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Marie Curie Great Daffodil Appeal

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 9th March 2016.

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Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

I, too, congratulate my good friend Linda Fabiani on securing the debate. I am happy to confirm that I am going to get behind the Fab in getting behind the daff.

As well as allowing us an opportunity to acknowledge the phenomenal work done by Marie Curie nurses, staff and volunteers on behalf of terminally ill people and their families, this debate enables us to focus on the challenges that they face going forward. Marie Curie is no doubt a victim of its own success because, as Linda Fabiani reminded us, estimates suggest that around 11,000 people who need palliative care in Scotland miss out.

With annual death rates due to rise by 13 per cent over the next 25 years, the risk is that the numbers missing out on the end-of-life care that they need will increase. In that context, it is encouraging that the Government’s action plan for palliative and end-of-life care envisages that by 2021 everyone who needs palliative care will get it. For that to happen, however, we will need to see greater priority given to the issue by health and social care partnerships, as well as firm commitments from the incoming Scottish Government after May.

We are already seeing an inequality of access. Marie Curie points in its briefing to the difficulties faced by particular groups: those over 85, those living alone, ethnic minorities and those from deprived communities. As Malcolm Chisholm testified earlier, disparities also exist between those affected by cancer and those with other terminal conditions such as dementia, motor neurone disease and heart failure; sufferers of those conditions seem to be overrepresented in the numbers of people not accessing end-of-life care.

That in part might reflect the public perception still that Marie Curie is for people affected by cancer. However, as others speakers in the debate have said, that perception is wrong. I hope that that perception is beginning to change, and I know that local volunteers in Orkney are working hard to achieve that. However, there is still some way to go.

As well as awareness raising, local volunteers are part of a remarkable fundraising effort on behalf of the Marie Curie charity. The amounts raised in Orkney have been a testimony to the generosity of the local public and a recognition of the importance of good-quality, widely available palliative care. After all, there can be few people in Orkney or, indeed, any community who do not know of somebody who has been affected in that regard. Orkney has a population that is ageing faster than the national average, living longer with more complex conditions and dispersed over a number of islands and rural parishes, so it is clear that its challenges are likely only to increase, as is the need for funding to meet those challenges.

That is why I want to pay particular tribute to those who volunteer their time to help raise those funds. Barbara Todd deserves particular mention for her heroic efforts. Barbara is due to step down in May as the local chair of Marie Curie in Orkney, but I know that she will remain closely involved and very active. I give a special mention, too, to Terri Paton, who I hope has been able to make it to Parliament this evening, and to Linda Lennie, who I am sure has made it along, assuming that she has escaped the clutches of Marks & Spencer. It is great to have a strong Orkney presence in the public gallery and at the reception later this evening.

I also put on record again my gratitude to Dr Andrew Trevitt and his colleagues for the commitment that they have shown in delivering the palliative service in Orkney. That is a relatively recent development, and it leaves Shetland—sadly—as the only area without such a service.

At the time when I spoke in the Marie Curie debate last year, only patients in the west mainland of Orkney were able to access Marie Curie support. I am delighted to confirm to Parliament that access has been expanded to cover all of the Orkney mainland, with three Marie Curie nurses now in place. In time, I hope that constituents living in the inner and outer isles might benefit similarly—I think that fairness demands no less. It is vital that capacity is built and momentum maintained.

The service fits with not just the palliative care strategy that I mentioned earlier but the clinical strategy. In that sense, I hope that it can become more firmly embedded in the near future through a partnership between health and social care and the voluntary sector. The number of patients in Orkney who have benefited so far is relatively small, but the impact has been significant. Patients and their families are hugely positive about what the support gives them, which I believe speaks volumes.

Again, I congratulate Linda Fabiani on allowing us to have this debate. To all the Marie Curie nurses, staff and volunteers, I offer my sincere thanks for the exceptional work that they do in allowing people to die with dignity and in the place of their choice.