Prime Minister (Meetings)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 10th March 2011.

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Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

2. To ask the First Minister when he will next meet the Prime Minister. (S3F-2946)

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

Six years ago, there were nearly 1,500 health visitors in Scotland. How many are there today?

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

The health visitor numbers in Scotland, like the rest of the health service, are performing extremely well in the national interest and purpose. [Interruption.]

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

If the First Minister does not know, would it not be easier to say, “I don’t know”? Let me confirm the facts. In 2005, there were nearly 1,500 health visitors. In 2010, there were marginally over 1,200. Back in 2009, the First Minister said to me:

“I am interested in and concerned about the position and numbers of health visitors in Scotland, and that will be an abiding concern.”

That concern is so abiding that we have seen the number of health visitors in the majority of health board areas drop under his watch. So much for an abiding concern.

For the Scottish Conservatives, health visitors are the vital point of contact with parents and young families. In the community and in the home, they speak to mum and dad, giving reassurance, health and advice, and often spotting problems before they develop. Their value was recently reinforced by Professor Susan Deacon’s report.

What will the First Minister do to match the Scottish Conservatives’ commitment to spend £20 million a year on getting more health visitors to support more parents and more children right across Scotland and to give that crucial early years support?

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

The figures that I have show that there is an increasing number of health visitors in Scotland.

I say to Annabel Goldie that, yes, it is true that the Conservative Party has said at the United Kingdom level that there will be real-terms increases in the national health service budget, and this Administration has committed to moving forward with putting the consequentials into the national health service in Scotland. That is what has, over the past four years, allowed the expansion of health service numbers, and it is what will protect the national health service from much of the public spending pressure.

However, Annabel Goldie should also realise that even that commitment does not make the health service immune from pressure. We all know that health service inflation is extremely rigorous, and in many cases higher. It also means that we have to restore our commitment to a national health service. I think that the direction of travel of the national health service in England is deeply problematic. I look to the recent circumstance where we found that we were able in Scotland to provide—by the medium, incidentally, of health visitors and also through our general practitioner services—an effective response to the situation with a potential flu pandemic. That was not able to be performed in England.

Therefore, before we take any lessons from Annabel Goldie or anyone else about the direction of travel in the English health service, let us consider the protection of funding in the national health service in Scotland and the fact that we have an integrated service, with people working for something that they are proud of. That is one reason why the performance of the national health service is better than it has ever been before, and why every member of the Parliament should be intent on defending it.