We are taking a number of actions but, for the sake of brevity, I will list only two or three.
The first is the setting up of the independent expert reference group on Covid-19 and ethnicity, which brings together experts, representative groups and academics in that field to look at the data and evidence on the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on those from minority ethnic communities. The group has already made recommendations that we are featuring in our board mobilisation plans, and we have asked that it is specifically ensured that those plans consider how we proceed with health inequalities.
We have also provided additional support to protect some of our most vulnerable people, with over £2 million to ensure additional help and support for those at risk as a result of drug and alcohol use, and over £1.5 million to third sector organisations to provide emergency hotel accommodation and support for people who are experiencing, or are at risk of experiencing, homelessness during the pandemic.
Further actions will be planned by the Scottish Government in response to what we have learned from the equality and fairer Scotland impact assessments that have already been carried out in the development and implementation of our route map measures. As I mentioned earlier, the board mobilisation plans that are currently being looked at and assessed will be part of the discussion at the recovery group, which, as James Kelly knows, I chair.
Yesterday’s report from Public Health Scotland highlighted the fact that high excess deaths over lockdown could result from the health service not being used by those who most need it. Given the high rate of deaths in the poorest communities, is the cabinet secretary concerned that a slow reopening of the health service will further escalate health inequalities?
James Kelly raises an important point about how well we can improve the access to healthcare facilities, health screening programmes, and primary and community-based care for those who are most in need of that access and care.
The reopening of our national health service services and the pace at which we are safely able to do that are not the dominant factor; the dominant factors are how well we can roll out community link workers, how much we can learn from the evidence and the impact of deep-end practices, for example, and
how we can ensure that our focus in remobilising our NHS is very much on primary, community and social care, and not exclusively on hospital-based care. That is part of the commission that each of our health boards was set by me. That work is under way. It includes a subgroup of the mobilisation recovery group, which is looking at primary and community healthcare in particular.