Category Archives: Holyrood Message

Health Divide

19th October, 2015

The Health Divide

The connection between where you’re from and how long you live has long since been established. The chances are, if you reside in a more deprived part of the country the fewer years you will have.

Indeed, official figures released on Wednesday by the National Records of Scotland (NRS), show that average life expectancy in Inverclyde is almost five years less when compared to wealthier council areas such as East Dumbartonshire.

But the health divide doesn’t just exist between different council areas it also exists within communities. If we were to dig a little deeper, I’m sure we would find a gulf in life expectancy between those who live in some parts of the east end of Inverclyde compared to those in the West End.

While Inverclyde clearly has some catching up to do with other local authorities there is some good news. Both men and women in Inverclyde are living longer. When compared to a decade ago, men are living five years more and women three years more.

The elderly population contribute so much to society through their volunteering and the words of wisdom and support they give to family, friends and neighbours. So the fact that they are living longer will have a positive impact on the community.

However, the rising elderly population also presents a challenge. Currently our health services are having difficulty coping with the increase in demand which is affecting the quality of care given to older people who often have complex health needs.

This is why it is vital that the balance of care is shifted out of our hospitals and into the community. This will allow the elderly to receive care that is specific to their needs within their own home or in a homely setting. We don’t just want people to be living longer we also want people to be living healthier lives too.

A busy week all round

12th October, 2015

A busy week all round

One thing that can’t be said about the Parliamentary week is that it lacks variation. As an MSP you can engage and meet people on a whole range of issues.

Last week began with a visit to the newly refurbished Clydesdale Bank branch on West Blackhall Street to hear about their commitment to local services.  The visit was particularly refreshing when we consider the series of bank closures made on the high street in recent years.

Following my meeting with Clydesdale staff, it was through to Edinburgh for my weekly meeting as convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Health Committee. I was glad to hear from the Health Minister Jamie Hepburn, that the Scottish Government has accepted one of the key recommendations the health committee made regarding the recent Carers Bill.

In response to concerns raised by carers the committee urged the government to enshrine a discussion about emergency planning in the adult carer support plan in order to give carers the peace of mind they need. If carers face an emergency they need to know that replacement care will get sorted out speedily and efficiently.

This week I also had the privilege of sponsoring an event highlighting the power of human rights to improve people’s health and the care and support they access.The event brought to life the experiences people have had as they challenge the status quo around health and social care.

The final day before the Parliamentary recess MSPs voted unanimously in favour of the general principals of a bill to ban smoking in cars carrying children.  As I said in my speech during the debate, I hope that this bill will send out a clear message about the harmful effects of second hand smoke.

It was a busy week all round but as we go into the Parliamentary recess there will be no let up as I give extra focus to pursing the concerns and issues brought to me by my constituents.

Questions to the First Minister

5th October, 2015

Questions to the First Minister

Last week, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon appeared before the conveners of the Scottish Parliament’s committees to answer questions on her legislative programme for the year ahead. This is an annual event and provides a chance to hold the First Minister to account for her policies.

As convener of the Health Committee, I was given the opportunity to raise concerns about the huge inequalities that exist in Scotland. Inequality is of course an amalgamation of a whole range of issues but low pay is one of its major causes.

Almost four years ago the Health Committee, as part of its inquiry into the regulation of care for older people, recommended to the Scottish Government that all workers in the social care sector should be paid a Living Wage.

Interest in paying the Living Wage has increased ever since but implementation has been slow. However, I was glad that Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that the Scottish Government is currently meeting with local authorities to meet the challenge.

I also asked the First Minister about the barriers facing people with terminal illnesses in accessing the medicines that would allow them to extend and improve the quality of the life they have left.

There has been progress since the committee reported on the issue in June 2013. Access has improved and a fund now exists to give financial support to those who cannot afford new medicines.

But there are still glitches in the system. Last week, I met a young women who says she is having to pay out of her own pocket to access the drug she dearly needs. The First Minister invited me to pass on the details of her case.

Politics rarely solves problems overnight but we have to take every opportunity we can to drive change and give help to those who need it most.

Ban on smoking in vehicles

27th September, 2015

Ban on smoking in vehicles

With the significant resources at its disposal the Scottish Government can often dominate the legislative agenda.

But there are times when members of the Scottish Parliament are able to find some space on the busy Parliamentary timetable to put forth their own pieces of legislation which can make a positive difference to people’s lives.

Indeed, last week, the Parliament’s Health Committee which I convene, fully endorsed a law drafted by the Liberal Democrat MSP Jim Hume, which would introduce a ban on smoking in vehicles in the presence of those who are under 18.

