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Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, January 19, 2023


General Question Time

NHS Borders and NHS Lothian

To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions it has had with NHS Borders and NHS Lothian. (S6O-01796)

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care (Humza Yousaf)

Ministers and Government officials regularly meet the leadership of all national health service boards, including NHS Lothian and NHS Borders, to discuss a range of matters. It will be of no surprise to Christine Grahame and other members that the most recent discussions have focused on the extreme winter pressures that both boards have been facing.

Christine Grahame

With reference to the extreme winter pressures, I welcome the announcement of £8 million for interim social care beds to ease pressure on our hospitals. I note that it is to be shared between health and social care partnerships. When will we hear progress about the division of that money between the partnerships, particularly those serving my constituency of Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, which includes both NHS Lothian and NHS Borders?

Humza Yousaf

Good work is being done by both NHS Lothian and NHS Borders on delayed discharge. To answer the question directly, as the First Minister said earlier this week, we will get a further update at the Scottish Government resilience room meeting that she will be chairing tomorrow. I will, of course, find an appropriate way to update the member in that respect.

The additional 300 interim care beds that I announced last week are on top of the 600 interim care beds that are already being used, and it is fair to say that many of those will be in NHS Lothian and NHS Borders. It is so important that we do everything that we can in facilitating and helping our local partners to do everything that they can to get people who are in hospital but are clinically safe to be discharged back home. Ultimately, that is better for the individual, too. We will get an update tomorrow at SGoRR.

Craig Hoy (South Scotland) (Con)

I was recently contacted by a constituent whose 92-year-old mother, who lives in the NHS Lothian area, suffered a bad fall in her own home. She lay on a hard wooden floor in a lot of pain for five hours, waiting for an ambulance to arrive. Her daughter repeatedly called for an update and was told not to move her mother, who was crying in pain, nor to give her anything to drink. When the paramedics finally arrived, she was transferred to Edinburgh royal infirmary for an operation for two severe breaks. Such ambulance and subsequent treatment waits are inhumane, so will the Scottish National Party Government back our plan, introduce new crisis maximum waiting times and finally get a grip on the horrific waiting times across our NHS?

Humza Yousaf

I apologise for and deeply regret any situation such as the one that Craig Hoy described, where anybody gets a sub-standard level of service compared with what we collectively across the chamber would expect. Of course, if Craig Hoy wishes to follow it up with me, I will ensure that the Scottish Ambulance Service appropriately investigates that situation. I am sure that he understands—I know that he does—that, in particular, the few weeks of the festive period and the first week of January were incredibly difficult. They were probably the most difficult that the Scottish Ambulance Service has experienced.

I have looked at the plans that the Conservatives have brought forward, but I do not see any detail. I do not see how simply saying that a 15-minute turnaround time must be in place means that that will be the case. In fact, there are many similar schemes in England but we can see that ambulances are, unfortunately, queued up outside NHS trusts in England, too.

We are taking a range of measures to improve the turnaround time for ambulances, so that they are not stacked outside hospitals and can get back on the road and respond as quickly as possible. I have seen the most recent data from the Scottish Ambulance Service and there certainly has been an improvement, particularly among those most-urgent, immediately life-threatening calls, but I am happy to keep the member updated in that respect.

Public Health and Wellbeing (Local Government Services)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the role of local government services in improving public health and wellbeing. (S6O-01797)

The Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care (Kevin Stewart)

We recognise the important role of local government services in improving public health and wellbeing, in order to ensure that people in Scotland live more years in good health.

We know that prevention is key and that the building blocks of good health and wellbeing include good education, jobs, housing and communities, all of which local government services contribute to. In recognition of that, Public Health Scotland is jointly sponsored by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Government, with the aim of improving population health and combating health inequalities and their wider causes.

Brian Whittle

I know that the minister recognises that many of the solutions to Scotland’s poor health record sit outside the national health service, predominantly in council-funded community activities.

