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Health Needs (Ethnic and Religious Minorities)

Health and Well-being – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 25th October 2007.

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Photo of Bashir Ahmad Bashir Ahmad Scottish National Party 2:15 pm, 25th October 2007

To ask the Scottish Executive what importance it places on the specific health needs of ethnic and religious minorities. (S3O-975)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Improving the health of all Scotland's people and tackling health inequalities wherever they exist is at the top of our priorities.

In the five years since NHS Scotland's fair for all programme was launched, a lot has been achieved to overcome the inequalities experienced by people from ethnic minority communities. Although we must guard against complacency, I believe that the work of the national resource centre for ethnic minority health—whose conference I will address later this afternoon—and its partners in boards and local community organisations across Scotland will help us to achieve our goal of delivering local health services that meet the distinctive needs of people from ethnic and religious minorities.

At the conference, we are launching checking for change, which provides a race equality audit framework to help NHS boards ensure that they are meeting their race equality targets and legal obligations.

Photo of Bashir Ahmad Bashir Ahmad Scottish National Party

Is the minister aware of the current gap in the service that the national health service provides for parents who wish to circumcise their children for religious reasons? In my constituency, the waiting list for the service can be as long as two years. That often leads Scottish parents either to travel down to England or to pay a higher price for the service to be carried out privately. Clearly, that is a difficult situation for parents to be in. Is she prepared to discuss the issue further with me to examine how the current service can be improved?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I am well aware, not least because of my constituency interest, of the importance of the issue to the Muslim community. I absolutely agree that waiting times for the procedure have been excessively long—indeed, they are up to three years in some cases in Glasgow. The main reason for those waiting lists was that availability status codes were applied to the procedure. The fact that the Government is abolishing availability status codes will mean that all patients will now be treated within the maximum waiting time guarantees. We will also work to improve referral patterns, which will help to reduce waiting times further. We are working to raise awareness of the procedures in the Muslim community and to ensure that NHS staff are properly trained so that they can give appropriate advice to parents.

I am very happy indeed to meet Bashir Ahmad, whose interest in the issue is noteworthy, to discuss what further we can do to improve services.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

I thank the minister for her answer to Bashir Ahmad's question. We will be watching to ensure that those waiting lists decline as she has promised that they will.

My question is slightly different, as it is on the theme of equalities more generally. The previous Executive was committed to ensuring that equalities issues were mainstreamed across the Executive. We ensured that the equalities unit had key links with all departments. Does the equalities unit still have those key links? Are equalities being mainstreamed across the Executive? Will women's health be a particular priority for the minister? How will she address the inequalities that women face within the health service?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I can give Margaret Curran an absolute assurance that the Government will continue the previous Executive's commitment to ensuring that equalities are mainstreamed across the whole Executive. The equalities unit is indeed central to ensuring that that happens. As she will be aware, I represent the constituency with the biggest ethnic minority population in the country so, both as a constituency member and as Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, I am acutely aware of the importance of equalities.

Margaret Curran is also right to raise the importance of women's health. Although our job must be to ensure that the health service provides high-quality health services for all, if we are to do that we must recognise the distinctive needs of particular groups in the population. Women's health is extremely important. Our announcement on the cervical cancer vaccine, for example, is important in that context. I will always work to ensure that we are doing everything that we can to ensure that those needs are given priority.