– in the Scottish Parliament on 8th March 2023.
6. To ask the Scottish Government how its Covid recovery strategy is supporting third sector organisations in rural and island communities, such as Argyll and Bute, to improve health support, including for people with long Covid. (S6O-01969)
The third sector is supported across each local authority area through third sector interfaces, which offer to meet a variety of development needs and which provide a voice into local decision-making structures, including health and social care partnerships and integration joint boards.
Increasingly, third sector interfaces are involved in brokering new services across boundaries and managing funds for local partners. For example, in Argyll and Bute, more than 200 health and social care related services are being delivered by the third sector, with support from third sector interfaces.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, we saw innovative community-led activity to support community resilience. That worked particularly well in Argyll and Bute’s rural and island communities, where people have a strong sense of community spirit and social capital. For example, they know their neighbours and who might be vulnerable or at risk. The community planning structures provided a framework for mobilising that support, but much learning can be gained from putting power into local communities. How can the role and power of communities be strengthened for future community resilience?
One of the most important points is that we need to lose none of the ways of working that were prevalent in our communities—particularly rural and island communities—and that were highlighted by Jenni Minto. I think that those services and approaches should be enabled by the work of community planning partnerships.
One of the priorities of the Covid recovery programme board has been to work with the community planning infrastructure around Scotland, which exists in every local authority area, to bring together organisations, and, through the third sector interface, to ensure that the availability of third sector activity to enhance that provision is understood and articulated.
I assure Jenni Minto that that work has a high priority in Government, as we want to ensure that the vital work of community organisations plays a significant role as we take steps to recover from Covid.
We have a number of supplementary questions. I ask that they be as brief as possible.
I hope that you will indulge me for a second, Deputy Presiding Officer, as I understand that this might be the last Covid recovery question time at which I will be shadowing the Deputy First Minister. I would like to recognise all the effort that he has put into his role as cabinet secretary for Covid recovery over the past number of years, and our mostly cordial exchanges in the chamber and in committee, which, I am sure, will continue when he is on the back benches.
The Covid Recovery Committee has heard from long Covid sufferers, including some from rural and island communities, who have made it clear that their number 1 ask is for the introduction of long Covid clinics in Scotland, to reflect what happens elsewhere in the United Kingdom. In his last few weeks in the role, will the Deputy First Minister consider whether those can be introduced?
I am grateful to Murdo Fraser for those kind remarks, and I look forward to deploying whatever contribution I can make from the back benches. I look forward to questioning Government ministers on the way in which they carry out their responsibilities and to ensuring, for the benefit of Dr Gulhane and Mr Kerr, that there is proper accountability in Parliament—I will ensure that, single-handedly, from my parliamentary perspective.
I recognise the substance of the issue of long Covid and long Covid clinics that Mr Fraser raises. Those issues are being examined to determine whether the establishment of long Covid clinics is the appropriate way forward. However, what is absolutely essential is that anyone who is experiencing long Covid should, through their interaction with the general practitioner system in Scotland, be able to access healthcare services that will meet their needs. Of course, their needs will vary depending on how long Covid has affected them. However, in all circumstances, they should be able to access the appropriate level of care and support. I assure Mr Fraser that I will use my remaining period in office to ensure that that is the case.
I can confirm that Mr Ewing has a seat safely secured for you up at the back, Mr Swinney.
Long Covid Scotland tells us that one in five Covid sufferers have been forced to go private for tests and investigations because there is a lack of access to services on the national health service. We now know that there are 175,000 people living with long Covid—that is three times more than was the case when the Government announced £3 million for specific services for that. Will the Scottish Government increase the funding? That is what is necessary to support those with long Covid.
If you will indulge me for a second, Presiding Officer, I want to make it clear that I will make my own choices about where I sit in this chamber in the foreseeable future. [
.] I will certainly sit nowhere near Jackie Baillie, I can tell you that. [
.] I am nothing but candid to Parliament—it is all part of my belief in parliamentary scrutiny and accountability, which I have championed all my days.
Jackie Baillie asks me to increase the funding. I wonder whether she was paying attention to the budget, because the budget increased the funding for the NHS by £1 billion, and that would not have happened if I had not taken the tough decision to increase tax—[
As always—this is a bit of parliamentary feedback—we again have a running commentary from Jackie Baillie, who speaks throughout the answers that Government ministers are giving carefully—
She is doing it again as I continue to give my answer, and we will continue with this farrago of nonsense for as long as it takes Jackie Baillie to stop talking while I am answering her question, so I may be here a long time—
Longer than I anticipated being here, Presiding Officer.
The key point that I make to Jackie Baillie is that the funding for the NHS has been increased, and that can be deployed to meet the needs of individuals in our society, which is what it is intended to do.
I have met several constituents who are living with long Covid, some of them known as first wavers, and they told me that they felt that the support was not there when they needed it. That impacts on family life, too, with breadwinners being unable to work and children coping with the enormous change in their lives as a consequence of having a parent with long Covid. What more can be done to support people living with long Covid and those in their households?
The key point is to ensure that those who are suffering from long Covid obtain the clinical interventions that they require. As I said in answer to Mr Fraser, that will vary from individual to individual. That is why the increase in funding for the national health service is important, because it enables the health service to better meet the needs of individuals and their clinical issues.
In relation to the family context that Beatrice Wishart raised, which is very important, there will be a wide range of services available in the community. I am very familiar with some of the carer support services in Shetland, which I have always admired over the years. They are very good, community-based services that will be available to support families in those circumstances. A mix of clinical and non-clinical interventions will be involved, but, crucially, we must make sure that those focus on the needs of individuals and families, which are right at the heart of the Covid recovery strategy.