18 June 2003

S2M-154 National Health Service (Patient Focus and Public Involvement)

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-154, in the name of Malcolm Chisholm, on patient focus and public involvement in the national health service, and two amendments to the motion.
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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): When Jack McConnell was elected as the new First Minister of the Parliament, he said that he would support good ideas from wherever they came. It is in that spirit that we move our amendment today to require the majority of places on NHS boards to be filled by election. It is in that spirit that we support Bill Butler's bill and in an equally friendly spirit that we support Paul Martin's bill. We would also have no difficulty if, as Carolyn Leckie wishes, 100 per cent of board members were elected. In that spirit of consensus, let us move on.
Malcolm Chisholm said that our culture must be patient-focused, that we must listen to patients and respect their views, and that we must deliver the right care in the right place and at the right time. In the spirit of consensus, I can hardly argue against any of that. We welcome any measures to shorten the period before people get the treatment or the appointment that they require. However, the minister should consider what constitutes failure in the health service. At the moment, there are many failures; and I believe that the minister thinks that there are many failures. We are prepared to support him in fixing them. The failure of waiting times and waiting lists is undoubtedly the main one.
Another thing that concerns me is the apparent retreat from universality. For example, there is little mention in recent documents of dentistry or chiropody. We need national standards that are delivered locally. However, we must acknowledge that patients come in all shapes and sizes and that they are not an undifferentiated mass. For example, none of the Executive's recent documents mentions the needs of young patients in any way, shape or form. Young patients are perfectly capable of making informed decisions about their medical treatment.
As a spotty 12-year-old—
Members: No!
Stewart Stevenson: Indeed, I was a spotty 12-year-old who had the most appalling acne, which required the assistance of a consultant. Being on an experimental programme to sort my acne left me with a condition that is with me to this day. I was not consulted about the treatment and discovered information about the potential side effects only a number of years later. As a 12-year-old, I should have been involved in the decision on my treatment. I hope that we will find that young people today are involved in such decisions.
I thoroughly agree with Christine Grahame's suggestion that we should have an independent patient body. Indeed, while sitting here I came up with a name for such a body. In line with such titles as Oftel and Ofgem, it should be called Of-ill. On that note, I hope that Dr Jean Turner is returned to good health shortly. Her contribution to the debate has been sadly missed.
I turn to the Conservative's contribution to the debate and in particular to Mr Davidson's bizarre suggestion that only the qualified should be entitled to be elected to contribute to decision-making in the health service. I think that he will probably be on his own on that, even among the Tory benches, unless Mr Monteith tells me otherwise, which would be a welcome relief to any who are listening in the chamber.
Mr Davidson: Will the member take a brief intervention?
Stewart Stevenson: Come on, then. Let us have it.
Mr Davidson: If Mr Stevenson had actually been listening, he would know that I asked his party's spokesman to give us the full details of how people would be put up and how they would qualify. I asked whether it would just be assumed that they would have the knowledge to take over the running of the health service.
Stewart Stevenson: It is simple. I would be perfectly happy if people nominated themselves and then got elected because they gained the confidence of the electorate that they were the appropriate people to do the job. That is the basis of democracy in our society, but it is clear that that practice is alien to Conservative members.
To my surprise, Carolyn Leckie referred to amnesic shellfish poisoning. I am delighted that she is becoming engaged with that subject, which I confess has been an obsession of mine and some of my colleagues for some time. Domoic acid from affected shellfish affects the memory. Therefore, if I do not remember Carolyn Leckie referring to amnesic shellfish previously, I must have been eating shellfish. Like her, I would like more EU initiatives to be introduced.
Mr Duncan McNeil made an interesting and rather jokey point about people getting the wrong treatment when they went into hospital. It is clear that there is a difficulty of patients receiving the wrong treatment in some parts of the health service. I have received information about three examples of that in recent weeks, all of which were based on difficulties in having patient notes delivered to where a patient was being treated. In one case, a patient ended up being severely constipated, which sounds trivial. However, if the patient notes had been available, the patient's particular health issue would have been recognised. That patient nearly died because the patient notes were not available, so getting the wrong treatment is not simply a joking matter.
Mr Monteith highlighted the 1991 patients charter. He seemed to think that that is a perfect instrument that should be implemented properly. The Tories were happy to support changes to the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 1991, which they introduced. In the same spirit, they should look at the 1991 patients charter as something on which we should move forward.
Patients' rights and responsibilities are referred to in the document that we have before us. We must consider the rights of older people. There does not appear to be adequate reference in the document to how people who are no longer in a position to speak for themselves will be treated. I am sure that that was not a deliberate omission by the Executive.
Waiting times will continue to haunt the Executive. Of course, they are a huge overhead for the health service. If the number of people on waiting lists remains static, the health service has the capacity to process them; we just need the resources to eliminate the waiting list.
I believe that the minister is sincere in wanting to improve the NHS. Whenever he makes proposals that will have the effect of doing so, he will have our support. Indeed, I believe that that is generally true across the chamber. Only the Tories have an agenda to slim down the NHS and perhaps to abolish it.
A developed society must not be judged solely by its economic performance and by its ability to impose its will on others. A developed and civilised society is judged by how it supports people in their hour of need. The health service is the support that we give to such people. I support the SNP amendment.

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