Liam McArthur MSP

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Meeting of the Parliament 05 March 2015 : Thursday, March 05, 2015
Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

The First Minister will be aware that there are particular problems with recruitment of general practitioners in rural and island areas. Will she advise members what assessment has been done of whether there is greater reliance on NHS 24 in those communities? Will she undertake an assessment of the potential impact of staff shortages in NHS 24 on rural and island communities?



Meeting of the Parliament 04 March 2015 : Wednesday, March 04, 2015
Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I, too, thank my good friend Linda Fabiani for securing the debate and, importantly, for bringing it to my attention that somewhere on the internet there might be a picture of the minister dressed as a daffodil. I will certainly be away to look at YouTube later on.

The timing of the debate is opportune. It allows us to acknowledge the phenomenal fundraising effort that goes into the daffodil appeal, which is central to allowing Marie Curie to do what it does on behalf of terminally ill people and their families. The briefing from Marie Curie suggests that in 2014 the money that was raised in Scotland funded more than 30,000 hours of nursing care and emotional support.

It has been said already, but I record my personal thanks to Marie Curie, its staff and volunteers, many of whom are in the gallery. They all wandered in just as I was preparing to deliver my closing speech in the debate on mental health, so for a moment I thought that I might be more of a crowd puller than I am generally given credit for. The work that they do nationally, regionally and locally really deserves credit and our gratitude.

Colleagues will be aware of my support for the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill. It came up in the debate on mental health and it is worth putting on record again the fact that I have always made it clear that I do not see any contradiction between my support for that bill and my absolute commitment to ensuring that we invest properly and progressively in palliative care. It is not an either/or situation.

I am conscious that in debates such as this members can cover a lot of the same ground, so I will hastily retreat to my constituency and describe what is happening in Orkney, where Marie Curie is a relatively recent arrival. The challenges that the charity faces are significant. There is an ageing population—that is the case everywhere else, but it is particularly so in the islands. There are also the complex illnesses and the complexity of delivering such services across a dispersed island population. The charity is also dealing with the challenge of perception, which it faces everywhere. There still is a bit of a lag effect in understanding that its work goes beyond simply treating people who are affected by cancer.

I am delighted to see Dr Andy Trevett and the Stromness practice taking a lead in delivering services, alongside their colleagues in the Dounby practice, through the west mainland of Orkney. The patient numbers are relatively small, but the impact has already been significant. The feedback to date from patients and their families has been hugely positive.

The support from the wider community—reflecting what we see nationally—has been unbelievable. Last year, £21,000 was raised in Orkney, which represents more than £1 for every man, woman and child in the constituency. I would like to acknowledge major contributors including Giffy Leslie and the West End hotel, through a production of “Sound of Music” and a vintage car rally, but there are many contributors, so it is perhaps invidious to draw out just those two examples.

I thank Barbara Todd for her efforts. I had a missed call earlier, during the afternoon debates, which suggests that she might not have been able to make it down from Orkney, which would be a real shame. Her efforts in supporting the group of volunteers and making the case for rolling out Marie Curie services in Orkney have been truly phenomenal. Discussions are on-going with NHS Orkney about a possible roll-out. I know that it is not straightforward and that the board will wish to be reassured about the impact on other services. However, the work that has already been done demonstrates the value of the service, so I hope that progress can be made on that.

I congratulate Linda Fabiani once again and offer my thanks and gratitude to all the Marie Curie nurses and staff, and, of course, the volunteers, whom I look forward to meeting later this evening at the reception. I thank them for the truly wonderful work that they do, which allows people to die with dignity and in the place of their choice.

17:57  

Meeting of the Parliament 04 March 2015 : Wednesday, March 04, 2015
Liam McArthur

I am afraid that I will struggle to give way. I am sorry.

As my colleague Jim Hume highlighted in opening the debate, only half of health boards are meeting the new 18-week target for treatment, and five are failing to meet the old 26-week target. Meanwhile, the availability of educational psychologists is below what is needed and, again, adult psychological services are falling short of the targets that have been set.

In practice, that means that interventions for those who need help—that might involve putting in place support, identifying coping strategies or whatever—are delayed, potentially with serious consequences. As SAMH warns,

“the later individuals engage with health services, the more complex their treatment and recovery will be”.

