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Meeting date: Thursday, January 13, 2022

Meeting of the Parliament 13 January 2022

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Holistic Family Support, Portfolio Question Time, Car Travel, National Mission on Drugs, Decision Time


Contents


General Question Time

Good morning. I remind members of the Covid-related measures that are in place and that face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and across the Holyrood campus.

The first item of business is general question time. In order to get in as many members as possible, I would be grateful for short and succinct questions and responses.


General Practitioner Services (North East Scotland)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to improve the provision of GP services in the north-east. (S6O-00616)

The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring access to general practitioner services across Scotland, which is why we have pledged to increase the number of GPs by at least 800 by 2027. Currently, a record 5,195 GPs are working in Scotland, which is an increase of 74 from 2020.

The Scottish Government offers a wide range of initiatives to attract GPs to rural settings in particular, including golden hellos and bursaries for newly qualified GPs to take up posts in hard-to-fill rural locations. We established a graduate entry medicine programme focusing on general practice and rural working; we pay tuition fees for eligible students; and, in 2022, we will expand to the north-east the “Rediscover the joy” recruitment initiative.

The provision of GP services in Aberdeen is coming under increasing strain due to six of the city’s publicly run medical practices being put out to tender for private contract. I understand that the Scottish ministers are unable to intervene in the arrangements for individual practices, but the cabinet secretary has already informed me that he expects satisfactory systems to be in place for the benefit of all patients.

Given that an external investigation has upheld complaints from campaigners about the tendering process for Old Aberdeen medical practice, will the cabinet secretary now ask the health and social care partnership to pause the tendering process so that a full and independent review of it can be undertaken?

I recognise that Ms Villalba has raised the issue on a number of occasions, and I know that other members have concerns—understandably so. However, I will not ask the health and social care partnership to pause the tendering process, because that would be doing exactly what Ms Villalba has recognised that I should not do, which is intervene in local decision making. What I will do in relation to an independent review, which she has mentioned, is raise the issue again with colleagues in Grampian and ask my colleagues to raise it with the local health and social care partnership.

In the tendering that has taken place recently, the needs of patients and the local community have been put front and centre to achieve a more sustainable model of GP practice in the future.

In early December, I asked about Carden medical centre in Aberdeen, which is closing due to the Government’s failure to carry out workforce planning and to train and recruit GPs. True to form, the cabinet secretary evaded my question, so I will ask it again. When precisely does he project that the north-east will have enough GPs to run the services that the people of Aberdeen need and deserve?

Liam Kerr is incorrect in his assertion. Scotland has more GPs per head—per 100,000 people—than any other part of the United Kingdom. That is not by a margin or just slightly, but significantly more. There are 94 GPs per 100,000 people in Scotland, compared with 76 GPs per 100,000 people in England. We are investing, we have record numbers of GPs and we continue to recruit.

In relation to the patients of Carden medical centre, the medical practice that Liam Kerr referred to, it is my understanding that they will be or have already been automatically registered to a new practice. There are nine GP practices within a one-mile radius of Carden medical centre and a total of 27 practices in the Aberdeen city area. The needs of patients are being put first.

The reason why we have such a good record in GP recruitment and retention is because we invest in our GPs. I am sure that that is why the Scottish public has chosen to re-elect us for a fourth term and Liam Kerr continues in opposition.


Mental Health (Awareness)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to improve awareness of mental health. (S6O-00617)

The Scottish Government has highlighted the importance of mental health and wellbeing and provided a range of advice and support through the Clear Your Head radio, television and online campaign and NHS Inform, and via Young Scot’s “Aye feel” platform.

In addition, our mental health transition and recovery plan includes a wider range of actions to support and promote good mental health and wellbeing in response to the pandemic. Those include: providing long-term funding for See Me, Scotland’s campaign to end the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness; working with employer groups, trade unions and mental health organisations to promote mentally healthy workplaces; launching a £15 million communities fund to support adult mental health and wellbeing in communities across Scotland; and working with partners to provide a range of resources to meet the needs of children and young people, including more than 200 new community support services.

Next Monday, 17 January, the Samaritans will hold its yearly event #brewmonday to remind everyone to reach out for a cuppa and a catch-up with the people whom they care about. Will the minister join me in supporting that event, which can also be carried out virtually?

