After last year’s interregnum, I join Bruce Crawford in welcoming back my friend Linda Fabiani to her rightful place in the body of the chamber, leading the annual members’ business debate on the great daffodil appeal in aid of Marie Curie. I mean no disrespect to her colleague Gordon MacDonald, who did sterling work last year, but it felt rather strange not having Linda Fabiani setting the scene and regaling us with her fundraising exploits—even if they appeared to accumulate rather than expend calories along the way.
I add my voice to the tributes that have already been paid to the outstanding and selfless work by Marie Curie nurses, staff and volunteers on behalf of people with a terminal illness and their families. They genuinely help to provide dignity in dying.
Although many people are able to access palliative care, that is not always the case. It must concern us all that around 11,000 people in Scotland who need palliative care struggle to access it. With annual death rates on the rise, the number of people who are unable to access the end-of-life care that they need will increase unless steps are taken to address the issue. Commendably, the Government’s action plan commits to ensuring that, by 2021, everyone who needs palliative care will get it. However, at this stage, that looks like a tall ask. It will require greater priority from health and social care partnerships as well as resourcing from the Government.
As we, hopefully, progress toward meeting that target, we also need to address the inequality of access and the difficulties that are faced by particular groups: those who are aged over 85, those who live alone, ethnic minority groups and those who are from deprived communities, as Rona Mackay suggested. We also need to address the large disparities between access for those who are affected by cancer and those with other terminal conditions, such as dementia, motor neurone disease and heart failure. All of those issues underscore the need for the revised action plan that Marie Curie has asked for.
As I have done in previous debates, I acknowledge the efforts of those who are responsible for delivering Marie Curie services in Orkney, in particular. Although the number inevitably remains relatively small, I was heartened to see that six people were supported over the past year—all of whom were able to die in their place of choice—and that numbers continue to rise. All of that helps to explain why additional Marie Curie nurses are being recruited, which I am delighted, although not surprised, to hear, given the feedback from those who have benefited from the service up to this point.
Meeting the need in future will require close collaboration by Marie Curie with general practitioners and other relevant local services—a genuine partnership between the public and third sectors. I know from speaking to Linda Lennie and Sara Duncan, who are two of Marie Curie's fabulous team of volunteers in Orkney and who are in the gallery this evening, that they are very keen to see such a partnership develop during the years ahead.
More broadly, across the community in Orkney there continues to be strong and growing support for the work that Marie Curie does locally. That continues to be reflected in the success of fundraising efforts by local volunteers such as Linda and Sara, but it also prompts a better understanding and awareness of what Marie Curie offers. That is very much welcomed.
I offer all the Marie Curie nurses, staff and volunteers, in Orkney and across the country, my heartfelt thanks for the exceptional work that they do in allowing people to die with dignity and in the place of their choice. My thanks also to Madame Daffodil herself, Linda Fabiani, for allowing this evening’s debate to take place, and for the chance for all of us to bump our gums in the interest of the best of causes.