Let me be clear: this is not a criticism of the people who are on the front line in our healthcare and third sectors. Without the contribution that they make, which invariably goes above and beyond anything that we have a right to expect—as Jim Hume and the minister emphasised—the situation for people who have poor mental health would be profoundly worse. That is why the Scottish Liberal Democrats prioritised mental health in our recent budget negotiations with ministers and why in 2013 we called for additional support to boost underresourced psychological therapies.

It is little wonder that pressures exist, given the number of people who are affected. The range of conditions may be wide, and some people move in and out of ill health, but it is not a niche. As Nanette Milne pointed out, the latest social attitudes survey confirms that one person in 4 has personal experience of mental ill health in their life.

The impact, though, stretches far wider. In this and previous debates, members have spoken passionately from direct personal experience, either of themselves, a family member or a close friend. I can think of few other debates in this chamber in which similar insight and empathy have been brought to bear. That impact is one—although only one—of the reasons why we must elevate the importance that we attach to tackling poor mental health and encouraging good mental health. Scottish Liberal Democrats firmly believe it is now time for Scotland to follow the lead that has been taken south of the border, and to legislate to afford equal treatment to mental and physical health. Progress has been made here and measures are in place to go further, but they fall short of putting mental health on an equal footing with physical health, which matters. As the head of the Orkney Blide Trust, Frazer Campbell, explained to me recently:

“too often mental health services are way down the list in terms of budget allocation and other resources (for example, hospital space and room design etc).”

That is why Frazer wants to see equality in service provision.

In passing, I briefly record my gratitude to those who helped raise about £12,500 for the Blide Trust at the “Strictly Come Dancing” show last Friday night—particularly the dozen souls who risked life, limb and reputation on the dance floor. As well as raising money, I hope that the event brought the work of the Blide Trust, and the needs of people in Orkney who suffer poor mental health, to a wider audience. The issues of stigma and a reluctance to seek help are known to be more prevalent in smaller communities, especially rural ones.

Whatever other steps we take, I agree with Rod Campbell that we in this country need to be more open and honest about mental health. However, if mental health is something that people find hard to talk about openly, it is as nothing compared to the taboo surrounding suicide. Obviously not everyone with a mental health issue considers taking their own life, but the numbers who do and who succeed remain high, despite a reducing trend in recent years. In 2013, 795 people died by suicide in Scotland. Male suicides run at three times the rate for females, and according to the Samaritans suicide is now the leading cause of death of under-35s in Scotland. That last statistic is truly shocking. That people who have most of their life ahead of them and who have so much still to experience and to contribute conclude that they cannot bear to continue living is truly appalling and demands recognition of depression for what it really is.

When I spoke in the last debate on mental health, I talked about Andy Harrison, who was a friend, work colleague and flatmate from my days working in Westminster. Andy took his own life four years ago after a long battle with depression. To this day, I find it hard to accept or understand such a tragic loss of talent, vitality and decency. Andy’s wicked sense of humour and generosity of spirit, which made him such a privilege to know, masked a deep-rooted despair that ultimately killed him.

Since then, I have learned of others who have found themselves wrestling with many of the same demons as Andy. In my Orkney constituency, there has been a spate of suicides over the past six months or so. Although apparently those deaths are not out of keeping with statistical averages, nevertheless in a community of the size and character of Orkney they have touched people profoundly. I learned recently that someone whom I was at school with took their own life last year—I can still remember the shock at being told.

Even though we know that each suicide involves an individual, with their own personality and their own circumstances, and that their suicide represents that person’s own tragedy, we are guilty of seeing the statistic rather than the person. In truth, very often, even those who are closest to them do not realise the full extent of the risk until it is too late. Again, that is why we must create the conditions whereby issues of mental health, including depression, can be talked about without fear of stigma and judgment.

I firmly believe that one way of helping to achieve that is through setting an ambition of zero suicides. To John Mason I say that that is not the same as setting a target, nor is it inconsistent with the objectives underlying the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill. It is about setting an aspiration and changing the mindset about how people with mental health issues are cared for. Evidence from elsewhere shows that it can have dramatic and positive effects. Mersey Care NHS Trust, in Liverpool, has a programme involving improved training for staff who work with parents, patients and families to develop a personalised safety plan. It also has a dedicated safe from suicide team that provides advice, support and monitoring, and works closely with partners including the Samaritans. In Detroit, which is signed up to such a commitment, the area that is covered by the programme has reported no suicides in more than two years.

