Questioning Alex Neil on on creeping privatisation of the NHS in Scotland

October 28, 2014 Leave a comment

At General Question time at Parliament on Thursday 9th October, I pressed the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing Alex Neil to explain why thousands of NHS Lanarkshire patients are being sent to private hospitals in order for the Treatment Time Guarantee to be met.

This followed a successful freedom of information request made to NHS Lanarkshire which revealed that between October 2012 and March 2014, the health board spent nearly £6 million referring 3,826 patients to the Golden Jubilee Hospital and 4,368 patients to Rosshall Hospital and Nuffield Hospital, both private health providers in Glasgow, in order for the Treatment Time Guarantee to be met.

What this freedom of information request shows is the creeping privatisation of the NHS in Scotland under Alex Neil and the SNP Government. We know that there are ever increasing financial pressures facing NHS boards across Scotland and we need to address the problem of how we are going to adequately fund our health service. Instead, we know that the SNP are working on plans to introduce £450 million of cuts to the NHS in Scotland.

We were told by the SNP throughout the referendum campaign that the NHS in Scotland would face privatisation if we voted to stay part of the United Kingdom. The truth is that the only Government who can privatise the NHS in Scotland is the SNP and these figures show that it’s happening right under our noses.

Alex Neil can call this “topping up our own capacity” all he likes but the figures are there for all to see. The NHS is not safe in the hands of the SNP. Only the Labour party, at Scottish and UK level, can be trusted on the NHS.

You can read my questions and Mr Neil’s answers here, and watch them from 2.23 here.

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My Submission to the Smith Commission

October 28, 2014 Leave a comment

I was pleased to be able to speak in the Scottish Parliament debate today on the Smith Commission. This Commission is an important part of the process of delivering real change to the Scottish Parliament while maintaining Scotland’s fair and equal voice in the UK.

You can read my submission below.

Dear Lord Smith

Devolution of Equalities

Introduction
I write to you with respect to your position as chair of the Smith Commission with responsibility for overseeing the transfer of further powers from Westminster to the devolved Scottish Parliament in Holyrood. As a Member of the Scottish Parliament I have first hand experience of the political process in Scotland and this has helped shape my views on what needs to change.

I would like to take this opportunity to record my support for the full devolution of the equalities portfolio from Westminster to Holyrood. Since my election to the Scottish Parliament in 2011 I have sat on the Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee and this has helped to shape my view.

In 1997 when the plans for our Parliament were drafted this proposal was opposed by my own party, Labour, and the opposition Conservative party as it was felt that such a move would undermine the level playing field for business across the UK and that all within the UK must enjoy the same protection under anti discrimination law. I believe this position is no longer tenable for reasons I will outline.

Status Quo
Currently only the UK Parliament has the power to create new anti-discrimination legislation or amend existing legislation (O’Cinneide, 2009).

Scottish Government powers in this area are at best ambiguous and regarded by the current Scottish administration as part of the regulatory framework and therefore within the jurisdiction of Westminster. Politicians are currently only empowered to encourage a respect for equality and impose equality duties on public authorities.

This focus on tackling equality issues through policing has led to controversial laws such as the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act (2012). This is a blunt instrument to use when dealing with an issue as sensitive and widespread as equalities is far from ideal.

As things stand Equal Opportunities legislation is one of the “greyest” areas of the devolution settlement. When taking up equalities issues the Scottish Government has not used its powers over equality per se but instead done so through the prism of devolved criminal justice and local Government powers, such as to fine those who park in disabled bays.

Support for change
There is broad support across civil society for the transfer of equality powers, with different individuals and groups advocating distinct arguments for the importance of a change in this area.

In her submission to the Equality and Human Rights Commission Rona Fitzgerald identified that the current partial devolution of equalities encourages a perceived lack of scrutiny and leadership over the policy portfolio (Fitzgerald, 2009).

The Law Society of Scotland and Stonewall Scotland argue discrimination law should be devolved because it is closely linked to devolved matters. With the former linking it to issues such as incapacity, mental health and vulnerability and the latter organisation citing Scottish Government jurisdiction over family law. I believe both groups are correct to point out that the lack of power held in Holyrood over equality matters is inconsistent given the Parliament’s jurisdiction over other areas.