I certainly join Ms Minto in her support for the Samaritans. I greatly value the important work of the Samaritans and am delighted to support its #brewmonday event, which is really important. I recognise that January can be a difficult time of year for lots of people at the best of times. We all have our good days and bad days, but there is always a sense that the short days, the poor weather and the end of the festive season can have an impact, so we should all come together to help one another through it. I applaud the Samaritans for its efforts in that regard, and I urge every member to support the #brewmonday event.

At Tuesday’s Health, Social Care and Sport Committee, a leading occupational therapist, Suzanne Shields, called on parliamentarians to give

“children and families access to free physical and leisure activities, with support in place.”

Does the minister agree that that is a key area that the Scottish Government must focus on as an immediate priority in relation to mental health policy? What assurances can he give today to the many children and families for whom physical and leisure activities are either too expensive or too far away?

I believe that play and physical activity are extremely important in ensuring folk’s mental wellbeing. That is one of the reasons why, for example, the Government’s manifesto contained a commitment to putting resources into play parks.

I recognise what Ms Mochan says about the cost of accessing leisure activities but, as she is aware, much of the responsibility for such charges rests with local authorities. I encourage local authorities to use their budgeting process to look at what offers they can make to families that might have difficulty in accessing such services. I know that that happens in many parts of the country and I encourage the local authorities that do not have such schemes to have a look at them.


Phenylketonuria (Support)

To ask the Scottish Government what support and treatment is available for people diagnosed with phenylketonuria. (S6O-00618)

The inherited metabolic disorders service for adults and paediatrics is a national commissioned specialist service working out of sites in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and NHS Lothian. The service is available to all IMD patients in NHS Scotland including those with conditions such as phenylketonuria.

The service aims to improve life expectancy and quality of life, and to provide diagnosis as well as advice and treatment to manage and control symptoms. Most people will require lifelong follow-up and support from the specialist service.

For an adult or child with PKU, even the smallest amount of protein in their diet can have a major impact, and prolonged exposure can lead to brain damage. Right now, my constituents with PKU are having to follow the most restrictive diet imaginable, which means cutting out foods that would not have been thought to contain any protein.

Generic versions of the drug sapropterin are now available, which could transform the lives of eligible people with PKU in Airdrie and Shotts and across Scotland by reducing the need to restrict their diet. As generic versions cut the cost of supplying sapropterin, which had previously been a barrier to the use of Kuvan, will the Scottish Government in principle support PKU patients seeking sapropterin prescriptions on the national health service in Scotland?

The Scottish ministers’ policy priority is to increase access to medicines, especially those that are used in relation to rare, very rare and end-of-life conditions. As a result of Scottish Government reforms and investment in recent years, we have significantly increased access to new medicines.

Neil Gray is correct—the first generic version of sapropterin has received a marketing authorisation from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. To ensure best value for NHS Scotland, National Services Scotland National Procurement will shortly tender for the future supply of sapropterin to NHS Scotland. Given the launch of the first generic version, we are currently considering how best to provide advice to health boards on whether sapropterin should be made available for routine use in NHS Scotland, based on the latest available evidence.


Blood Donation

4. Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it has taken to encourage people, who are able, to donate blood, particularly during the winter period and on-going Covid-19 pandemic. (S6O-00619)

I would like to thank blood donors for continuing to come forward over the particularly difficult winter period, in spite of the on-going pandemic. That has meant that the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service has been able to provide enough blood to meet the needs of patients, although the situation can be volatile, so I encourage those people who can donate blood to continue to do so.

SNBTS has well-developed plans in place to ensure that it has sufficient donors. Over the festive period, there were successful radio, television and media campaigns to encourage donations.

I thank the minister for that response and for her positive response to my members’ business debate on the subject yesterday. I echo her calls to encourage people to give blood if they have not done so for a while or if they have never given blood before.

Given the importance to the wider national health service of donating blood, and the fact that the number of donors dropped during the first year of the pandemic, will the Government commit to considering what more it can do to increase the number of active blood donors, including by encouraging workplace schemes that allow employees time off to donate blood?

I know that SNBTS is already doing good work with many organisations to highlight the need for blood donors, but I am very happy to look at what the Scottish Government can do to support that.

I was delighted to participate in Fulton MacGregor’s members’ business debate on the topic last night and to raise the fact that, last year—historically—we removed the ban in Scotland on gay and bisexual men donating blood, which has opened up the ability to donate to a whole new range of people.