Over 95% of those who submitted evidence to the committee’s inquiry backed the proposal. The general public are also largely supportive. A 2015 YouGov survey commissioned by ASH Scotland found that 85% of Scottish adults overall and 72% of smokers were in favour of the ban.

During the course of its inquiry the committee was told that levels of second-hand smoke increase to over eleven times those of a smoky pub when a cigarette is smoked in a stationary car with the windows closed.

We also heard that over 4,000 new cases of respiratory infection, wheeze and asthma in Scottish children could be avoided every year by reducing the exposure of children to passive smoking.

Over the years education campaigns have made some headway in tackling misconceptions about second-hand smoke. But when one considers such evidence it is clear that more needs to be done.

If this law is passed by Parliament, it will send out a clear message about the harm second hand smoke can have on children.

After similar legislation was introduced in Canada, the committee was informed that there was a 33% reduction in children being exposed to second-hand smoke.  I hope we will see a similar impact here in Scotland.

We can learn from Ardgowan Hospice

20th September, 2015

We can learn from Ardgowan Hospice

Ardgowan Hospice has been a cornerstone of the Inverclyde community for over thirty years providing high quality care to people at the end of their lives. The first class service provided by its staff and volunteers is to be commended. Their focus on choice for patients and personalised care has made such a positive difference to people in Inverclyde and their families.

I’m glad therefore that today members of the Scottish Parliament’s Health Committee will get to see the hospice’s fantastic services first hand. The visit is part of the committee’s current inquiry into the provision and availability of end-of-life and palliative care. The inquiry is all about finding out about people’s experiences and making sure everyone that needs access to high quality palliative care receives it.

During the visit we will speak with the staff, the volunteers and patients and hear about the support that is provided through the hospice’s day care centre. For the committee to see the hospice in action will be invaluable and will lead to a real understanding of how their high standards of care can be replicated throughout country.

During the initial stages of our inquiry we have heard that there are serious deficits in the quality of palliative care being provided for throughout Scotland. Indeed, a report prepared for the health committee by Prof David Clark of Glasgow University, has estimated that 10,000 people die in Scotland each year without appropriate end-of-life care. It’s clear that things need to change and I hope this visit and the committee’s inquiry will be the start of that process.

Extend Blue Badge Eligibility Criteria

14th September, 2015

Extend Blue Badge Eligibility Criteria

Sometimes it can be the little things that make a big difference to people’s lives. Take the blue badge scheme. For those of you unfamiliar with the initiative, it allows people with disabilities to access disabled parking spaces whether it’s directly outside the shops, hospital or local leisure centre.

But not everyone who needs a blue badge is currently receiving one. Recently I was contacted by a worried parent Mr McLevy, whose son Aiden has Down Syndrome. Due to the fact that Aiden can walk, he does not meet the new eligibility criteria for the scheme and has not had his blue badge renewed.

However, as Mr McLevy highlighted to me, while his son may be able to walk he has low muscle tone and sensory awareness. He is often unaware of the potential danger around him and can be unpredictable in car parks. Without a blue badge to access disabled parking spaces, it can be a real challenge for Aiden and his parents to do the things that we all take for granted such as going to the doctor, spending an afternoon in town or simply getting the groceries in.

If Aiden lived in Wales he would automatically qualify for a blue badge due to a recent change in law introduced by its devolved government. Here in Scotland, the government consulted last year on changing the law. There was overwhelming support for doing so but nothing has happened yet. This is why I have secured a debate in Parliament taking place this Wednesday on the matter.

I hope that it will act as a catalyst to move us towards a change in legislation so that young people like Aiden and his parents get the improved support they need to go about their daily lives safely.

Back to Parliament

September 7th 2015

Back to Parliament

After the summer in the constituency it was back to Edinburgh this week for the new session of the Parliament and there was a lot to be getting on with.

The Health Committee which I convener resumed its scrutiny of the Scottish Government’s plans to enforce the smoking ban on hospital grounds and to restrict the sale of e-cigarettes. Furthermore, the Devolution Committee of which I am also a member examined substantive proposals to deliver further powers to the Scottish Parliament.

Away from the committees, the central focus of the week was on the Scottish Government’s legislative programme for the year ahead. There were a number of proposals welcomed by MSPs from all sides of the Parliament’s debating chamber including the abolition of fees for employment tribunals and payments for kinship carers something which I have campaigned on for considerable time.

In response to the increasing concerns from police officers, the public and the media, the government also gave way and announced there will be a full scale review on the workings of Police Scotland. Given the counter closures, the proliferation of stop and search and the unacceptable detection rates for housebreaking in Inverclyde, this is welcome news.

