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Coronavirus Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 24th March 2020.

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Photo of Joan McAlpine Joan McAlpine Scottish National Party

To anyone who has any doubts that the bill is necessary, I would just say one word: Italy. Italy has an excellent health service—not unlike our NHS—and, at the latest tally, the country reported a total of 6,078 deaths from 63,928 infections. However, the headline figures do not tell the whole story.

The people who die in Italy die alone, among strangers, without the comfort of their loving families, as they will do here if our NHS is overwhelmed. For some people, dying alone is a prospect more frightening than death itself, but that is the inevitable consequence of our not taking action. We must stay at home and those who do not should be compelled to do so.

The bill is extensive and I cannot address each part of it, so I will quickly touch on three areas. I commend the measures to enable the registration of doctors and other health professionals. I draw attention to the British Medical Association’s briefing on that part of the bill. The BMA wrote to 15,000 doctors to let them know that it expects the Government to use its powers to ask the BMA to temporarily register them, and 1,500 of those doctors have a registered address in Scotland.

We need to look at that in the context of Italy, where 14 doctors have already died and 3,700 doctors and nurses have already been infected while on duty. I want to say one thing to the doctors and nurses who are going to register again and to those who are already in our NHS: thank you so much. The cabinet secretary said that we will not necessarily use all the powers that the bill enables, but ministers need to use the powers that protect those workers and the Parliament must support them.

I want to touch on the powers related to food security, which I think focus on the sharing of information. I welcome that but, as I said in my earlier question to the First Minister, there is a real concern about getting food to elderly and vulnerable people, particularly through home deliveries. If we need to use powers to enable ministers to intervene in that area—if indeed such powers are in the bill—I would support their use, as would other members, judging from their comments, to ensure that the food goes to the people who need it.

One aspect of the bill that concerns me and other members who have mentioned the issue relates to the care of the most vulnerable. Clauses 15 and 16 of the bill as introduced are intended to increase flexibility for social care decision making during the period in which the provision is in force by allowing local authorities not to comply with particular assessment duties where complying would not be practical. The briefing from Inclusion Scotland, which represents people with disabilities, warns that, in reality, the removal of those duties may result in many disabled people receiving social care support that is inadequate to meet their needs; receiving care that is inappropriate or in inappropriate settings; or maybe even receiving no social care at all. We are already hearing anecdotal evidence about the knock-on effects of the current crisis on social care packages. I implore ministers to keep a close eye on those and on other unintended consequences that could affect the most vulnerable.

There are human rights implications, but the European convention on human rights allows exceptions when those are proportionate. I am pleased that the amendment proposing that the legislation should be revised in six months went through. I do not underestimate the profound implications for our human rights, but the bill is necessary at a time of national emergency, and this is such a time. Bruce Crawford compared the current situation to a time of war, and I agree with that. The bill is designed to protect our front-line troops in that war, which is why I support it.