Again, this is not a criticism of existing schemes, such as choose life, but a plea to go further—to aspire to something even more ambitious. If we fall short in that ambition, let us at least get closer than we currently are.

As I said in closing the debate last year, this is an issue that needs to be discussed openly, taken seriously and addressed effectively. It is not a second-class condition, and ultimately there is no good health without good mental health. One year on, it is truer now than ever. I urge colleagues across the chamber to support the motion.



Meeting of the Parliament 04 March 2015 : Wednesday, March 04, 2015
Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

It is 12 months since the Scottish Liberal Democrats last used our debating time to focus on mental health. I am proud of that consistency and of the commitment across Parliament to keep mental health towards the top of the political agenda. As expected, the debate has been constructive. I thank all those who have participated and empathise with those who did not have the time to fully develop their arguments.

Although I do not support the Government’s amendment, I welcome the tone that the minister adopted in his opening remarks and acknowledge the progress that has been made. The mental health strategy is good and I welcome the HEAT targets for treatment of people who suffer mental ill health. The fact remains, however, that, as a number of members have pointed out, progress on meeting those has been patchy and in some cases we appear to be moving in the wrong direction. The effect of that, particularly in relation to child and adolescent mental health services, is a genuine concern, as Dr Simpson and Malcolm Chisholm pointed out.



Meeting of the Parliament 25 February 2015 : Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Liam McArthur

I am grateful to the minister for taking a constructive approach in relation to the learned societies. However, one of the key points is the lack of data. Although there are concerns about the survey that the learned societies undertook, does the Government acknowledge that there is a need to develop the data so that we have a better understanding of exactly what the need is and where it is?



Meeting of the Parliament 25 February 2015 : Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Liam McArthur

Will the member give way on that point?



Meeting of the Parliament 25 February 2015 : Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I, too, welcome this debate. As Stewart Maxwell rightly pointed out, the issue has occupied the time of the Education and Culture Committee recently, and I acknowledge Liz Smith’s track record on it—and indeed Iain Gray’s. In fact, I was reminded of a comment that Iain Gray made in the attainment debate last week when he accused us of “violently agreeing”. I think that we are at risk of doing something similar this afternoon.

I am certainly not going to accuse the Government of doing nothing, but I will focus on areas where we probably need to do more and to do better, in the light of the figures that Liz Smith cited and the evidence that various academic bodies have produced in recent times.

I start with the learned societies group report, which was published around the time of the science in the Parliament event last year. It raised serious concerns about spending on science in primary and secondary schools, an insufficiency of teaching expertise and an absence of data. It was not just a whinge. It made some reasonable and fairly achievable recommendations alongside those points.

The Government’s response to the report was in some senses rather disappointing. Rather than engaging with the issues, it sought to discredit the evidence by talking about small sample sizes when it could have undertaken to amplify the survey and get the data, provide the evidence and collect it on a regional basis in a whole host of areas, not least the qualifications of teachers. It could have committed to ensuring that, by 2020, every teacher has access to a science subject leader, and it could have looked again at training and CPD opportunities to improve skill levels. All the learned societies group’s recommendations were reasonable asks.

On vocational education—the focus of an amendment that I tabled and something that is picked up on in Iain Gray’s amendment—the Wood commission made a series of sensible recommendations. The delivery of industry-recognised qualifications alongside academic qualifications during the senior phase was seen as critically important, and that is a point that Malcolm Chisholm made in referring to the college sector. Sir Ian Wood emphasised the need not just to widen availability but to improve the quality of what is provided, and he concluded that STEM must be at the heart of the development of our young workforce.

I turn finally to the area of women in STEM, which is referred to in the Tory motion and which plays a prominent part in the NUS briefing for this afternoon’s debate. The “Tapping all our Talents” report, produced in June 2012, set out a stark reminder of the challenge that we face. The Royal Society of Edinburgh has pointed out that the number of female STEM graduates and postgraduates has increased, but that the numbers who proceed to take up senior positions in universities, research, business and industry remain proportionately much smaller than in the case of their male counterparts. The minister acknowledged that in his opening remarks, and I welcome that.