While there was certainly a number of positive aspects to this programme there were also some areas where it was lacking. There is still no action to be taken on the shortfall of bursaries for college students and there was no mention about how we can get Scotland’s drug strategy back on the road to recovery.

As one would expect there was a robust debate about the pros and cons of the government’s legislative programme. However, there was also a poignant moment when politicians unified to recognise and pay respects to those affected by the refugee crisis. Let’s hope this compassion is matched with action in the days ahead.

Government’s drug strategy isn’t working

31st August, 2014

Government’s drug strategy isn’t working

Another year and yet another report highlighting the tragic nature of drug misuse. The National Records of Scotland (NRS) released figures on Wednesday showing thatthe number of drug-related deaths in Scotland has risen to its highest level since records began. The report revealed 613 people died as a result of drugs in 2014.

Here in Inverclyde there were 17 deaths a jump from 10 in the previous year. Over the last decade there have been a total of 108 lives lost locally. Methadone was reported in 47 of these cases.

It’s evident from this most recent report from the NRS that the Scottish Government’s drug strategy simply isn’t working for Inverclyde or for the rest of Scotland. The government needs to realise this and examine what more can be done to try and prevent such deaths from happening. Big questions need to be answered as to how access to treatment can be improved and what can be done to encourage drug users onto rehabilitation programmes.

With the flurry of press headlines that inevitably come when such tragic incidences are revealed, it’s important to remember that these cases are just the tip of the iceberg. The impact of drug misuse extends beyond the individual.

It devastates families. It’s a source of the anti-social behaviour problems that exist locally. And it’s also a major cause of crime. Indeed, only last week we read in the Greenock Telegraphof the concerns of Chief Inspector Elliot Brown about the connection between violent crime and the mixing of drugs and alcohol.

It’s clear the Scottish Governmentneeds a major re-think of its drug strategy if we are going to protect individuals, families and the wider community.

New RBS jobs welcome

24th August, 2015

New RBS jobs welcome

It is often the case that when the Royal Bank of Scotland hits the headlines it’s for the wrong reasons. Locally the press have reported on the community’s concerns at branch closures in Port Glasgow, Gourock, West Blackhall Street and most recently Kilmacolm.

How can it be fair that a bank that was bailed out by the public is closing services that the public rely on? A fair question indeed and one that the bank has failed to adequately address up to now.

However, I’m glad to say that more recently RBS has featured in the local news on a more positive note. Their decision to recruit 70 new permanent telephony mortgage advisors for its centre in Greenock will bolster its workforce to just over 900. The development reinforces the centre as a key employer in the area.

I was glad to hear in response to my correspondence with RBS management regarding the announcement that its ambition is to recruit local people for the new roles. This shows they have confidence in the area’s workforce. It will bring a welcome stimulus to Inverclyde’s economy and hopefully encourage other businesses to invest locally too.

The announcement comes shortly after Webhelp UK, which is based close to the mortgage centre at Cartsburn confirmed that it will be creating 20 new jobs raising the total workforce to 250.

I hope that the good news continues and that RBS continues to hit the headlines for the right reasons in the coming weeks and months. I congratulate staff at RBS’s Greenock mortgage centre on their 20th anniversary.

Time for action

17th August, 2015

Time for action

In the depths of the recession as a community we argued that Inverclyde would need greater support from the Scottish Government compared to other areas. Our small manufacturing base coupled with depopulation put us in afar more vulnerable position.

When I made this case at the time to Finance Secretary John Swinney he acknowledged the problem. However, instead of taking positive action to support Inverclyde, he subsequently slashed our urban regeneration budget and cut local college funding.

A report published last week by the Industrial Communities Alliance has validated the concerns we raised. Its research shows that since the recession, economic upturn has been weaker in the old industrial towns like Inverclyde when compared to other parts of Britain.

Growth in private sector employment has lagged behind. Average weekly earnings are over one-hundred pounds less. The claimant count is higher. And while jobs have been created many are part-time.

Despite the fact that Inverclyde is still playing catch up with other places in the UK, there has recently been some cause for optimism.

Ferguson’s Shipyard has sprung back to life. The Greenock Telegraph reported over a week ago that Peel Ports has launched a marketing campaign to attract jobs and investment. And to top it off, leading entrepreneur Jim McColl confirmed that he has scoped out Inchgreen Drydock as a potential shipping hub.

As I said in this column previously, we have a real opportunity here to bring manufacturing back to the Lower Clyde. This is why I held a jobs summit with Inverclyde’s political leaders to drive things forward.

With its substantial resources, finances and negotiating power the Scottish Government has a very important role to play in this process too. Let’s not make the same mistakes of the past. Let’s take positive action to realise Inverclyde’s potential.