Cabinet (Meetings)

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 31 January 2008.

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Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat 12:00, 31 January 2008

To ask the First Minister what issues will be discussed at the next meeting of the Cabinet. (S3F-471)

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

The next meeting of the Cabinet will discuss issues of importance to the people of Scotland.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

Yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon announced that all health boards were meeting their 18-week waiting target. Under the First Minister's Government, have any patients who still need treatment been deliberately removed from those waiting lists in order for the health boards to meet their target?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

The purpose of the Government's and the SNP's direction of travel is to remove the hidden waiting lists that were so much a feature of the Government of which Nicol Stephen was such a prominent member. I would have thought that it is cause for celebration that we were able to announce this week that every health authority in Scotland was able to meet its target at the end of the year. Surely that is something on which Nicol Stephen could join the 71 per cent who are satisfied and not stay with the 4 per cent who are dissatisfied.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

Why then did a patient recently receive the following letter from her consultant? It says:

"I am afraid I am writing to inform you of some bad news. I have been instructed by hospital management to remove your name from my waiting list. The prime reason for this decision relates to the 18-week target for patient treatment which is now enforced. I currently have a significant number of patients in breach of this, and the simple solution by management is to reduce my waiting list by removing patients' names."

It is shocking and scandalous to discover a situation in which the First Minister's targets are achieved by dumping patients off the list. Will the First Minister promise to end such manipulation of the figures and ensure that patients who have been devastated by letters such as the one from which I read will now receive treatment from his Government?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

I will be delighted to look at the individual circumstances of that letter and am delighted to reaffirm that this Government will not have the manipulation of waiting lists that was carried out by the previous Administration. As First Minister, I will be delighted—as will the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing—to look at those circumstances and to deal with anything that might have been wrongly done in that patient's case. Nicol Stephen seems, however, to have a spot of amnesia: let us remember that the 18-week target was introduced two years ago by the previous Administration.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

Of course, we sent details of the case to the health secretary, but should not the First Minister spend a little less time frothing about all that and a little more time regretting the situation and taking urgent action to assist such patients?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

Urgent action is being taken across the health service, which is why the targets were met at the end of last year.

When did Nicol Stephen send the information to the health secretary? We are delighted to pursue actively queries from individual MSPs, including Nicol Stephen, who are representing their constituents. If he supplies us with the details, we will take the effective action that this Government is known for and which his Government notably failed to take.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

I will take a supplementary question from Sarah Boyack.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I welcome the First Minister's comment at the weekend that he will do all he can to safeguard the jobs of the 1,000 highly skilled Scottish & Newcastle plc staff in Edinburgh and the Lothians. Will he do everything he can to ensure that the positions of the many other staff in the city who depend on work with Scottish & Newcastle, such as those who work in our marketing agencies and our legal and accountancy firms, are also considered by the Scottish Government? Will he join me in calling on the potential new owners of Scottish & Newcastle to be aware of the significant support that the firm has offered to the development of the city's culture, as well as its economy, through the provision of long-standing financial support for organisations such as the national museum of Scotland, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and the Edinburgh international festival, which has been an important part of the company's reputation and its relationship with the capital?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

Yes—a meeting has been offered and agreed with the potential new owners of Scottish & Newcastle to discuss whether we can make progress on those very points.

As soon as the situation developed, the Government set up a task force involving Jim Mather, the industry minister. It is important that we do that. Our initial analysis, which is supported by industry commentators, suggests that the substantial majority of jobs in Scotland look to be secure under the new circumstances. However, there is a serious question about the continuing functions of the group headquarters in Edinburgh, where about 100 staff are employed. Those highly skilled jobs are very important not just to Edinburgh, but to Scotland as a whole. When we pursue our discussions with the potential new owners of Scottish & Newcastle, the security of that workforce and the importance of retaining as many of its skills as possible in Scotland and the Scottish economy will be uppermost in our minds.