The RSE talks about wasted investment and the representation of a serious loss of potential for Scotland. It is calculated that around £2 billion could be wasted in the UK economy as a whole. That is not a new challenge, but it demands a response from the public, private and third sectors.

One of the recommendations in the “Tapping all our Talents” report relates to the Athena SWAN charter, supported by the scientific women’s academic network. The report recommends:

“The Scottish Government, through the Scottish Funding Council, should: expect its universities to develop a strategy within a two-year period to bring all their STEM departments up to the Athena SWAN Silver award, or equivalent, level; monitor their progress in achieving this ... and ensure that there is adequate funding for the programme to be developed.”

The then Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, welcomed the recommendations at the time. Almost three years on, it would be interesting to know from the minister what progress has been made in that regard.

Sir John Arbuthnott says:

“To be a smart economy, we need strength in STEM areas.”

That is why the issue matters and why we are violently agreed on our shared ambition, but it is also why the shortcomings identified by various academic and learned bodies must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

16:33  

Education and Culture Committee 24 February 2015 : Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Liam McArthur

I take my reprimand in the spirit in which it is intended.



Education and Culture Committee 24 February 2015 : Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Liam McArthur

As the MSP for Orkney, I welcome that explicit expression of regional diversity. On ministerial responsibility, one idea from the previous panel was to give responsibility to the minister who has responsibility for languages, including the Gaelic language. Would BSL comfortably sit in that remit or does it need to be more explicitly drawn out?



Education and Culture Committee 24 February 2015 : Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Liam McArthur

The witnesses will have heard the questions to the previous panels, so my questions will probably not come as a huge surprise. I will ask about having a minister with specific responsibility for BSL. You will be aware that the Scottish Government has expressed reservations about that and has said that it sees the issue more as one of collective responsibility, although it would sit within a portfolio and would therefore fall to a particular minister to drive forward. Do you have any firm views either way? If there should be a minister with responsibility, what should that minister’s duties be?

On the idea of a national advisory group that is made up of ministers, local authorities and other service providers as well as service users, the firm view in the BSL community is that service users should be the majority on that group. What are your views on the desirability of such a group and its make-up?

Vote DetailMSP VoteResult

S4M-12521.2 Jackie Baillie: Protecting Public Services and Boosting Scotland’s Economy—As an amendme
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NoDefeated

S4M-12521.1 Gavin Brown: Protecting Public Services and Boosting Scotland’s Economy—As an amendment
>> Show more
YesDefeated

S4M-12521.3 Willie Rennie: Protecting Public Services and Boosting Scotland’s Economy—As an amendmen
>> Show more
YesDefeated

S4M-12521 John Swinney: Protecting Public Services and Boosting Scotland’s Economy—That the Parliame
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-12495 Joe FitzPatrick on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau: Business Motion—That the Parliament
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-12491.2 John Swinney: Privacy and the State—As an amendment to motion S4M-12491 in the name of W
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-12491.1 Richard Simpson: Privacy and the State—As an amendment to motion S4M-12491 in the name o
>> Show more
YesDefeated

S4M-12491 Willie Rennie: Privacy and the State—That the Parliament notes the Scottish Government’s c
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-12492.2 Jamie Hepburn: Mental Health—As an amendment to motion S4M-12492 in the name of Jim Hume
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-12492 Jim Hume: Mental Health—That the Parliament notes that one in four people will experience
>> Show more
NoCarried

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Motion S4M-12442: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 25/02/2015 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-12385.2: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 24/02/2015 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-12379: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 20/02/2015 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-12378: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 20/02/2015 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-12218: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 30/01/2015 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-12061: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 13/01/2015 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-12044: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 12/01/2015 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-12034.1: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 12/01/2015 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-12031: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 09/01/2015 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-12030: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 09/01/2015 Show Full Motion >>
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Question S4W-24609: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 23/02/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24406: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 09/02/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24407: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 09/02/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24408: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 09/02/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24410: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 09/02/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24409: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 09/02/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24351: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 05/02/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24300: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 03/02/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4F-02550: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 23/01/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03961: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 19/01/2015 Show Full Question >>

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