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) suggest that the wide spread of rural space across Scotland and issues more pertinent in certain parts of Scotland than across the UK, such as sectarianism, justify the devolution of powers over equal opportunities. The Educational Institute of Scotland, City of Edinburgh Council and UNISON concur with this sentiment. While the STUC suggested to the Calman commission that the EHRC could be given “stronger and more autonomous enforcement powers” in Scotland.

An argument has been advanced in favour of transferring powers to Scotland to allow Holyrood to establish our own public sector duties. As you will be aware equality duties currently exist which ensures that any public sector changes do not negatively impact upon people with disabilities and other protected groups.

However by devolving equality legislation we could use these powers to tackle economic inequality by imposing social and economic duties.

To surmise those in favour of transferring these powers often justify their position for two overarching reasons. The first is that issues faced by Scots are sufficiently distinct from those facing the rest of the UK and thus merit a different approach, the other is that because related areas are devolved it makes since to devolve equalities too.

Northern Ireland Example
It is my view that the Northern Irish example of devolving equality law is one that Scotland would do well to follow. In this section I will outline the Stormont settlement and my support for a similar plan here.

The department with responsibility for equality is the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister. With this power the Assembly has been able to legislate on age, disability, gender, race and ethnicity, religious belief and political opinion and sexual orientation discrimination.

With respect to EU legislation it is the responsibility of Whitehall to inform the NI Government of any responsibilities this may mean for devolved matters. UK ministers retain the power to intervene to make sure the legislature complies with EU directives.

Their position as having a distinctive body to legislate has enabled them to consider other avenues to potentially widen equality. The NIHRC have raised issues to be examined by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination such as:

• The rights of non-citizens to social protection
• Sectarianism as a form of racism
• Discrimination and racist hate crime in Northern Ireland
• Internal immigration control and racial profiling
• The situation of Irish Travellers

The Belfast Agreement gives provision for the NIHRC to be consulted and to advise on Westminster equalities legislation (particularly that which is being legislated due to a push from the ECHR) to reflect on the particular circumstances of NI.

A cross sectorial and party Bill of Rights forum published a report in March 2008 for a NI Bill of Rights. Lord McNally in the House of Lords has indicated that there is a commitment to a Northern Irish Bill of Rights and that it is a separate process from any potential UK Bill of Rights.

Given the justification for devolving this power to Northern Ireland was most obviously to tackle its dark history of sectarianism, I believe similar, if less pronounced problems here justify a similar political response.

Conclusion
If the commission is not minded to support full devolution of equalities I would encourage you to at least consider expanding powers in this area.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission note that it would be possible to have separate Scottish Equality Law in devolved areas such as housing or health and that the Scottish Courts and a potential “Scottish Equality Commission” could enforce this. Even in some legislative areas sole primacy would remain at Westminster, it should still be possible to have a distinct Scottish equality position, for instance throughout America different anti-discrimination laws exist in the various states.

I would be grateful if you would consider my submission when considering the future constitutional arrangement of Scotland.

Yours sincerely

Siobhan McMahon MSP
Member of the Scottish Parliament for Central Scotland

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We Must Have Better Respite Facilities for Young Adults in Scotland

October 14, 2014 Leave a comment

I was pleased to be able to speak in Jackie Baillie MSPs Members Business Debate at the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday 8th October which highlighted the significant absence of suitable hospice and respite facilities for young disabled adults across Scotland.

This follows a Petition lodged by Robert Watson on behalf of CHAS Young Adult Council which calls on the Scottish Government to work with charities to help create suitable respite facilities to support younger disabled adults aged between 21 and 45 with life shortening conditions.

As someone who has visited CHAS Hospices Robin house and Rachel house, I know about the tremendous work that CHAS does in supporting not only the young people who require its services from the very first stages to the very last stages of their lives, but also their friends and family. However unfortunately, we all know that current hospice provision in Scotland does not meet the demand from patients who require the service.

Moreover, following CHAS’s understandable decision to impose an upper age limit on its facilities, which will come into force in approximately three years’ time, further pressure will be put on hospices such as St Andrew’s in Airdrie which provide these services to young adults.

You can read my speech in full here.

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Supporting the Carer’s Labour Network

October 14, 2014 Leave a comment
With the Shadow Minister for Wellbeing Rhoda Grant MSP and the Carer's Labour Network pledge.

