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.
I was delighted to be invited to speak at the British Transport Police’s Neigbourhood Policing Conference in Glasgow this week.
The event, which was very well attended, offered a forum for local and national organisations to discuss their ideas about community policing.
The theme of the conference, which was focused upon engagement and prevention, was “what if”.
As I said in my address, it is important that we send out the right message in terms of deterrents.
Scottish Labour has well-establised positions on knife crime (we favour a mandatory jail sentence for anyone caught in possession of a knife) and anti-social behaviour. We are also clear in our belief that the rights of victims as well as perpetrators should be at the forefront of Scotland’s justice system.
But for many communities, it is the low level anti-social behaviour – raucous parties, loud music, graffiti, drunken disputes – that is the real problem, and that is where community engagement is key.
I highlighted the success of the Nae Bother campaign, which ran for three consecutive summers in North Lanarkshire. Nae Bother brought together several organisations including Strathclyde Police, the British Transport Police, North Lanarkshire Council and Victim Support Scotland, focusing on primary policing concerns in the area.
By encouraging engagement between police and local communities, it achieved an impressive reduction in robberies and petty crime. Given its success, there were calls to expand it across Scotland. Sadly, and perhaps due to budgetary pressures, this has not happened.
Another concern of the Conference was the safety and security of passengers and staff on our rail services.
I discussed First ScotRail’s announcement last summer of its decision to ban alcohol on trains after 9pm. This policy, which I welcomed, sends out a clear message that drunken and disorderly behaviour in stations and on trains is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
I also spoke about the efforts of the British Transport Police to be sensitive to the concerns of local communities, by illustrating how its priorities and approach vary across different parts of the country.
In the Glasgow area, for example, the focus is on curbing assaults on staff; in Edinburgh, the top priority is anti-social behaviour.
By adopting such a flexible approach and listening to the concerns of staff and passengers, the BTP is able to act proactively to prevent trouble before it happens.
All in all, I had an enjoyable and enlightening day.
There were many constructive contributions to the conference, and I hope that some of the ideas and approaches discussed will influence both local and national policy-making over the coming year.
I was grateful to have the opportunity to speak in this week’s Scottish Parliament debate on Further Education. My contribution can be viewed in full on the BBC Democracy Live website, at approximately 44.35.
The debate, called by Scottish Labour, handed the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Michael Russell MSP, the chance to correct his recent erroneous statements about college waiting lists and the Scottish Government cuts to the college budget.
Last October, when asked a perfectly straightforward question about college waiting lists by my colleague Neil Bibby MSP, the Cabinet Secretary refused to answer, dubbing the lists “a false concept”.
Shortly after, he offered a somewhat ingracious apology to MSPs after being forced to admit that the college budget has indeed been cut, contrary to his claims – made on two separate occassions – that it has risen.
Now, the Scottish Government’s own interim report into college waiting lists has revealed that, far from being “false concepts”, waiting lists definitely do exist and could extend to 13,000 places for the whole of Scotland.
Yet Mr Russell continues pompous and unrepentant as ever. He continued to deny the existence of “so called” waiting lists, and dismissing – seemingly inadvertantly - the evidence unearthed by his own Government’s audit as “nonsense.”
Mr Russell had previously claimed that the lists present a misleading due to the prevalence of duplicate applications – students applying to more than one college. However, the interim report into 7 colleges found very limited evidence of deplication (about 9% of their combined waiting list). Moreover, the extent to which duplication can be cited as a legitimate factor varies according to the number of colleges in the area.
For example, communities in Lanarkshire have access to four colleges withing a relatively short distance. In stark contrast, those in the Falkirk area only really have access to Forth Valley College. It is unlikely, therefore, that applicants to Forth Valley, whether successful or no, will submit multiple applications.
Mr Russell can hid behind evasions and excuses all he wants. But the plain facts speak for themselves. You cannot cut over £50 million from the college budget without significant adverse impact: fewer courses, few teachers, fewer places, and higher waiting lists.
If this were not bad enough, we also learned this week that, in 2011-12, 490 fewer college students from deprived backgrounds received an education maintenance allowance than did in 2010-11.
As a recent report on the college sector by Audit Scotland baldly states, “colleges face significant financial challenges in the years ahead.” Some colleges are already struggling. Forth Valley College, for example, had an operating deficit of £2.4 million in 2010/11.
The real victims of Mr Russell’s delusions and denial are the thousands of prospective students denied a place at college.
Colleges are a vital source of the skills and training that young people need to find secure employment or to progress on to higher education. Under Mr Russell’s stewardship, the prospect looks bleak for the college sector.
