I thank the committee for its excellent report. As we reach the end of the parliamentary session, it is timely that we debate what needs to happen next.
After 14 years of the Scottish National Party being in power, we have not seen the major changes in our NHS that Scottish Labour believes we need. Recruitment of staff, support for patients, greater focus on delivering in our communities and investment in preventative health are all vital. If we are to see a reduction in the pressures on our acute emergency services, the issues that are raised in the report need to be addressed urgently.
GP surgeries and primary care are fundamental to people’s access to our NHS, so it is vital that capacity is provided when communities such as Musselburgh expand. The challenges that are posed by the Riverside medical practice there make the case for community concerns being acted on early. More work is required in GP and community services in relation to recruitment and making services more accessible to people where and when they need them, as well as in ensuring that patients are supported by digital records and systems and by robust data collection.
The issue of ensuring that services are more patient focused comes across strongly in the committee’s report, through the consultation feedback that it received. Preventative healthcare, which is critical in terms of access to services and reducing health inequalities, has to be part of that agenda.
During the pandemic, the British Lung Foundation has raised the issue of people with asthma and respiratory conditions. It is shocking that people from low-income households are less likely to have good health outcomes in managing their conditions—[
.]—poorer health and shorter lives as a result of poverty comes across starkly in the evidence on health inequalities that is referred to in the report.
We must ensure that, as we come out of the pandemic, people who have Covid, especially long Covid, get the support that they need in their local communities. We need to think more about community health agendas. The report is strong on that.
Addressing mental health pressures for all age groups and supporting people’s learning disabilities and families who have experienced isolation will be critical issues for our health and social care partnerships in ensuring that we have the support that we need in our communities as people recover from Covid.
Over the past few weeks, constituents have been in touch with me about access to cancer testing and to call for increased awareness in our communities. For example, concerns about pancreatic cancer awareness and access to cervical tests and links to ovarian cancer for women have been raised. Early detection is critical, followed by treatment where it is needed, for all types of cancer. The more aware people are of symptoms to look out for and the better the information that they get, the better placed they will be to seek help and achieve better health outcomes.
I also want to thank the Royal National Institute of Blind People Scotland and Sight Scotland for their briefings about the importance of ensuring access to more work on preventing sight loss. That issue came up strongly in discussions that we had following the debate on the eye pavilion a few weeks ago. RNIB Scotland suggests a public awareness campaign to raise awareness of what people can do to support their eye health, and to encourage people to get their eyes tested. That relates to an issue in the report about the range of services that need to be available in local communities. We need a joined-up approach.
Investing in preventative health and in supporting people’s access to a range of local health services and community prescribing is critical. If that is done strategically alongside measures to reduce pressures on families, address poor health and give people the opportunity to eat healthily and have access to decent exercise opportunities, those things should lead to better life chances and reduce the likelihood of, for example, obesity-related diseases.
Investing in preventative health will take pressure off our hospitals if it is followed through, but that does not mean that we will not need hospitals that are accessible centres of excellence. Let me take the opportunity to say that if we are to deliver good-quality sight-loss services and preventative treatment, we also need investment in the new eye pavilion for Edinburgh.
I hope that the Scottish Government will listen to the cross-party calls and the calls from clinicians and our constituents for a reversal of its decision and that it will act on them.