As ever, I am enthusiastic to congratulate all public sector workers, including those at NHS Highland.
Although Mr Mountain told us that the issue is about people and not politics, the last part of his motion says:
“the Scottish Government should match the commitment of … NHS employees”.
That, to be quite frank, is gratuitous. It is not gratuitous in its own right, but it is gratuitous in that it comes on the back of what I thought was an ill-judged intervention on the issue, when he called for the cabinet secretary’s resignation. That lacked proportionality. It is the nuclear option, and it is indicative of a political mindset, to which I will return.
As a Highlands and Islands MSP, my obligation is clear: I must understand the issues. I am sighted on the NHS Highland paper of 26 September, in which it is quite evident that there is no denial of the scale of the problem. Indeed, the chief executive’s report says that radiology services are currently under “unprecedented” pressure as a result of the shortage of radiologists, and that that is compounded by increasing demands on the service.
We know that several groups of clinicians have expressed concern. I am sighted, too, on the letter that NHS Highland sent to them. One of the calls that the clinicians made was for improved terms and conditions. It has been suggested that there be further dialogue with the Scottish Government; it is clear that that would be a way of helping, so I encourage the cabinet secretary to participate enthusiastically in that. I appreciate that there are shortages all over the place, but there are particular challenges in the Highlands. I am also sighted on NHS Highland’s action plan.
We need to look at everyone’s roles and responsibilities. The Scottish Government has a clear role in ensuring that adequate funding is provided, and I welcome the £3 million that is to be provided. I look forward to Mr Mountain and his colleagues contributing to the debate on taxation, because we need adequate funding. Without that, it will be impossible to fulfil the Tories’ wish list. I have no doubt that what they are asking for today will be the first of many asks from them. We need to understand the funding requirements.
NHS Highland has a requirement to ensure delivery of safe services. That will require a workload assessment, workforce planning and safe staffing levels.
Whether we are in government or in opposition, MSPs have an obligation to articulate constituents’ concerns and to hold to account bodies such as NHS Highland. I have done that in relation to consultations on hospital builds, general practitioner services, nurse practitioners, drug services, waiting times and care at home. The cabinet secretary has received quite a number of representations from me.
There is also the issue of how we conduct ourselves. To represent our constituents and hold bodies to account, we must understand the issues, read the briefings from NHS Highland and attend the briefings that it provides, because there are a number of complex issues involved. That will lead to the potential for some informed comment to be made, instead of the rabble rousing and cheap headlines that we have had.
At this point, I want to talk about the shocking abuse that my colleague Gail Ross has had in relation to health issues in the Highlands. She is not a member of my party, but I know that she works tirelessly on behalf of her constituents and does not deserve the abuse that she has had from the community. In that regard, I must say that I expect a minister of religion to mediate the mob rather than to aggravate or motivate the mob. People need to pay attention to how they respond to their elected representatives and the work that they do.
In the short time that I have left, I turn to Brexit. It will fuel not just the problem of recruitment, but the problem of retention of staff. We already know that there are some people who have had enough and are heading off, which is not a good state of affairs.
I commend the work that is being done to address the problem. We do not need to recount the past; we must deal with the current situation. I urge the Scottish Government to do its very best to put in place a plan that addresses the issue of radiologists not just in the Highlands but elsewhere, and I urge my colleagues not to talk down the Highlands, but to promote it as a place to come to live and work. I say to Mr Mountain that that would be a proper manifestation of people, not politics.