Does the minister recognise that the financial settlement that the Government has given councils requires them to slash the very services for which he advocates and that the results will appear in the poor health ledger of the NHS, thus increasing the pressure on the NHS?

Kevin Stewart

We have listened to councils and are increasing the resources available to local government by more than £570 million in the next financial year. Local authorities also have a range of revenue-raising powers that are not available to other public services, including newly devolved powers over empty property rates relief.

I agree with Mr Whittle that it would be great if more money were available for all our public services. I ask him to do what the Scottish Government has done, which is to appeal to the Treasury to loosen the purse strings, stop austerity and invest in our public services.

Carol Mochan (South Scotland) (Lab)

Councils across the country, including Scottish National Party-run councils, are at breaking point due to the very cuts that have been discussed, which are made to local government budgets year on year. The minister cannot seriously expect councils to continue playing their pivotal role in improving public health and wellbeing through the provision of services such as green spaces, sports facilities and wider support initiatives if they continue to lose money.

Will the minister commit today to asking the First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy to listen to local government leaders, including SNP leaders, who are clearly saying that, without support from the Scottish Government, those essential services—-

Briefly, please.

—cannot be delivered?

Kevin Stewart

As I said in my answer to Mr Whittle, the Government has listened to local authorities and local government, which is why the available resources will increase by more than £570 million in the next financial year. I would like that to be more, as would the First Minister and the finance secretary, but we work within a fixed budget and we have no borrowing powers, as Ms Mochan is well aware.

It would be far better if austerity were to go, and HM Treasury were to provide and resource public services in Scotland and across these islands. That would be better and would lead to better outcomes for all. Unfortunately—

Briefly, please, minister.

—what we have is a Tory Government that seems unwilling to invest in our public services.

Bairns’ Hoose

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the progress of the bairns’ hoose for young people within the justice system. (S6O-01798)

The Minister for Community Safety (Elena Whitham)

A national bairns’ hoose governance group has been established and extensive engagement with key partners has been carried out. The first national bairns’ hoose standards will be published this spring.

We are developing a phased approach to implementation and will publish further information in the coming months, along with a progress report on our bairns’ hoose project plan.

We are also progressing the roll-out of the Scottish child interview model for joint investigative interviews, which will be a cornerstone of the bairns’ hoose approach to justice in Scotland.

Rona Mackay

Can the minister describe the benefits of the bairns’ hoose system in detail? Which emerging practice developments, in line with other European models, will be used when creating that system and its collaborative approach in justice, health and children services?

Elena Whitham

I know that Rona Mackay, like me, has a keen awareness of adverse childhood experiences. The bairns’ hoose represents a child-centred approach to delivering justice, care and recovery for children who have experienced trauma. Services will be co-located, which will reduce the need for multiple interviews by different agencies in different locations, which we know can be retraumatising.

The national standards are based on the European PROMISE quality standards and, as a recent associate member of the Barnahaus network, we now have access to learning from existing best practice across member countries. Alongside partners, we will continue to draw on relevant best practice that is emerging in Scotland, including the Scottish child interview model, which continues to roll out at pace.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (Recovery)

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to help recovery from adverse childhood experiences. (S6O-01799)

The Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care (Kevin Stewart)

We are taking a wide range of actions to prevent and mitigate the negative impacts of ACEs and trauma and to support the health, wellbeing and resilience of all the people who are affected. That includes work to tackle harmful drug and alcohol use, address poverty, support mental health and reduce inequalities.

The Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities have a joint ambition to develop trauma-informed and trauma-responsive workforces and services across Scotland. Since 2018, we have invested more than £6 million in a national trauma training programme. Work is under way to support the development of trauma-informed approaches in services and settings including education, maternity and social work and to support care-experienced children and young people.

Gillian Martin

I thank the minister for his comprehensive answer. I have a further question. Many care-experienced children have adverse childhood experiences and go into adulthood still needing support. Will the minister outline how the Government is delivering on the Promise and, specifically, how support for people into early adulthood is being developed?