What is the minister doing to promote that among communities so that people who may think that the previous stigmatising rule still exists can be told that it does not and that they can become blood donors?

I again thank Paul O’Kane for raising the issue. It is indeed a wonderful step forward that the range of people who are able to donate blood has been widened. In last night’s debate, we spoke about what a fabulous experience that is for so many people who have been denied the opportunity to help their communities by giving blood.

My impression is that most people who are affected by that change in the rules are well aware of it. I know that my predecessor, Joe FitzPatrick, worked hard to raise the profile of the issue before the regulations changed, but I am more than happy to look again to see whether there is anything else that we can do to help to raise awareness of that change. It is indeed a wonderful step forward in reducing stigma.


Hate Crime (LGBT+ Community)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the latest figures showing that recorded hate crimes against members of the LGBT+ community have risen for five years in a row. (S6O-00620)

Any form of hate crime towards our LGBTI communities is completely unacceptable.

Although the rise in recorded hate crimes may be driven by the willingness of victims to report incidents, we are not complacent and remain committed to building inclusive communities. We are providing more than £3 million in funding between 2021 and 2024 to tackle inequality and realise rights for LGBTI people.

Our recent report shows the progress that we and partners have made in tackling prejudice and fostering community cohesion. We will continue to work with stakeholders to co-create a new hate crime strategy, to guide how we tackle hatred and prejudice in Scotland.

I share the cabinet secretary’s sentiment. There is simply no place in Scotland for intolerance and hatred of that nature. However, with more than 7,500 incidents reported since 2014, the picture for many in the LGBTI community is often grim.

Will the cabinet secretary commit to undertaking an analysis of the underlying causes of the stark rise in case numbers? Is it a rise in verbal or online abuse or—and worse—a rise in physical attacks? What is the Scottish Government doing to ensure that Police Scotland has trained LGBTI liaison officers in all parts of Scotland to support the victims of those horrid crimes?

I am willing to do that and to report back to the member. Police Scotland is part of the strategic partnership group on hate crime and is actively involved with other stakeholders in the development and implementation of the new hate crime strategy.

We are committed to understanding the causes of such crimes and ensuring that we respond fully to them. We know that hate crime, including that related to sexual orientation, remains significantly underreported and that it is unlikely that the figures reflect the community’s true experience. Involving stakeholders in developing our new hate crime strategy will help us to tackle many of the barriers that communities face in reporting incidents.

I am happy to report back to the member about the specifics of what he asked.


Small Rural Businesses (Support)

6. Rachael Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to support small rural businesses. (S6O-00621)

Our enterprise agencies and Business Gateway provide a range of advice and funding to small rural businesses.

In addition, we are providing £375 million of funding, targeted at the hardest hit sectors, to businesses impacted by the current additional public health measures. We are working to make payments to affected businesses as soon as possible.

Information on the support available to businesses is available on the Find Business Support website, which is updated daily.

With its introduction of a licensing scheme, the Scottish National Party is about to put a wrecking ball through the rural short-term letting industry. Some organisations have quit the SNP Government’s working group. In a recent parliamentary survey, more than 60 per cent of respondents said that the scheme will drive up costs for small short-term letting businesses.

Rural organisations such as the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers, Scottish Agritourism and the NFU Scotland have all voiced concerns about the impact of this reckless scheme. Is it not time for the SNP to stand up for Scotland’s rural businesses?

We do stand up for rural businesses across Scotland. I have outlined the steps that we are taking to support businesses through the current difficult situation and beyond.

Regarding short-term lets, the licensing scheme seeks to ensure that every short-term let in Scotland meets basic safety standards. I am sure that the member will agree that that is important in urban and rural areas and for large and small businesses. Our proposals deliver national consistency on safety standards by giving local authorities flexibility to tailor the scheme to local needs. Residents in some areas are continuing to experience issues caused by short-term lets and it is right that we are taking proportionate action to give local authorities the ability to take measures in that regard.

I have met many of the organisations that the member mentioned and have listened to their concerns. We have addressed some of those concerns in the legislation that my colleague Shona Robison is taking forward. We believe, for all the reasons that I have indicated, that that is the right measure.

Regrettably, due to time constraints, I cannot take any further questions. We move on to First Minister’s questions.