With the Shadow Minister for Wellbeing Rhoda Grant MSP and the Carer’s Labour Network pledge.

I was pleased to be able to sign up to “Carer’s Labour Network” which was launched by the Scottish Labour Party alongside Carers Champion Claire Lally.

The network aims to build on the commitment already shown by Labour towards carers whilst pledging to bring forward practical initiatives to issues they face, including providing Young Adult Carers access to SAAS dependency grants which currently stands at £2,640 per year.

The Carer’s Labour Network pledge to ensure accountable, transparent and responsive support and services for Carers. This will be achieved through giving the Care Inspectorate responsibility over inspecting carer’s services and requiring local authorities to do yearly reports on Carer’s support and services.

The Network also commits to ensuring young carers get the support they need through fully committing to the Scottish Youth Parliament’s Care, Fair, Share campaign.

The Carer’s Labour Network will build towards launching a Scottish Labour Carers Manifesto for the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections that will be led by Clare Lally and written by fellow carers.

Scottish Labour has long been committed towards ensuring the best possible support is available to carers across the country.

The Carer’s Labour Network will continue this work and ensure that the services available for carers are accountable and responsive to their needs.

Currently there is little concrete information on exactly how the £112 million Scottish Government funding for carers has been spent.

As a result carers find it difficult to access information, with no independent body to raise any concerns they may have. Giving the Care Inspectorate responsibility over carers service will insure accountability and transparency across the board.

Part of Labour’s pledge is to listen to the needs of carers and find out first-hand the problems that they face.

By listening to carers like Clare we will be able to hold the Scottish Government to account and deliver the step change needed in support for Carers.

Carer’s Champion Claire Lally said “I’m delighted to announce Scottish Labour pledges for carers and pleased that my role as Carer’s Champion has resulted in concrete promises that will improve the lives of carers across the country.

“I’m especially excited to play a role in developing a Scottish Labour Carers Manifesto for the 2016 election. By having a manifesto written by fellow carers we can address the problems we face in our everyday life.

“I look forward to working with carers from across Scotland to ensure that Labour’s Carers Manifesto will deliver change to the problems faced by carers like myself.”

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Wearing it Pink to Fight Breast Cancer

October 14, 2014 Leave a comment

Siobhan McMahon MSP - Wear it Pink 2

I was pleased to join the fight against breast cancer by taking part in Breast Cancer Campaign’s flagship fundraiser Wear it Pink day at Parliament recently.

The theme of Wear it Pink this year is to ‘look good, do good’ in support of breast cancer research. On Friday 24 October people across the country will come together to find fun and stylish ways to wear pink in the office, at home or at school.

Donations raised by this year’s fashion inspired event will go to Breast Cancer Campaign to fund lifesaving breast cancer research.

Every year in Scotland more than 4,500 women are diagnosed with breast cancer. Sadly, more than 1,000 women die from this disease each year. This is why we need to support Breast Cancer Campaign’s fundraising efforts to support world-class breast cancer research that saves and improves lives, giving people quicker diagnoses and more effective treatments. I hope you’ll all join me by wearing it pink on Friday 24 October and showing your support for breast cancer research.

• Breast Cancer Campaign funds innovative breast cancer research, bringing together the brightest minds to share knowledge to produce better, quicker results to overcome and outlive breast cancer.

• As of June 2014, Breast Cancer Campaign funds 90 research grants throughout the UK and Ireland, worth over £13 million. They currently fund 7 grants in Scotland worth £1,354,320.

• Breast Cancer Campaign has launched the campaign ‘#spreadtheword to stop the spread’, to highlight that breast cancer is not a done deal. Visit http://www.breastcancercampaign/spreadtheword

• Breast Cancer Campaign’s action plan ‘Help Us Find the Cures’ sets out 66 key actions Breast Cancer Campaign will take to address the gaps in breast cancer research to overcome and outlive breast cancer by 2050. http://www.breastcancercampaign.org/breast-cancer-research/help-us-find-the-cures

• The Breast Cancer Campaign Tissue Bank, the UK’s first ever national breast cancer tissue bank, is a unique collaboration with four leading research institutions to create a vital resource of breast cancer tissue for researchers across the UK and Ireland. Visit http://www.breastcancertissuebank.org

• Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK and accounts for nearly one in three of all cancers in women. In the UK, around 50,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year – that’s 138 a day. Visit http://www.breastcancercampaign.org or follow at http://www.twitter.com/bccampaign

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Backing Mitten Monday with Falkirk FC

October 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Falkirk FC Mitten Monday 2
As a patron of the HemiHelp Charity, I was delighted to team up with Falkirk FC to promote the charities awareness week by taking part in Mitten Monday at the Falkirk Stadium.

