December began with many of us learning a new Greek word – Omicron – and dire warnings of an approaching tsunami of Covid cases as the Scottish Government tightened restrictions on our daily lives and businesses. By the end of January, under pressure from the Scottish Conservatives, the government removed many of its measures – allowing nightclubs to function and lifting limits on attendance at large-scale events. Yes, we had large case numbers. But We continue the push to progressively remove all unnecessary restrictions as we learn to live with the virus.
What’s clear is the vital importance of having credible, relevant data on which to base decisions. Before and after the Christmas and New Year recess, I’ve raised this time and time again in Parliament and had to call out the government’s apparent selective use of data to fit with its regressive approach to managing transmission of the Omicron variant.
From pandemic response to healthcare and medicine at large, I’ve been highlighting in Parliament how data and artificial intelligence, AI, has been at the heart of the international COVID-19 response. Data is key to our amazing vaccine development programme and the trialling of new treatments.
Data Driven Innovations are also transforming how we do healthcare at large. For example, drones are delivering medical supplies to remote regions and new optometry technology will soon be trialled to support clinical decisions in primary care, reducing referrals to hospitals.
In December, I contributed to the COVID recovery debate in Parliament to make a case for Data Driven Innovation and how, if we harness for healthcare the world-class skills we already have in Scotland, we can build back smarter.
Since I entered Parliament last May, I’ve been determined to ensure the government tackles the growing problem of Long Covid. Over 100,000 Scots now suffer with this condition. The government has heeded my calls to commit funding to support Long Covid services, allocating £10 million, but we have yet to see fully developed plans and concerted action. I will continue to push for a robust, coordinated approach to tackle this debilitating condition.
Scotland also needs to do a lot more on mental health services. I spoke in Parliament on the fact that at a time of rising demand for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), mental health nursing vacancies have risen for the past 5 years and are currently at record levels with over 1,000 posts unfilled – an increase of 350 unfilled posts in the last year. The government’s own national standard states that 90% of people referred for psychological therapy should start treatment within 18 weeks. However, this standard has never been met. Workforce planning is abysmally poor. This is another area that I will continue to push the government on.
Yet another important health service that the Scottish Government has failed to support is NHS dentistry. Discussions are underway to agree on a new contract and I’ve been warning the government that the current arrangement is unsustainable as fees paid to dentists for NHS treatment simply do not pay the bills. More practices are moving to private patients only and poorer communities are at risk of losing NHS services altogether.
At a time when the Scottish Government made a £280 million real term cut to local council funding, campaigning for May’s Council Elections is stepping up a gear. In Glasgow, I’ve been liaising with Scottish Conservative councillors and candidates. Of the many key issues, refuse collection, the state of the roads and housing have received widespread attention. These are some of the basics that people expect councils to get right. Glasgow’s Conservatives have a plan – we need to ensure it’s understood, loud and clear.