The Scottish Government’s older people’s strategic action forum, which I chair, brings together older people’s representative groups and other organisations that helped to develop “A Fairer Scotland for Older People: A Framework for Action”, which was published on 3 April 2019.
Older people’s representative groups are also involved in similar groups on health, through the older people’s development group, and on housing, through the age, home and community monitoring and advisory group, which oversees Scotland’s housing strategy for older people. There are many examples of the work that is being done.
I highlight Muirhead and district seniors forum, which is a fantastic organisation in my constituency that I have had the pleasure of visiting. What support is available to such groups to promote engagement and activity among members and reduce social isolation in our older population? Not to be outdone by my colleague Graham Simpson, I ask the minister to consider visiting Muirhead and district seniors forum at some point in the future.
My calendar is getting very busy, but I am looking forward to all these visits, which will all be worth while.
Last year, I launched “A Connected Scotland: Our strategy for tackling social isolation and loneliness and building stronger social connections”. We are very proud that Scotland is one of the first countries in the world to publish such a strategy. Older people can be particularly at risk from social isolation, and the strategy represents a step forward. Communities must be able to play their part, which is why we have committed to look across our investment in communities and consider how such investment can be aligned with the ambitions in the strategy.
Our £500,000 social isolation and loneliness fund for 2016-17 supported a wide variety of projects, including all the local initiatives and groups that I have spoken about. The investment helped to provide basic life skills, run creative activities, build friendship groups and support vulnerable communities. To ensure the successful implementation of the strategy, we have committed an additional £1 million over the next two years to continue that work and to ensure that we back up our commitments with innovative pilot approaches.
I welcome the minister’s comments. Does she agree that social prescribing is a way forward? What work is she doing with her colleagues in NHS Scotland to ensure that general practitioners, in particular, are aware that such an approach is open to them? Will she commit to carrying out further trial projects across Scotland to see how they work?
I can say yes to all those questions. The Royal College of General Practitioners has been a key partner in creating the social isolation and loneliness strategy. We are setting up the new implementation group, which will have a real focus on care and wellbeing. Those areas are a huge part of our strategy. Since the beginning of the process, we have been speaking about the importance of social prescribing, which will no doubt be pivotal to the success of the project.