when someone is ready to take that step, and it might not be the right time just two or three weeks later. We must ensure that those facilities are available to people at the right time. That is why I have asked David McCartney to take on that work.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That concludes questions on the statement. I remind members that social distancing measures are in place in the chamber and across the campus. Members should observe those measures as they enter and leave during business.