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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 22 November 2016

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Adoption and Permanence, Business Motion, Decision Time, Erskine Hospital 100th Anniversary


Erskine Hospital 100th Anniversary

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-02346, in the name of Maurice Corry, on the 100th anniversary of Erskine. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That Parliament welcomes the 100th anniversary of Erskine and congratulates it on reaching this important milestone; notes that the first Erskine Hospital, then The Princess Louise Scottish Hospital for Limbless Sailors and Soldiers, founded by Sir William Macewen, the Regius Professor of Surgery at the University of Glasgow, was opened in October 1916, after it was decided that a dedicated hospital to the war wounded was required due to the large numbers of limbless soldiers and sailors returning from the war, which were overwhelming the existing services available; notes that Erskine House was chosen for the site after Thomas Aikman, the owner of Erskine House, which was a mansion on the banks of the River Clyde, offered free use of his mansion and gardens for the period of the war and for 12 years after it was declared over, after which Sir John Reid bought the mansion house and gardens and gifted them to the charity; further notes that Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, agreed to become the patron of the hospital and within a few weeks the Scottish public had donated the generous sum of £100,000 towards the facility with the hospital having an official opening on 6 June 1917 with Princess Louise making an appearance; recognises that since that time Erskine has gone on to care for over 85,000 veterans and is now considered one of Scotland’s foremost providers of care for veterans and their spouses, providing a wide range of support for ex-service men and women, including providing 44 cottages for families to live independently; understands that Erskine now cares for over 1,000 residents each year at sites across the country; thanks the charity for its work over the last 100 years, and wishes Erskine the best for the next 100 years.


Maurice Corry (West Scotland) (Con)

It is, indeed, a privilege to open this members’ business debate celebrating the 100th anniversary of Erskine. I thank all those members who supported the motion in my name, which allowed the debate to take place. I am also delighted to welcome all the residents and service users from Erskine who are present in the public gallery. I am sure that I speak for the whole Parliament when I welcome them to Parliament and thank them for their service to our country. [Applause.]

Throughout the armed forces, Erskine is often spoken about with great passion and gratefulness, and it is held in the highest esteem. During the first world war, so great were the numbers coming home wounded from the trenches of the western front that the existing contemporary medical facilities struggled to cope with the demand. With those facilities stretched to breaking point not only by the sheer quantity of men arriving from the battlefields of Belgium and France but by the complexity of the wounds and injuries that the men had sustained in the world’s first industrial war, it was decided that a hospital dedicated to the wounded was required.

So Erskine came to be. Founded by Sir William Macewen, the regius professor of surgery at the University of Glasgow, under the name of the Princess Louise Scottish hospital for limbless sailors and soldiers, the hospital opened its doors in October 1916, with its official opening taking place on 6 June 1917, when the hospital’s first patron, Princess Louise, made an appearance.

What was then called Erskine house was chosen for the site of the hospital after Thomas Aikman, the owner, offered free use of his mansion and gardens for the period of the war, and for 12 years after the war was declared over. Erskine hospital remained at that site after that period due to the generosity of Sir John Reid, who bought the house and gardens and gifted it to charity. The Scottish public also showed their generosity towards our service personnel and veterans—a trait that survives to this day—by donating the generous sum of £100,000 towards the founding of the hospital. In today’s money, that would be worth somewhere near £6 million.

As its original name suggested, the Erskine hospital at first dealt mainly with those who had lost limbs in the service of their country. However, Great Britain was solely reliant on artificial limbs from overseas. Sir William Macewen found that intolerable. Working alongside a local shipbuilding company called Yarrow Shipbuilders, based in Scotstoun, which not only lent its yard but chose to have some of its finest craftsmen work on the project, Sir William began to design and construct a new concept artificial limb known as the Erskine artificial limb. I am fortunate enough to have been employed by Yarrow Group in the 1980s, and I can tell members that its conceptual skills are continued to this day, in many areas of work. By December 1917, the hospital had treated 1,613 patients, 1,126 of whom required a new limb. By 1920, 9,500 artificial limbs had been fitted at the hospital, most of which were manufactured at the hospital’s own workshops.