The visit was organised in partnership the Falkirk Football Community Foundation, the community arm of Falkirk Football Club, who deliver programmes to support communities across Forth Valley.

HemiHelp is the UK’s national charity for hemiplegia and its primary aim is to help each child with the condition reach their full potential. It provides information, support and events for children and young people with hemiplegia, their families and the professionals who support them.

Hemiplegia is caused by damage to the brain (most often before or around the time of birth) and the effects are similar to that of a stroke. It leads to weakness and lack of control on one side of the body, but the physical severity will vary from one person to the next.

The HemiHelp awareness week runs between 13-17th October and there is range of fun activities planned for the week, kicking off with Mitten Monday, which encourages people to wear a mitten on one hand to get a sense of the impairment experienced by a person with the condition.

As someone who has hemiplegia, it is an honour to be a patron of HemiHelp and I am all to aware of how important it is to raise awareness of the condition. Better awareness enables families and individuals to get the support they need and leads to increased understanding, allowing those affected to reach their full potential.

I also know how difficult it can be to carry out everyday tasks that others take for granted and that is why Mitten Monday is such a great idea as it shows people how difficult it can be to live with hemiplegia. My experience is not unique as one child in every 1000 is affected by the condition and therefore it is important that HemiHelp continues to provide vital support those with hemiplegia and their families. I would like to thank all those at Falkirk FC and at the Community Foundation for taking part in Mitten Monday and I hope that they will have learnt a little more about the condition as a result of this.

Eleanor Davis, Fundraising & Marketing Officer at the Falkirk Football Community Foundation said “I would like to thank Siobhan for coming down to The Falkirk Stadium to talk about Mitten Monday. Having not heard about Hemiplegia, it was interesting to learn more and understand what it must be like living with such a condition. We hope that this visit has helped to raise more awareness and the profile of the charity, Hemihelp.”

HemiHelp CEO Amy Couture said “It is fantastic to see Falkirk FC and our patron Siobhan McMahon supporting Hemiplegia Awareness Week. It is this sort of action that will lead to better awareness of hemiplegia, enabling families and individuals to get the support they need.”

I also submitted a motion at the Scottish Parliament calling on everyone to support Hemiplegia Awareness Week.

Motion S4M-11172: Siobhan McMahon, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 09/10/2014
That the Parliament notes that 13 to 17 October 2014 is Hemiplegia Awareness Week; understands that hemiplegia affects one in 1,000 children across the UK and can occur before or during birth; notes that it is caused by damage to a part of the brain and can affect either side of the body with varying degrees of weakness; understands that this impacts on motor control and can cause hidden problems such as epilepsy or speech or visual impairment; recognises that Hemiplegia Awareness Week was established to promote a knowledge and understanding of the condition; believes that Mitten Monday, in which people wear a mitten on one hand to mimic one of the possible aspects of hemiplegia, is an effective way to raise such awareness; further understands that other awareness days are scheduled, including Put-up-a-Poster Thursday, in which people are encouraged to put up a poster in an innovative and eye-catching place, with prizes for the best places; believes that more should be done to help the people and families affected by the condition, and calls on everyone to participate in, and support, Hemiplegia Awareness Week.

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Have your say on NHS Forth Valleys’ review of Clinical Services

NHS Forth Valley are carrying out a major review of clinical services to help develop a new healthcare strategy as their current strategy ends in 2014. They want to make sure that patients, their families and local people across Forth Valley are involved in this important work and have the opportunity to help shape their plans and priorities for the future.

I would therefore encourage people to take a few moments to tell them how you would like to see health services developed in Forth Valley over the next five years. You can feedback comments direct via email, post or a short online survey on their website http://www.nhsforthvalley.com/shapingourfuture.

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