This week (19th-25th May) is National Epilepsy Week and to show my support for the cause, I joined my fellow MSPs for a group photo which highlighted this years ‘many faces of epilepsy’ theme.
Epilepsy is still the most common, serious neurological condition in the world but it impacts each person’s life in a unique and individual way. Epilepsy affects men, women and children of all ages from every ethnic group and social status. The outlook is brighter for the half whose seizures are well managed with medication. The picture is less rosy for almost a fifth whose epilepsy care could be further improved while the remainder face a difficult time, as do their families and carers, due to uncontrolled seizures.
Epilepsy Scotland is calling on the Scottish Government to tackle this treatment gap and enable seven in 10 people with epilepsy who could become seizure free to receive optimum care. This would save the NHS money and afford an improved quality of life for thousands of families up and down the country. According to Epilepsy Scotland’s 2011 manifesto, an estimated 9,750 people with epilepsy could become seizure free if their condition was better managed. This would save the NHS around £2.36 million a year.
I want to help tackle this issue. I am happy to be one of the many faces of epilepsy supporters in Scotland and to develop greater public awareness and understanding of epilepsy.
On Monday 6th May I had the pleasure of visiting Monklands Pharmacy in Airdrie, where I saw first-hand the important and wide ranging benefits Scotland’s network of community pharmacies brings to patients.
The visit was organised by Community Pharmacy Scotland, which represents the interests of the owners of Scotland’s community pharmacies, and helped show me the positive contribution that a modern pharmacy can have on a community’s health.
I really enjoyed my visit and had some good conversations with the pharmacy workers and with people from Community Pharmacy Scotland who told me about the range of services delivered to 600,000 patients who go through the door of Scotland’s community pharmacies every day – including the Chronic Medication Service, the public health campaigns and successful interventions such as smoking cessation.
The network of around 1247 healthcare facilities ensures that community pharmacies provide the modern NHS with its’ most accessible point of contact in communities throughout the country.
Matt Barclay, Policy Pharmacist for Community Pharmacy Scotland said:
“Community Pharmacy Scotland is always looking to engage and work in partnership with both local and national political decision makers on those policies affecting healthcare and pharmacies. It was good of Ms McMahon to take an active interest in community pharmacy and to listen to the issues affecting one of the key primary healthcare providers within their local area.”
“Staff from the pharmacy kindly spent time explaining the services provided by all community pharmacies in Scotland. It was useful to demonstrate to Ms McMahon the investment in services and technology that can make a real difference in a community’s health and wellbeing.”
I was delighted to be invited to a venue tour of the Commonwealth Games Athletes Village and Tollcross International Swimming Centre.
The tour took place on Friday 3rd May and with just 436 days to go now until the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, it was really exciting to see how the venue infrastructure is developing.
I was shown around the Athletes Village, which will be home to around 6, 500 athletes and team officials throughout the games. Through the development of the Athletes Village, Glasgow City Council plans to bring further social and economic value and regeneration to the area by creating opportunities for employment and training, local business and social enterprise.
I also visited the recently refurbished and extended Tollcross International Swimming Centre. The existing 50 metre, 10 lane pool has been joined by a new 50m, six lane warm-up and training pool, ensuring world class facilities for the games. The developments at the centre will provide a permanent training and recreational facility for both the local community and elite athletes, as well as a venue for major international swimming competitions.
The games in 2014 will be an opportunity for organisations, businesses, and communities across Scotland, including in Central Scotland given its relative proximity to the location of the Games, to prosper. I really enjoyed my trip and would like to thank the Organising Committee for their kind invitation and wish them all the best in the run up to the games.
As a patron of HemiHelp, I was honoured to be invited to speak at the 10th Anniversary of the Children Helping Children concert in aid of the charity at the Cadogan Hall in London on Saturday 27th April.
The charity provides help and support to individuals and families affected by Hemiplegia and recently celebrated its 20th birthday. Since its first concert ten years ago, the event has raised over £500,000 which has allowed HemiHelp to continue to grow and help more children with hemiplegia than ever before.
The concert was fabulous and featured some amazing child musicians such as 11 year old pianist Fergus Macgregor and 9 year old violinist Kohtaro Harada. Hollywood star Damian Lewis, who is an active supporter of several humanitarian organizations and has been named as an ambassador for the Christian Aid organization, also attended.
I would like to thank everyone at HemiHelp for inviting me to speak at the concert and want to congratulate them not only for the great show they put on but for the important work they do all year round for young people with hemiplegia, their families and the professionals who support them.
Here is the speech I gave at the concert:
“Since being elected to the Scottish Parliament in May 2011 my life has changed dramatically – some changes have been for the better and some have been for the worse.
One of the proudest moments I have had in these last 2 years has been receiving the phone call from Simon Crosby, Chairman of HemiHelp asking me to become a patron of the charity. I am deeply honoured and privileged to have been asked to take up such an important role and I am delighted to have been asked to join you all here tonight in what has been a fantastic evening.