Kevin Stewart

I welcome the question. The Scottish Government is committed to addressing the intergenerational impacts of adverse childhood experiences and trauma. We are providing a range of support to parents, carers, children and families to better prevent ACEs from happening, and a wide range of work is going on.

The Government is committed to delivering on the Promise and ensuring that we do better for care-experienced young people. We must recognise that that might involve help throughout their lives. To show how important the Government considers a trauma-informed approach—

Briefly, minister.

—in November, the Deputy First Minister led a valuable session with ministers on trauma awareness and how best to support the people who are affected.

Gartcosh Primary School

To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions it has had with North Lanarkshire Council regarding a new-build Gartcosh primary school. (S6O-01800)

We have been in regular contact with North Lanarkshire Council regarding a replacement for Gartcosh primary school.

Fulton MacGregor

Last week, I was delighted to hear the news, which came just a day or so after I lodged this question, that NLC has now identified land in Gartcosh on which to build the school. I fully welcome the council’s statement, and I agree that it is a major step forward.

The question of a new school has been around for some time, and it really needs to be built at the earliest opportunity. The current Gartcosh primary school building is 110 years old this year and it is not fit for modern teaching. In addition, following massive growth in the population in the local area—

Question, please.

Fulton MacGregor

—it is very much unable to deal with the current or future capacity. Sorry, Presiding Officer.

That said, teachers, pupils and the parent council are doing excellent work at the school and, against the challenging circumstances—

Mr MacGregor, can I have a question, please?

Fulton MacGregor

Yes. Will the cabinet secretary join me in praising the work of the school community, and will she commit to working with me and North Lanarkshire Council to ensure that the new build that the community so richly deserves is delivered as quickly as possible?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

I am sure that we all appreciate Fulton MacGregor’s enthusiasm and passion for an issue on which he has been working for some time. I very much praise his continued work and that of the Gartcosh school community. My officials will keep in close contact with the council to ensure that a new build for Gartcosh primary is delivered as soon as possible.

Rural Homes Commitments (Scottish Government Engagement)

6. Ariane Burgess (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

To ask the Scottish Government what recent engagement it has had with community housing enablers, such as the Communities Housing Trust in the Highlands and Islands region, to support the delivery of its commitments regarding rural homes. (S6O-01801)

The Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government (Shona Robison)

The Scottish Government regularly meets community housing enablers. In September, I met Communities Housing Trust and South of Scotland Community Housing, and I recognise the vital work that is carried out by those organisations in supporting communities to deliver more affordable homes in rural and island communities. I am keen for that to continue.

We have been giving consideration to the funding arrangements of community housing trusts to ensure that they continue to support the delivery of rural homes as part of our work to develop a remote, rural and island housing action plan.

Ariane Burgess

The Bute house agreement commits the Scottish Government to ensuring that community housing trusts are adequately funded, so that they can support the delivery of our enhanced rural home building plans. The Communities Housing Trust currently has a pipeline of 600 projects, 150 of which are at risk due to the lack of capacity. What more can the Scottish Government do to ensure that trusts have the long-term support that they need in order to be able to deliver on the opportunities that exist to increase the number of rural homes? Timescale is of particular importance here.

Shona Robison

The Scottish Government remains very keen to work with the Communities Housing Trust to ensure that deliverable projects are implemented and to ensure that communities can access the focused support that they need at the right time. I recognise the importance of such organisations having sustainable funding arrangements, so that they can support the delivery of more homes. In a letter to the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee in December, I set out priority work strands for the remote, rural and islands housing action plan, including funding arrangements to achieve that. That plan will be published in the spring.

Vapes (Impact on Public Health)

To ask the Scottish Government what work is under way to assess the impact of vapes on public health. (S6O-01802)

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care (Humza Yousaf)

We continue to work with stakeholders, including Public Health Scotland and ASH Scotland, to ensure that we have a broad understanding of the impact of vaping on public health. The World Health Organization states that vapes are “undoubtedly harmful” to health. However, given the limited time for which they have been used, there is limited evidence on their long-term impact.