But it doesn’t need to be this way.
Scottish Labour has called up the Scottish Govenment to reverse its cuts to further education spending. If Mr Russell swallowed his pride and followed our advice, colleges could concentrate on what they do best: providing the skills, education and training to help our young people into work.
I was pleased to have the opportunity to speak in last week’s debate in the Scottish Parliament on the Scottish Government’s Mental Health Strategy. My contribution to the debate can be viewed here, at 44.50.
Mental health is still dogged by stigma and ignorance, with many people still unwilling to admit its legitimacy or potential severity.
Mental health problems are closely linked to, and exacerbated by, stress and anxiety. With the economy stagnant, jobs at a premium and welfare reforms and revised capability assessments cutting away at the social fabric, today’s society is, for increasing numbers of people, especially in poor and deprived areas, a worrying place to be.
It comes as no surprise, then, that a study conducted by a group of Glasgow based GPs has reported a stark rise in the number of patients reporting with poor mental health.
Against this backdrop, I welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to improving Scotland’s mental health, as outlined in its Mental Health Strategy.
But a Mental Health Strategy is of little practical use if it is not adhered to.
For the past few years NHS Lanarkshire has been working to improve its mental health services and to shift the emphasis of care from inpatient to community based provision (as recommended by the Mental Health Strategy).
NHS Lanarkshire’s Modernising Mental Health proposals, which had the full support of the previous Cabinet Secretary for Health, Nicola Sturgeon, as well as that of local service users, were due to be presented to the NHS Lanarkshire board in September 2012.
However, the new Cabinet Secretary for Health, Alex Neil MSP, intervened and instructed NHS Lanarkshire to revise the proposals. According to an email sent last September (2012) by officials in the Scottish Government’s health department, a final decision will be made “soon”. It is now Janauary 2013, and we are no further forward.
As a local MSP – for Airdrie and Shotts – Mr Neil was a vocal critic of NHS Lanarkshire’s proposals. However, as the Ministerial Code makes abundantly clear, Ministers should exercise extreme caution before intervening in portfolio matters within their own constituencies (a fact that Mr Neil recognised, albeit belatedly).
Given that the plans were supported by Mr Neil’s predecessor, I find this apparent volte face by the Scottish Government both frustrating and confusing.
Consistency is a valuable commodity in politics, as in life. This is perhaps especially so in the provision of health, where the right decisions are not always the easy ones.
There is little use in publishing a Mental Health Strategy only to refuse to implement it in practice, whatever the underlying reason.
I do not know what the future holds for the future of mental health provision in NHS Lanarkshire. All I want is what is best for service users. That is what they deserve, and I hope that is what they get.
I took part in yesterday’s Scottish Parliament debate on the Scottish Government’s plans to renew and update the Scottish Planning Policy. My speech can be read on the Scottish Parliament website, or viewed on the Democracy Live section of the BBC website at 1.29.43.
The debate gave me the opportunity to outline some of my concerns regarding the rapid expansion of wind farms and proliferation of energy from waste facilities.
Although I have no objection to wind farms per se, I do have an issue with their being overly concentrated in certain communities.
Once an area has been approved for wind farm development, there is no mechanism within the current planning policy to prevent that area from becoming inundated with proposals. For example, the Fortissat ward in North Lanarkshire already has one wind farm – at Black Law - numbering 54 turbines, another proposal (from a separate energy provider) is nearing approval, and a raft of extensions and applications are in the pipeline.
When I requested a moratorium on processing further applications in the area, Derek Mackay, Minister for Local Government and Planning, told me such an action would be “unprecedented”, especially in light of Scotland’s commitments on renewable energy.
I recognise and respect the value of these commitments; however, it is imperative that we do not allow them to become a disproportionate factor in the consideration of planning applications, especially those which have ramifications for local communities.
The proposal for a pyrolysis incinerator at Carnbroe is another example. Energy from waste, like wind power, is cited as a viable form of renewable energy.
Although the initial planning application from Shore Energy was turned down by North Lanarkshire Council on the grounds of community health and safety, it was granted on appeal by Scottish Government reporters, who stated that the incinerator was “urgently needed” to work towards zero waste targets. This despite the fact the proposals have attracted 6,000 objections from local people and prompted the creation of Monklands Residents Against Pyrolysis Incinerator (MRAPP).
I hope the Scottish Government will consider these examples as it draws up its new planning policy, and ensure that local democracy, and the wishes of local people, form a central part of the planning process.