There are a few things about me that distinguish me from other members of the Scottish Parliament – I’m the youngest female member of parliament, I am one part of the first father and daughter team of parliamentarians with my dad being elected to serve his community in 1999 and I am the only member with hemiplegia.
For those of you who don’t already know hemiplegia is a disability that is caused by damage to the brain (most often before or around the time of birth) and it results in a weakness and lack of control in one side of the body – a bit like the effects of a stroke. Hemiplegia isn’t just a physical condition – around half the children have additional difficulties, some medical in nature, such as epilepsy, visual impairment or speech difficulties. Many children have less obvious additional challenges, such as perceptual problems, specific learning difficulties or emotional and behavioural problems. Every day in the UK between one and two babies are born with it, which means that up to one child in 1,000 is affected by this lifelong condition.
Before I joined the parliament I didn’t really think about myself as a disabled person. I am the oldest of 3 children and I have never been treated any different to my younger brother or sister. My parents never stopped me trying anything when I was growing up, that led to me trying Irish Dancing and the Sea Cadets – sadly a career never beckoned in either of these fields. I was the only female on the school football team, the goalkeeper in the netball team and one of four squad members of the badminton team…now I’m not saying I was any good at any of the sports but I didn’t get the nickname shivvychenko for nothing!
The proudest moment of my life so far might seem strange to some people but it has great significance to me – it was the day I learned to ride my bike without stabilizers, I may have been 11 years of age at the time, somewhat older than the average age to learn to ride your bike but I got there in the end.
As I said my childhood seemed perfectly normal to me therefore I found it disconcerting to join the Scottish Parliament and suddenly be asked about being disabled on a daily basis. Some opposition politicians approached my dad to ask him what my disability was, never daring to approach me and ask me directly. Some colleagues started to try and empathise with me by sharing stories of the time they broke their arm and how that gave them an insight into my daily life. Some people from organisations were a little bit bolder than this and just asked me outright when I had my stroke or what happened to my hand and was it sore. Never before in my life have I been asked such questions and here I am being asked them in the very place we should be promoting equality and diversity.
Such was the interest in my disability that if you typed my name into an internet search engine the second most popular search result was Siobhan McMahon MSP Disability, as a result I felt that the matter had to be addressed in Parliament during a speech on Welfare Reform. It wasn’t a speech I enjoyed giving however the results have been worth it. Shortly after my speech I received a tweet from Joanna Sholem, a volunteer at HemiHelp, thanking me for raising awareness of my disability, this was the first time I became aware of HemiHelp and I’ve never looked back since.
I am grateful to Jo for opening my eyes to this fantastic organisation and to the tremendous work they do.
Growing up is always a hard thing to do but doing that with additional needs and little support makes that process somewhat harder, I had 4 operations during my time at secondary school. The pain of the operations was nothing in comparison to the schooling I lost out on and the disengagement I felt from my school friends during those times. I know that my life would have been easier at that time if I had known about HemiHelp. I found the recent article in the spring edition of the HemiHelp magazine by Lucy Pilgrim truly inspiring. Lucy shared her experience of secondary school in order that others could gain a little encouragement from it. I can only imagine the support Lucy’s article has given to others currently at school to overcome the obstacles and battles they will face on a day to day basis. I wish I had known someone like Lucy when I was growing up. It is by knowing that you’re not alone that gets you through the tough time and makes you appreciate the good times even more.
That is why the services that HemiHelp offer are so important to young people and their families. From the helpline that is run by volunteers who have personal experience of hemiplegia, the “try it” fun days that occur throughout the country, the conferences run for parents and professionals, the pen pal system or the transition service which supports people aged 16-25 who need assistance moving from education to employment, HemiHelp is there every step of the way. The diversity of services they provide is nothing short of astounding .
Sharing my own experiences is not something I enjoy however the reason I do this is very simple – I don’t want another young person or their family having to go through some of the things my family and I have had to go through.
As a result of the increased scrutiny in me I began to have questions of my own. How did my parents feel when I was born? Were my brother and sister embarrassed of me when we were growing up? Who would employ me if I didn’t have a University degree? I also had questions about my future, would my friendships survive the strain of more operations or when I eventually end up in a wheelchair?
I know that these questions are normal however I also know that if I had the support of HemiHelp at that time the process would have made much easier. They would have shown me that the things I want to achieve can be achieved. They would have shown me how to tie my own shoe laces and other practical measures in order to continue to lead an independent life. I am grateful that although I didn’t know of their existence when I was growing up many young people across the UK have had the support HemiHelp offer and many more will benefit from them in the future.
Recently I requested my medical notes to learn the lessons from my own health treatment in order to help other young people in my community. One of the things that stood out for me was this:
On 6th November 1984 the doctor noted and I quote “the right foot is entirely normal” however on the 12th November 1985 the doctor notes “she has an obvious right hemiparesis with achilles tendon tightness”. What a difference a year makes!
I know that my experience is not unique and that is why I wrote to my own local health boards to ask them what clinics they have for children, in particular, with hemiplegia and if they had support groups on offer. The response I received from NHS Lanarkshire was welcomed, the Board have now put up posters advertising HemiHelp in all of their hospitals and posted a link to HemiHelp on the official website. But I can and will do more.