Of course, the needs of the service and veterans community in Scotland have changed since the first world war, and Erskine has changed to meet their needs. Erskine has gone on to care for more than 85,000 veterans at its facilities across Scotland and, as I note in my motion, it is recognised that Erskine is considered one of Scotland’s, if not the world’s, foremost providers of care for veterans and their spouses.

Erskine now provides services across a number of facilities in Scotland, although not at the original Erskine house site, which was sold to fund the modernisation of the charity and is now a well-regarded hotel. Those new facilities include the Erskine home, which the charity moved into two purpose-built sites in the town of Erskine. Opened in 2000 by the charity’s current patron, Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay, the new flagship building directly replaced the original hospital building and cost £16 million. It provides nursing and dementia care on a long-term and respite basis to veterans. It has 180 beds available and is the charity’s biggest unit. Also situated in Erskine is the Erskine Mains home, which was opened in 2001 by the Princess Royal. It has 34 beds and is able to provide nursing and dementia care on a 24-hour basis.

I recommend that members visit Erskine. I go there from time to time to visit various veterans and can say that it is an experience that I relish. It is marvellous to see how Erskine enables veterans who may have several disabilities—or perhaps just anno domini—to live as normal a life as possible. The staff give the most wonderful care that anyone could imagine. When one visits, one is met with music in the reception area and is then transferred down the passageway past all sorts of pictures and memorabilia that the residents have put together, partly using items from their own homes. There is even a form of shopping mall. The design gives them a feeling that they are at home and are living a normal life. There is also a cafe that serves fish and chips, which I recommend.

The Erskine Park home, which specialises in dementia care, was opened in 2006 by the Princess Royal and accommodates 40 residents. I visit it regularly, because I have a brother-in-law who was a serviceman in the middle east and has been in there for three years, suffering from Pick’s disease. The care that he receives is absolutely excellent.

I have been involved in helping about half a dozen of my constituents in Argyll and Bute move to Erskine because they need care. They get a feeling of comradeship there, and I know that the minister and veterans on this side of the chamber will agree that that feeling of comradeship is very special.

In the past few years, Erskine has built 50 veterans cottages in the old hospital grounds to house ex-service members and their families. Such cottages give much-needed independence. As members know, as we get older we still like and value our independence. The Erskine team has allowed for that independence: there is support if needed, but the team stands back and allows the veterans to live their own lives, which is very important.

As I mentioned, the charity no longer has a presence in only Erskine but has centres across Scotland, including the Erskine Edinburgh home, which opened in 2001 in Gilmerton and has capacity for 88 residents, and the Erskine Glasgow home, which is based in Anniesland, has space for 46 residents and was opened in 2007. Erskine enjoys partnership arrangements with care homes in Aberdeen, Dundee and Inverness, which means that veterans across the country can receive support while remaining in their local communities, which is terribly important. Erskine, I believe, has a connection in every region of Scotland, so I encourage members, no matter where in Scotland they represent, to get in touch to find out how they can help with Erskine’s work.

To sum up, I will use Erskine’s own words from its website, which says:

“Our Service personnel display the highest levels of bravery and courage throughout the world, and it is only right that Erskine is there for them should they need support in the future.”

That sums up brilliantly why I am so thankful that Erskine exists. I thank it for the past 100 years of service to our veterans and their families, and wish it very well for the next 100 years.


Clare Haughey (Rutherglen) (SNP)

I thank Maurice Corry for bringing forward the debate and giving members the opportunity to congratulate Erskine on the anniversary of its foundation, and to commend it for the fantastic work that it has done over the past century.

The first world war saw battlefield carnage on an unprecedented scale. At recent remembrance ceremonies we rightly commemorated those who served in that war and never returned. The figures for the local war dead that we are reminded of are horrific to contemplate: 13,740 from Glasgow; 5,281 from Edinburgh; 2,200 from Perth; and 1,448 from Dumfries. In addition to those who fell, thousands returned from the front lines maimed and broken men.

