Coronavirus

– in the Scottish Parliament on 5th March 2020.

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Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

2. I remind members of my entry in the register of members’ interests, and in particular my membership of the GMB trade union.

The first thoughts of us all are with those patients who have been diagnosed with coronavirus Covid-19. As infection outbreaks know no boundaries, the importance of a single-island United Kingdom-wide approach is paramount. We welcome the unified and cohesive response to date. We also welcome the cross-party approach that the First Minister and her Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport have taken. It is clear that we must all follow the advice of the experts, such as World Health Organization scientists, front-line health professionals and the chief medical officer.

How quickly can people expect to be tested? What steps are being taken to train and equip staff who will be involved in community testing?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

People can expect to be tested very quickly if they contact the national health service and if they fit the case definition, which has changed and undoubtedly will continue to change, in terms of travel history, contact with those who have travelled to certain countries and the symptoms that people are experiencing. Such people will be tested quickly and given all the appropriate advice. That is the process that has led to the confirmation of the six cases that we have now. In Scotland, the tests have been carried out in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Plans are afoot to have another testing facility in Tayside—I may have said earlier to Jackson Carlaw that it was Grampian; if I did so, I apologise. Those plans will continue to be progressed.

We will continue to ensure that staff have the right support and training for anything that they are asked to carry out. The testing capacity is adequate at present but, as with all aspects of our planning, that is kept under on-going review.

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

The coronavirus action plan that has been agreed to by the four Governments in the United Kingdom includes the commitment

“to support early discharge from hospital” if transmission becomes established among the population. We know from the Government’s figures that were released two days ago that the delayed discharge of patients from Scotland’s hospitals has reached record levels. In the past 24 hours, I have spoken to council leaders who are concerned that our social care system may not have the necessary resources to enable patients to be discharged on time. Can the First Minister outline how the Government plans to alleviate those concerns and ensure that, if required, the action plan can be implemented in full?

The First Minister:

Reducing delayed discharge is a focus for the Government regardless of coronavirus, but particularly so given the challenge that we face with coronavirus. Reflecting that, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, Jeane Freeman, met the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities yesterday to discuss the issue and will meet the chief officers of integration authorities later today.

Obviously, we have the budget this afternoon. I do not want to get into political territory here, but the budget includes increased resources for local authorities and social care. That is important. It may be that, through discussions with the UK Government, we will require to further increase national health service and social care resources as a result of the challenge that we face. There is an intensive focus on ensuring that we can discharge people appropriately. That is important at any time, but at a time when we face the need for greater hospital capacity for those who need it most, it is a particular focus. The health secretary, as with all aspects of our planning, will keep Parliament fully updated.

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

We heard again this week that a business case is being made to the Scottish ministers to close half of our NHS laundries. Only four would be left to serve the whole of mainland Scotland. Trade unions have raised concerns about that and the GMB wrote to the First Minister this week asking for a moratorium on cleaning cuts across councils. It also called for any additional demands—and so additional costs—on local councils to be met by the Scottish Government. Will the First Minister give an undertaking that the necessary funding and resources will be available to councils and the NHS? Will she place a moratorium on plans to close down four of Scotland’s mainland NHS laundries, so that we can reduce risks, manage this emergency, keep staff safe and protect the health of the people of Scotland?

The First Minister:

I will take those issues in turn. Richard Leonard referred to a letter that I received from the GMB. I can confirm that it did indeed write to me about council cleaning services. Again, I point to the increased resources for local government in the budget that I hope Parliament will pass this afternoon. We have provided advice on cleaning educational settings through the Covid-19 guidance that has been produced by Health Protection Scotland. That remains extremely important. We will of course include COSLA in our on-going resilience planning to make sure that it is engaged with the actions that we take.

The laundry programme board has sought to develop a new action plan to ensure that its services are safe and sustainable. No proposals relating to that have come to ministers to consider. We have been waiting for NHS chief executives to review the business case. Of course, the final decision will be taken by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport. I think that she has already said—if not, I will say it—that the current and emerging situation with coronavirus will very much be a factor in deciding the best way forward. The Scottish Government will not approve any plans that we think will in any way put at risk the steps that we have to take to deal with the situation.

I have made points about the budget that we will pass for the next financial year but, on the question of resources, when that draft budget was put together, we did not have all the information about coronavirus that we have now. It is almost inescapably the case that we will be required to provide additional resources to health and social care and perhaps to other parts of our public services and indeed businesses and individuals who are dealing with this challenge. Clearly, the Scottish Government budget is fully committed and we will require to have discussions with the UK Government ahead of, and no doubt after, the UK budget next week to make sure that those decisions are taken in an appropriate way. As with all aspects of the situation, we will keep Parliament duly updated.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

We have some supplementary constituency questions.