Pledge to protect Scotland’s NHS

This week I joined my SNP MSP colleagues to sign Unite’ the union’s pledge to demand that David Cameron vetoes the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) unless the NHS is “fully and clearly exempted” from the agreement.

Protecting the NHS is rightly one of the most important priorities of people in Scotland and the duty we have to protect it is something the SNP takes extremely seriously.

Scotland’s NHS as a publicly owned and operated institution is too important to be put at risk from powerful multinational corporations. It must be protected and the SNP will always do everything in our power to ensure that happens.

In May, the people of Scotland have an opportunity to secure meaningful influence and power in Westminster.

Every SNP vote is a vote for a party that only has one key goal - to best represent the people of Scotland. So the more SNP seats there are, the more we’ll be able to ensure that Westminster does not lose sight of the things that are most important - starting with the NHS.

Protecting Scotland’s NHS is at the heart of our Westminster campaign. SNP MPs in a hung Parliament will use their clout to protect our budget from Westminster’s agenda of austerity, patient charging and privatisation.

The text of the pledge is as follows:

We the undersigned believe that the provision of public healthcare by the NHS is much too important to be put at risk by the EU-US trade agreement, known as TTIP. In particular:

• TTIP must not restrict the scope for decisions by any level of government, public authority or NHS organisation relating to public healthcare;

• TTIP must not give current or future US investors new rights that they could use to sue any level of government, public authority or NHS organisation because of their policies or actions relating to public healthcare.

We therefore call on the Prime Minister to make a clear statement to the European Trade Council that the UK will veto TTIP unless the NHS is fully and clearly exempted from the agreement and to use the veto if that exemption is not achieved.

NHS Central Health Register Consultation

There seems to be some confusion over a consultation that is taking place at the moment regarding changes to the NHS Central Register. I would like to make clear that there are no proposals for ID cards or for the creation of a national database. There are also no proposals to share medical records.

The consultation is on specific proposals to enable organisations to verify data and to do so in a safe and controlled manner. The purpose of the proposed change is to ensure that public bodies when providing public services are able to correctly identify the individual they are dealing with and trace overseas visitors who should pay for NHS treatment.

This proposal does not mean creating a single public sector record. It will simply allow those providing public services to have their name and address data checked against administrative data in the NHS Central Register to ensure they are dealing with the right person. This does not involve access to any medical data.

The Scottish Government are also consulting on whether HMRC should be able to use the same information to help them identify who should pay Scottish taxes and who should continue to pay tax to the UK.

No decisions have been made on this and I appreciate the concerns that have been raised over privacy. The Scottish Government and Scottish public bodies already operate under strict rules on the use of data to ensure privacy and protect the individual. There are no proposals to change this.

There is an ongoing consultation which closes 25th February 2015. This is a consultation on a statutory instrument which will be duly scrutinised by the Scottish Parliament. More information on the consultation can be found at: http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2014/12/5990

Teacher Numbers

I have been concerned about reports of teacher shortages in many South Ayrshire schools and failure to cover absence with supply teachers. It would appear that South Ayrshire Council are failing to guarantee four continuous days of supply work which would allow experienced teachers full payment for their work. This is a practice which the other Ayrshire councils are implementing. The council appears to be penny pinching to the detriment of childrens education and I will be raising this with the Chief Executive of the Council at our next meeting.

I am happy however that South Ayrshire Council Leadership have seen sense and accepted John Swinney’s stipulation that teacher numbers must be maintained as part of the local budget settlement process. For years now local councils have been accepting this money but ignoring their agreement to maintain the number of teachers in our schools. The Scottish Government has quite rightly run out of patience with those councils who have failed to uphold their side of the deal.

Maybole Bypass

I was very disappointed that local objections have triggered a public local inquiry into the A77 Maybole Bypass scheme which the Scottish Government is promoting. We’ve waited 40 years for a bypass scheme to be brought to fruition and it is galling that it is going to be subject to further delays.

It should be pointed out that a public local inquiry is a statutory requirement - one must be held if there is a significant number of objections lodged to the plans and that seems to be the case in this instance with 13 objections mainly from major landowners.

Going on previous public local inquiries and their timescales for completion it is possible that the scheme will not get the go ahead until after the next Scottish Parliament elections in 2016.