The first world war brought injuries and medical conditions that had been largely unknown in civilian life, giving doctors and nurses significant challenges. There were no antibiotics to treat injuries that were contaminated with the polluted mud of the trenches, and disinfectants were crude and sparsely available. Nursing at that time was exhausting, sometimes dangerous work, which was often at the very edge of medical science. Nurses serving near the front were susceptible to infections and disease, as well as mental health issues relating to the trauma that they witnessed. Radical solutions to extreme injuries emerged through sheer necessity. A dramatic example is that medics experimented with direct blood transfusions, which were effected simply by linking patient and donor.

As hospitals struggled to keep up with the demands of soldiers and sailors returning from war with terrible injuries—many with missing limbs—it became apparent that there was a need for a large, modern war hospital in Scotland. The building was secured in 1916, and while it was being transformed into a hospital, patients were admitted to Culzean castle in Ayrshire. The first matron at Erskine, Agnes Carnochan—I ask members to forgive me if I have mispronounced her name—worked tirelessly during the transition period, spending six months travelling between the two sites. During that time, she looked after patients, recruited staff, advised the hospital committee on equipment and furniture, and liaised with the War Office. When the hospital opened in October 1916, Agnes had a full staff ready to accommodate 200 patients; by the end of the war, she had overseen the care of more than 3,000. At that time, when the full contribution of nurses to the war effort often went unrecognised, she was awarded the royal red cross, second class, in recognition of her hard work and diligence.

Erskine hospital was set up specifically to treat those who had suffered the loss of a limb, and staff quickly found that they had to innovate and seek creative solutions to the difficulties that servicemen faced. A limb manufacturing and fitting service was established at Erskine hospital, which formed a unique partnership with Clyde shipbuilders and harnessed some of their best craftsmen. Eventually some of the patients were trained in the manufacture of limbs.

Erskine has always been about more than the treatment of physical injuries. At a time when many professionals still believed that shell shock was the result of physical injury to the nerves, hospitals such as Erskine promoted rehabilitation and therapeutic treatments. Teaching servicemen how to adapt to having an artificial limb and the trades and work that they could undertake with one was as important as the provision of physical healthcare.

The developments that were made through facilities such as Erskine in those early days have changed the way that casualties of war and civilians have been treated around the world ever since. Although I am sure that we would all prefer that man’s inhumanity to his fellow man had not brought about the need for such a facility, we can only be thankful that it was there for the traumatised servicemen and servicewomen who needed it then and have needed it since.

Erskine continues to deliver a high standard of nursing and social care to its residents. It has now cared for more than 85,000 veterans in Scotland and it is still an innovative and pioneering charity. I congratulate it on its 100th anniversary and wish residents and staff well for the future.


Maurice Golden (West Scotland) (Con)

I apologise to members in advance for having to leave the debate early because I have a prior commitment.

I commend Maurice Corry for securing the debate and I congratulate Erskine on reaching such a monumental milestone.

One hundred years ago this year, my great-grandfather, William Duncan, chose to enlist at the Albert Institute—now the McManus Galleries—in Dundee. When he was asked his age, he replied that he was 16. The sergeant then told him to take a walk around the block and come back when he was 19. He duly did so, and this time, when he was asked his age, he replied that he was 19. A little over two years later, on 30 August 1918, while fighting near La Bassée canal in Belgium with the 42nd Gordon Highlanders, he was shot in the back. During an operation in Paris, the bullet was removed from his back—we still keep it to this day—and he was sent for convalescence to Aboyne in Aberdeenshire. There he received the very best food, care and attention to aid his recovery.

My great-grandfather received the sort of care and support that, over the past 100 years, Erskine has provided to more than 85,000 veterans like him. Such outstanding dedication to our nation’s veterans serves as a reminder to us all that honouring and supporting our veterans is an integral aspect of public life.

The motion comes at a particularly relevant time of year, when we remember those who sacrificed so much for our country. Honouring our war veterans serves as a reminder that freedom is not free and that veterans should hold a distinguished place in our society for their sacrifices.

