Secretary of State for Scotland (Meetings)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 13 June 2013.

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Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

2. To ask the First Minister when he will next meet the Secretary of State for Scotland. (S4F-01453)

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

This morning, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, Alex Neil, promised that people who had been forced to pay thousands of pounds in care costs for relatives with complex care needs that should have been covered by the national health service would be “appropriately reimbursed.” In three years, we have seen the number of people across Scotland having those care costs supported fall by 27 per cent. Why have relatives of some of the most vulnerable and desperately ill people in this country been denied the support to which they were entitled?

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

The guidelines on continuing care in Scotland have been consistent for some time. The updated guidance, which was issued in 2008, took account of the good-practice recommendations that were put forward by the Scottish Public Service Ombudsman. I will repeat what the health secretary said, which is that in any case in which those guidelines have not been followed, the situation will be rectified.

Luckily, because of the passage of the Patient Rights (Scotland) Act 2011, the patient advice and support service, which is operated by Citizens Advice Scotland, the Care Information Scotland line—a confidential phone line funded by the Scottish Government—and access to health boards means that there are many routes for patients to challenge a position that they think is unjust.

Of course, if any individual has not had their rights according to the regulations in Scotland, that case will be looked at and rectified. However, I would much rather live in a country in which 77,000 people, at present, have access to free personal and nursing care and are cared for as part of the fabric of the health service than in a country that does not have that advantage for its elderly people.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

I am sure that the First Minister is not conflating continuing healthcare entitlement with free personal care on purpose, knowing as he does that they are separate. We are not talking about free personal care. We are talking about the continuing healthcare entitlement.

I am pleased that the First Minister has acknowledged that the health minister held his hands up to the problem today. That is a start, and I thank Alex Neil for that. However, at one point in his BBC interview, he said that he thought that only “a small number” of people were affected. At another, he said that he thought that we were talking about “a few thousand” people.

The truth is surely that nobody knows how many people have been affected. The health minister and the First Minister ask for those affected to come to them. The Government needs to be a bit more proactive than that. The First Minister has a responsibility to find out how many people in Scotland caring for critically ill relatives have been handing over thousands of pounds when they should not have been. We need a full audit of every person in every health board who may be affected, currently or historically, to ensure that proper reparations are paid. Will the First Minister order such an audit?

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

This is a serious subject for people so I will take Ruth Davidson through what happens at present. As I mentioned in my first answer, the guidance was updated in 2008 and took account of the recommendations from the ombudsman on good practice. What happens to people is that the consultant or general practitioner, in consultation with the multidisciplinary team, will decide whether an individual is eligible for NHS continuing healthcare. That guidance states that it is down to

“the complexity, nature or intensity of the patient’s health needs”.

People are assessed within the system at present.

Secondly—and thank goodness for this—far from sitting back and not doing anything about the rights of patients, we have passed the Patient Rights (Scotland) Act 2011 and instituted two additional means for people to ensure that the health service is treating them properly and according to the guidance: the patient advice and support service from Citizens Advice Scotland and the confidential line that is provided by Care Information Scotland and funded by the Scottish Government. Those are avenues by which people can get their rights and entitlement under the national health service.

Ruth Davidson sweeps away the importance of the 77,000 people who get free personal nursing care, but that is exactly on this subject. What happens to people who are entitled to continuing care within the health service—almost three quarters of people in that position are in hospital and therefore have no accommodation charges in that sense—is that they get help with accommodation charges in nursing homes in a way that does not happen under free personal and nursing care. That is an aspect of the system, and the system is a continuous one.

Therefore, what needs to be done—and certainly will be done—is that we will ensure that the regulations are properly followed and that the opportunities exist for elderly patients and their relatives to come forward on these matters. If anything has been done that is contrary to the regulations, it will be rectified.

Not to understand that having a system of free personal and nursing care in society is fundamentally superior to not having such a system is not to understand the importance of defending that system for the Scottish people.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

Let me tell the First Minister that it has not been a “good” or “sparkling” week for employment in my area. What help can be given to the people in my region, now that Robert Wiseman Dairies has entered consultation over 116 job losses at its Whitburn depot? The area is already reeling from the loss of 1,700 jobs at Hall’s of Broxburn.

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

The sparkling performance relates to inward investment. The Labour Party should accept that the employment figures, particularly for young people in Scotland, are very good news indeed.

The member raises a very important constituency issue. Scottish Enterprise officials have already been in touch with the company and the national partnership action for continuing employment manager spoke with the company’s human resources representatives yesterday, offering support for any employees who might be affected by redundancy. The company says that no decisions have yet been made. It also points to the number of posts that could be created at other distribution centres.

The member should understand that we take such matters very seriously. There will be both PACE and ministerial intervention—as there has been substantial intervention in West Lothian—to try to secure the employment and employment prospects of his constituents. We should do that jointly as a Parliament, just as we should jointly welcome the substantial indications that the Scottish employment situation is improving and that youth employment, in particular, has shown remarkable progress over the past 18 months.