Recovery from the pandemic is an urgent priority for the Government. The policies that we set out in May and delivered within 100 days were for bold, ambitious and transformative measures. I assure Mr Fairlie that we are only at the beginning of the Government’s programme and that there is much more that we can and will do to build a fairer and more sustainable country, as we continue to drive Scotland’s recovery from the pandemic. The 80 commitments that we delivered were co-ordinated and targeted policies for demonstrable and positive change for the people, families and communities who need it most, and for our economy, public services and environment.
In my constituency, the north Perth and city centre Covid-19 community support group was formed during the pandemic as an affiliation of community groups from across the area, including Letham4All, North Muirton community council, Tulloch Net, and many others. The group mobilised more than 180 volunteers to help with everything from food shopping to delivering prescriptions to, quite simply, being someone to talk to.
Does the Scottish Government have any plans for sustaining and utilising the skills and resources that such community groups offer?
I echo Mr Fairlie’s comments. I am familiar with a number of the organisations to which he referred—not least, North Muirton community council, which is in my constituency. Those organisations have provided critical services to members of the public in the city of Perth; I know that similar organisations have done the same thing in other parts of the country.
With our work with local government, we want to focus on a community-based approach to Covid recovery, and to sustain many of the good examples of community initiatives that arose during the pandemic and which can support individuals—in particular, people who are vulnerable or lonely—in our communities. That was what we envisaged when we passed the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 to enable much greater community participation and engagement, and it will be central to the Government’s response in supporting organisations to make a meaningful impact on their communities.
In communities across Scotland, many individuals are still waiting to make an appointment for a face-to-face meeting with their general practitioner. I know that the Scottish Government addressed that issue in its plan for national health service recovery, but will the cabinet secretary update us on what the target date might be for getting back to some degree of normality for those who want to meet their GP face to face?
It is important to note that the process of meeting the needs of individuals during the pandemic has required many public servants, including general practitioners, to work in different ways, and they have all risen to that challenge. Some of the new models of operation are ones that we do not want to lose once the pandemic is over. Accessing public services through video consultation, which many GPs have started to use, is a beneficial way of ensuring that the maximum number of people get treatment when they require it.
Face-to-face consultations of course have a significant role to play, and general practitioners around the country are working hard, as is envisaged in the NHS recovery plan, to maximise the amount of face-to-face consultation that is undertaken. However, I would not want that to happen at the expense of our continuing to use the advances in technology that have enabled us to deliver healthcare and other services during the pandemic.
The cabinet secretary will recognise that carers are a key section of our community. They are struggling, and many of them are still isolating as case numbers rise to record levels. In some cases, care packages were withdrawn at the start of the pandemic, respite care was stopped and carers were left to cope alone. When will all those services be restored? Where is the remobilisation plan for social care?
Those issues are covered in the NHS recovery plan and in the wider steps that we are taking to recover public services, which in many respects are being progressed by our local authority partners.
Partners are trying to re-establish services as safely and sustainably as possible. In a sense, Jackie Baillie answered part of her question in her own words, when she referred to the challenge of rising case numbers and the anxiety that that will cause individuals who have health vulnerabilities.
We are working in close partnership with a variety of organisations to make sure that we restore services to meet people’s needs, but restoration of services has to be commensurate with how safe it is to do so in the context of the pandemic. Of course, the First Minister will have more to say on that when she addresses Parliament this afternoon.
There is a major issue with care in the community. I do not know how the Government can prioritise people, but in Fife, for example, the number of people on waiting lists for a care package has spiralled out of control. Will the Government look at how it can intervene? Fife Health and Social Care Partnership says that it simply cannot recruit the carers that it needs to provide the care that is required. The current situation is storing up a major problem, as we move into winter.
Mr Rowley has put his finger on a very significant issue—the availability of personnel to undertake certain essential tasks in our society. Across a range of sectors—Mr Rowley has understandably highlighted the situation in the social care sector—we are all hearing that there are simply not enough people coming forward for recruitment in certain occupations. The reduction in the number of people available, which is a consequence of the removal of freedom of movement as a result of Brexit, is undoubtedly having an effect.
We are working with health and social care partnerships to maximise the opportunities for recruitment, and we will continue to discuss such issues with local authorities and health boards as we support the recovery of care services, which is essential to ensuring that we meet the needs of individuals in our society.