Wearing a poppy is part of that recognition. That is why I recently backed the Scottish and English football teams’ decision to wear remembrance poppies on their strips, despite the ridiculous ban imposed by FIFA. Although FIFA has begun to take disciplinary action against the teams, I remain unwavering in my support for their decision.

At this time of year, I am reminded that we can always do more to honour our veterans. Remembrance goes beyond simply wearing a poppy; it is about doing what we can to support veterans who live in our society today. That is where the work of Erskine has made a significant impact by providing housing and a range of medical services to thousands of veterans every year. Erskine offers unrivalled care and support.

It is important to note that Erskine was founded on the tenet of selfless services. As highlighted in the motion, the initial services that Erskine provided were enabled by the generosity of Sir John Reid, who gifted the first residential house to the charity. It is that foundation of kindness and generosity that has shaped the character and motivation of the charity.

In July, I was fortunate to be able to attend the Erskine centenary summer gala day. The event was a great success. I enjoyed meeting the staff to hear more about their work and their needs as a charity. I look forward to working with the charity and exploring further opportunities going forward.

In closing, I offer my full support to the motion and thank Erskine for its continued service to our nation’s heroes.


Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

I congratulate Maurice Corry on securing the debate. It is a pleasure to take part in it and to welcome visitors to the public gallery.

Earlier this month, I had the great pleasure of attending an armistice day service at the Erskine home in Bishopton with Derek Mackay MSP. We joined the residents as they took part in a service at the memorial stone in the garden, which is in a public area of the home. We were fortunate to have one of those days when the sun shines. It was bitterly cold and windy, but the sun was out and it was a beautiful day on which to share that experience with them. We were joined by residents of the home and their friends and families. It was my first experience since my election of taking part in an armistice day event and it was a unique opportunity for me to participate in the wreath-laying process.

I chatted to residents of the home after the formal proceedings. I sat next to a chap called Jack McKay—I hope that he will not mind me talking about him in the chamber—who is 98 years old and from Paisley. He was in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders regiment. He was really excited, not just about the ceremony in which we took part, but about getting his dram afterwards, insisting that I join him for a dram. I tried to explain that my car was outside—I hope that he is not here today, because I have to admit that I did not drink the whisky in my glass, although I pretended to as best I could.

The experience from the day that struck me the most happened on my way out as I was pondering what I had taken part in and feeling immense pride in being able to participate in the event. I met another resident, Mr Peter Knowles, who is 89 and a veteran. He had laid a wreath a few moments before and was dressed in his finest tweed jacket and a pair of tartan trews that I could only aspire to. I bumped into him on my way back to my car and he stopped me. He said, “Young man”—which was a great pleasure to hear in itself—“I want to share my story with you.” We stood there for 20 or 25 minutes while he shared his life story. I have to say that there were tears in my eyes as I walked back to my car. He said, “Let me tell you the greatest lesson that I can give you as an old man nearing the end of my life. Life is all about people and what I have here in this home are the people around me.” I struggled to keep it together—and the memory has stuck with me.

Over that weekend, I went to further events, including a couple in Greenock, where the weather was less kind to us—it seemed as though the heavens were weeping as well that day. The importance to us of those events really struck me that weekend. We do not wear poppies or commemorate for the sake of it; we actually remember our veterans.

Veterans are not only people in their older years who have served; they are young men and women. It is very important to acknowledge that veterans come in all shapes, sizes and ages, and it is our duty as parliamentarians and political parties to ensure that they are adequately looked after in terms of health, housing and employment opportunities. I would like to see whether we can work with the Government on any opportunities to ensure that veterans are helped in Scotland.

I thank my colleague for securing the debate—it has been a great privilege to be part of it. I really hope that, over the course of my next few years as an MSP for West Scotland, I will spend more time at the Erskine home meeting residents and hearing their fantastic and inspiring stories. I wish them well.


The Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work (Keith Brown)

I, too, commend Maurice Corry for securing the debate. I whole-heartedly support his motion.

It is fitting that the Scottish Parliament pays formal tribute to all Erskine’s staff and volunteers, many of whom are here today, for the excellent care that they provide to veterans and their families. As Jamie Greene said, it is a case of people looking after people—that is the crucial role that Erskine plays.

