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That figure sounds a bit low. The board might well have allocated that amount, but I bet that the bill will be a lot higher by the time the consultation is finished.
Does the minister accept that that public money has been spent not on a genuine consultation, but on a propaganda campaign for the health board's closure programme? How can we have democracy when health boards are allowed to use that money in such a partisan way? Is the minister in the least bit concerned that some of the money has been spent on private security firms, such as Rock Steady Security Ltd, at some of the public consultation meetings that the health board has held?
I think that we all agree that good public consultation is important. When considering proposals from boards, I obviously look in great detail at the precise nature of the consultation.
One aspect of NHS Argyll and Clyde's approach that we can welcome is the fact that it has commissioned an independent evaluation of the consultation procedure from Dr Andrew Walker, a highly regarded health economist who has helped the Health Committee in various ways. He will examine among other issues the extent to which NHS Argyll and Clyde has listened to and taken on board the public concerns that have emerged as a result of the consultation. I will examine that key issue very closely when the proposals come to me in due course.
I am pleased that the minister agrees that as far as public consultation is concerned the issue is not just how much it costs but how to ensure that those who undertake it actually listen.
"would contemplate changes at Inverclyde Royal Hospital ... which would keep it open in a way that would satisfy public demand"?
I certainly welcome Professor Kerr's comments and the interest that he is showing in Duncan McNeil's area and throughout Scotland. I echo his general approach to these matters. Of course we must listen to the public. Indeed, that is as critical in NHS Argyll and Clyde as it is everywhere else in Scotland.
I should point out that Professor Kerr made the same point that I have made in different ways over the past couple of weeks—and indeed long before now—that we must also ensure that we deliver clinically safe and high-quality services. We should follow those two key principles.
I welcome the minister's commitment to wait until the national framework is in place before he takes any decision on NHS Argyll and Clyde. However, does he acknowledge that, although the volume of protest is not of the essence, the fact that 23,000 people have signed a petition saying no and that 5,000 people from my area have written to the health board saying no is an indication that this particular health board thinks more about boundaries than about the people it serves? Will he send it back to think again?
I know that Jackie Baillie and Duncan McNeil have highlighted the issue of boundaries as a key feature and I am sure that