Every year I sponsor Disability History Month in Scotland; this gives me the opportunity to talk about the positive aspects disabled people make to our Country. This year I hope that I will be able to sponsor a similar event for HemiHelp, to raise the awareness of this amazing organisation in Scotland.
I know that those of us in this room know the true value of HemiHelp but it is up to all of us to make sure that they can continue to support families across the UK. It is up to all of us to create awareness of this organisation in our families, between our friends, in our workplaces to make sure that young people with hemiplegia get the support they need. I know that my life would have been different with the support of HemiHelp and I know that my life has changed for the better since HemiHelp came into it. I can only thank HemiHelp for all that they do not just for me but for every person they have helped throughout the UK.
Thank you again for the kind invitation to attend this tremendous event tonight. Enjoy the rest of your evening.”
I am deeply concerned to learn of some of the projects that have been granted funding in 2012/13 in order to tackle sectarianism in Scotland.
I asked this question as we must be proactive in tackling the scourge of sectarianism. We must look beyond the football stadium and acknowledge that the way to break this societal cycle is to educate young people from an early age in its ills. I was disappointed that rather than outlining educational programmes on offer the Minister directed people to a website. I believe this approach is wholly unsatisfactory and does nothing to comprehensively tackle the underlining societal problems which allow sectarianism to flourish.
It is incumbent on the Government to provide a comprehensive agenda to tackle sectarianism, with education at its heart. Sectarianism is not an innate quality, it is learned and can with proper educational programmes in place, be eradicated from our society. The administration is complacent on this issue; by directing anti-sectarian resources through the internet, teachers are missing out on the classroom resources to tackle the problem.
Further to this point, I submitted a question, which can be viewed on the link below at 34 minutes and 52 seconds:
On 15 March 2013 I asked the Government to break down which projects it has funded to tackle sectarianism in each of the last two years, the written answer from Roseanna Cunningham MSP can be found below:
It is clear that education is not the priority of the Scottish Government. Nearly £800,000 has been awarded to the Football Co-ordination Unit Scotland (FoCUS) clearly demonstrating that this Government thinks that sectarianism originates in the Football Ground. We will never tackle the scourge of sectarianism in our society with such an approach. This is not only worrying but highly depressing.
Further to this some of the organisations that have been awarded funding in 2012-13 have no proven track record in this field. I hope that the Scottish Government will now provide an answer as to why substantial amounts of money were awarded to these groups in favour of those who have been working in this field, with success, for years.
I believe the Government is guilty of complacency on this issue. The Offensive Behaviour Act does not make any attempt to address the underlying societal problems which lead to sectarianism. Government must redirect resources to the classroom to stamp out this problem as quickly as possible.
I am honoured to have been asked to become a patron for HemiHelp, the charity which provides help and support to individuals and families affected by Hemiplegia. This will initially be over a 3 year term.
My role is likely to involve promoting awareness of Hemiplegia through assisting HemiHelp in the dissemination of information about the condition and the provision of advice and support to individuals and families affected.
HemiHelp recently celebrated its 20th Birthday; in recognition of this milestone, it is looking to expand its current scope by providing information to young adults as well as children affected by Hemiplegia. This is an ambition I wholeheartedly support and I am keen to help in any way I can.
I will be meeting with HemiHelp’s trustees over the next few weeks and I look forward to a long and productive association with the charity.
In an article and letter in this week’s Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser I was accused of having some kind of “agenda” against Monklands Hospital.
The accusation related to the Modernising Mental Health proposals currently undergoing review by NHS Lanarkshire at the behest of the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, Alex Neil (who is also MSP for Airdrie and Shotts).
This accusation is, to be frank, complete and utter nonsense. As a young child I spent a lot of time of at Monklands, and I have nothing but respect and gratitude for the hospital and its staff.
It saddens me that some people – including those who should know better – feel the need to turn any debate about health provision within NHS Lanarkshire into a debate about Monklands Hospital.
For what it’s worth (and as I made clear in the response I gave to the Advertiser) at no point have I ever called for services to be removed from Monklands Hospital. What I do want, however, is what is best for patients throughout the whole health board area.
NHS Lanarkshire’s Modernising Mental Health proposals were the product of a lot of hard work and a lengthy consultation process. They were supported by health professionals and service users and the previous Cabinet Secretary for Health, Nicola Sturgeon MSP. They were also in line with the Scottish Government’s own Mental Health Strategy.
As such, I was surprised and disappointed that just 10 days after becoming Cabinet Secretary for Health, Mr Neil ordered NHS Lanarkshire to suspend and review the proposals. The cost of that decision can be seen by the fact that, almost six months on, no alternative plans have been produced.
Some people will continue to resort to petty and personal attacks. I prefer to deal in facts.
I believe decisions over local health services should be taken locally; that Scottish Government policy should not be changed at the drop of a hat (or the reshuffle of a cabinet); and that a health board has a duty to act in the best interests of all of its patients, wherever they happen to live.