I take the opportunity to congratulate Erskine on its 100th anniversary and to commend it for its many achievements. I have visited its facilities in Erskine and Edinburgh on a number of occasions. In June, I was privileged to attend Erskine’s commemoration service at Glasgow cathedral. It was an extremely moving service in which the deep personal attachment of residents to Erskine came across clearly. I particularly remember the testimony that was given by someone who had been with the Scots Guards, I think, in the Falklands; I will not mention his name, but I am sure that all the people who work at Erskine will know exactly who I am talking about. He had a terrible experience after he left the forces, and his family and young children were affected. He had significant problems with homelessness and getting gainful employment. According to him, going to Erskine made a huge difference to his life, and he is now a senior employee there. When people heard the story of how Erskine had played a part in transforming his life and that of his family, there was barely a dry eye in the cathedral.

I have been impressed by the links that Erskine has built up with local schools. Schoolchildren speak with affection and respect about the value of Erskine and the contribution of veterans. Jamie Greene described how he was pinioned and given a veteran’s life story. Veterans like nothing better than to tell their stories, and it is rewarding to see young children listening to those stories and taking on board some of the veterans’ experiences. It is vital that we do not forget those experiences.

As a number of members have said, Erskine has cared for 85,000 veterans since it opened its doors on 10 October 1916. Maurice Corry mentioned the work that was carried out to develop prosthetic limbs, which led, famously, to the Erskine limb, and we heard about the industrial background to that. By the end of world war one, 2,697 men had been fitted with artificial limbs that were designed and made using the skills of the artisans from the Clyde shipyards.

Erskine has adapted with the times, moving from the Princess Louise Scottish hospital to develop a superb network of modern care facilities in Bishopton, Edinburgh and Glasgow. As I said, I have visited those facilities many times and have seen at first hand the care that is provided. The residents have diverse needs. Erskine’s oldest resident, Janet Enterkin, is a remarkable 103 years old. She is the wife of the late Thomas Enterkin, who served with the Seaforth and Gordon Highlanders. Lance Corporal Ernest Brien is Erskine’s oldest veteran—he is 100 years old, so he is even older than Jack McKay, whom Jamie Greene mentioned. Ernest Brien served with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps in France during the second world war.

Although the average age of residents is 83, seven are under 65. The youngest resident is 42. As Jamie Greene rightly said, there are veterans who are substantially younger than that, many of whom have received support from Erskine. It is a pleasure to see some of the Erskine residents and employees here in the public gallery.

The Scottish Government is proud to work in partnership with Erskine, which has received more than £30,000 from the Scottish veterans fund since its establishment in 2008. That has helped to fund extended lunch club provision for residents, research into veterans’ needs and other worthwhile projects.

Erskine works closely with the national health service and other local service providers so that residents receive the best possible care. I am always struck by the width of the corridors, which is important in such a facility. I have experienced the companionship at Erskine even unto the playing of bingo there. Other members have mentioned the atmosphere of the place. There is a feeling of comradeship, which is extremely important.

The future for Erskine is bright. It has a strong and committed team that is led by Steve Conway, who is a former Royal Marine. Erskine is held in great affection by surrounding communities. Plans for more independent and supported living accommodation are under way, and plans are being made to develop the camaraderie with the local community that I mentioned by providing a new facility where veterans from the area can join in activities.

Erskine does a huge amount. I commend the speeches that Clare Haughey, Maurice Golden and Jamie Greene made, which demonstrated the level of support in the Parliament. For veterans organisations generally, it is important to know that they have the consensual and unanimous support of everyone in the Parliament for the work that they carry out. It is only right that they have that. It is only right that we give the best possible care to the people who have potentially sacrificed everything and who have given us all a great deal through their efforts, which put life and limb at risk.

Like other members, I wish Erskine every success in the next 100 years. It has an unmatched legacy and has transformed the lives of so many people through offering sanctuary for veterans and their families. I am confident that it will continue to provide exceptional care for veterans well into the future.

Meeting closed at 17:30.