We are working to review the range of evidence that is available, and that will influence our refreshed tobacco action plan, which is due to be published in the autumn.

Gillian Mackay

There are many issues with vapes, including in relation to flavours and advertising, that we should be tackling, and I hope that the cabinet secretary would support that.

As well as being an issue for public health, vapes are an issue for the environment. That is covered in today’s Daily Record, which is running a campaign on the issue. Would the cabinet secretary support a ban on single-use vapes?

Humza Yousaf

I congratulate the Daily Record on its campaign and make special mention of Laura Young, whom the Daily Record describes colloquially as the “vape crusader”, which I thought was a fair name for her. She has done an incredible job in going around the country picking up single-use vapes, which are undoubtedly causing environmental harm.

Gillian Mackay is absolutely right. There is a public health issue, which we are exploring and will explore, but, as she would imagine, I am working with my colleague the Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity on the environmental impact of vapes. We will ask stakeholders with the relevant expertise to examine the evidence and assess what action the Scottish Government and other partners should take. That will include consideration of a potential ban. I will, of course, keep the member updated.

Siobhian Brown (Ayr) (SNP)

As the cabinet secretary might be aware, the issue of youth vaping is one that I have taken a particular interest in, and I am looking forward to a members’ business debate on the subject at the end of the month.

Has the Scottish Government conducted an assessment of advertising by the vaping industry?

Humza Yousaf

We should look into that issue. As I have said, there are a number of issues to consider from a public health perspective. We know that there is evidence that young people who would not have considered smoking cigarettes are taking up vaping. There is concern about advertising—in particular, the advertising on social media platforms, but also the advertising on other platforms. That should be part of the consideration that I referenced in my response to Gillian Mackay. Stakeholders with the relevant expertise should explore and examine a range of issues in relation to vaping, including a potential ban on disposable single-use vapes.

Police Scotland (Racial Profiling)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to address any racial profiling practices in Police Scotland. (S6O-01803)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans (Keith Brown)

Police Scotland should operate at all times with fairness, integrity and respect, and irrespective of ethnicity. The chief constable has made clear his commitment that Police Scotland must become an actively anti-racist organisation.

In respect of stop and search, the code of practice in Scotland was developed by an independent advisory group and was approved by the Scottish Parliament. That code of practice, which came into force on 11 May 2017 and was reviewed in 2019, sets out clearly the rules for when and how the police in Scotland can use stop and search.

Maggie Chapman

Figures that were released in December show that people from minority ethnic backgrounds were up to 20 times more likely to be stopped by Police Scotland under counterterrorism powers. However, evidence tells us that far-right domestic terrorism is by far the greatest current threat and that racial profiling is both unacceptable and counterproductive. Does the cabinet secretary think that a reassessment of what a terrorism threat looks like is urgently needed in a Scotland that welcomes refugees and other immigrants? What actions does he consider are necessary to ensure that we tackle racist police practices?

Keith Brown

I want to be clear that Scotland welcomes people from all over the world. Over successive generations, migrants and refugees have greatly contributed to our society and brought diversity to our communities. Racism, in any form, is abhorrent and wholly unacceptable.

Counterterrorism is a reserved matter and is delivered through the United Kingdom Government CONTEST strategy. The Scottish Government is engaging actively with the Home Office to ensure that the recently announced review of the strategy appropriately reflects the situation and takes into consideration the terrorism threat throughout the UK, including in Scotland.

The operation of counterterrorism in Scotland is a matter for Police Scotland, taking account of the specific code of practice for counterterrorism stop and search at the border, as issued by the Home Office.

I agree with Maggie Chapman that, in relation to the threat of terrorism and the assessment of it, Police Scotland holds the biggest piece of the jigsaw. It looks regularly at the issues that Maggie Chapman has raised.

That concludes general question time.