MSPs press the case for women’s custody facility in the north

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, questioned the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Humza Yousaf, in Parliament today about facilities for women prisoners from the Highlands and Islands and Moray.

During Portfolio Questions, Mr Stewart asked the Cabinet Secretary what plans the Scottish Government has for a new women’s community integration unit in the Highlands and Islands.

The Cabinet Secretary replied that in 2015 the Scottish Government announced plans for a new eighty place national women’s facility at Cornton Vale and up to five new community based custodial units (CCUs) which would each accommodate around twenty women at locations across Scotland. He stated that custodial arrangements for women in the Highlands and Islands remain as they are at present and that the national facility and the first two CCUs in Glasgow and Dundee were due to be operational by the end of 2021. The Cabinet Secretary said the decision on the next phase of CCUs will depend on risk profile, community locations of women in custody and on lessons learned from bringing the first phase of CCUs into operation.

Mr Stewart however responded to the Cabinet Secretary that in 2019 there were twenty four women in custody from the Highlands and Islands and Moray who were serving their sentences in HMP Grampian or Cornton Vale. The MSP said that distance from families affects relationships at home and behaviour within the prison environment. He asked if the Cabinet Secretary will consider a Community Integration Unit within the Highlands and Islands for women who are serving short sentences, on remand, on community integration or are at the end of their sentence.

The Cabinet Secretary said there were no longer facilities for women prisoners in Inverness due to low numbers of women prisoners in the area but said Mr Stewart makes the important point that locations for the other custody units have not yet been decided upon and that Mr Stewart should make representation to the Scottish Prison Service if he thinks there is a justifiable case for a Cummunity Custody Unit in the Highlands and Islands then he should put that forward.

Speaking afterwards, David Stewart said “Together with my colleague, Rhoda Grant, I will indeed make representation to the Scottish Prison Service on this.

“The new Community Custody Units are being designed to accommodate twenty women. In 2019 there were sixteen women from the Highlands in custody with the other eight being from island communities or Moray.

“Distances within the Highlands and Islands and Moray are already vast and to ask family members to travel further into Grampian or the central belt to visit female relatives is completely unjust. We will be making the case for facilities to be made available within the Highlands and Islands.”

Rhoda Grant who has also campaigned for local facilities said “Prison sentences not only impact on the prisoner but on their families too and we must ensure families, particularly children, can easily visit a loved one whilst they are serving their sentence. This is even more important where that access is to their mother.

LABOUR MSP raises concerns the SNP is slipping in its efforts to mitigate UK welfare cuts

At First Minister’s Questions in Holyrood today (16th January), Highlands and Islands Labour MSP David Stewart, questioned Nicola Sturgeon about a compelling situation in Moray where benefits staff face having to deny desperately-poor families emergency cash handouts from the Scottish Government-funded Welfare Support Fund amid concerns it could run out.

Money from the fund is handed out to claimants to reduce the impact of universal credit delays.

However, a surge in demand has now prompted staff to warn the money needs to be prioritised to the most urgent cases. All at a time when benefits staff say the number of people presenting as feeling suicidal due to money problems has peaked.

Speaking in chamber, Mr Stewart, who is also Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for the Eradication of Poverty and Social Inequality, said “The First Minister will be well aware of the concerns expressed this week by the leader of Moray Council who said there was a severe cash shortfall in his council’s Scottish Welfare Fund. Front line benefits support staff say there has been a rise in the number of people feeling suicidal and of those with acute mental health and drug issues. Does the First Minister share my concerns and what comfort can she give to the hard-pressed front-line staff in Moray and the highly vulnerable people they serve?”

Mrs Sturgeon said it was true her government’s welfare fund was under pressure in many parts of the country, but she said this issue would be considered while the new budget for 2020-2021 was being drawn up.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Stewart said: “It could soon be unbelievably difficult for these front-line benefits support staff in Moray who will effectively be working with one hand behind their backs. They will be torn between having to protect the cash that is left in this dwindling fund and making sure families get the extra bit of money they need to warm their homes and put food in the cupboards.

“It is the poorest who are being hit hardest by continuing austerity and the SNP government has a duty to use every possible method to protect them. I will be keeping a close eye on next month’s budget to check that the First Minister has delivered.”

Cases of sepsis in the Highlands has almost doubled in three years: MSP

Highlands and Islands MSP, David Stewart, has discovered that cases of sepsis have almost doubled in the Highlands in the past three years.

Mr Stewart, who is also Labour’s Shadow Public Health Minister, submitted a Freedom of Information request to NHS Highland prompted by a constituent’s case.

The health authority said that in 2017 464 were reported, in 2018 it was 596 and 2019, 878.

Anyone can get sepsis, but babies under one, people over 75, people with diabetes, those with a weakened immune system, patients who have recently undergone surgery and women who have just given birth or had a miscarriage or abortion are particularly susceptible.

“These figures are quite staggering for our region, although I am aware that the way sepsis was recorded changed in late 2017, but it is still eye-opening for me to see this increase,” said Mr Stewart.

“The figures give a truer picture of the number of cases which is very concerning.

“Sepsis is a life-threatening reaction to an infection and can very hard to spot so I am happy to try to raise awareness in the region.

“I realise there are extensive health staff education programmes on this, but I am keen to raise public awareness so that people can spot the symptoms and if they suspect anyone is affected they can seek medical help immediately.

Mr Stewart said symptoms include blue, pale or blotchy skin, lips or tongue; a rash that doesn’t fade when you roll a glass over it, the same as meningitis; difficulty breathing, confusion or slurred speech and in children, a weak, abnormal, high-pitched cry, sleepiness or not showing interest.

Answering the FOI, NHS Highland said that the figures were given as patient discharges from hospitals in its area within the financial year end period, plus any additional deaths in the region.

It stressed sepsis was identified by an international classification of the disease, documented in the medical records and recorded with codes A40 and A41, when found in a discharge from hospital or contributing to the cause of death.

NHS Highland explained that in late 2017 a new procedure was adopted designed to ensure that A40 and A41 were applied and “this resulted in a sudden increase in the coding of sepsis in almost every board area”.

The health authority added: “It is not thought that this sudden increase represents a major shift in incidence of sepsis. There has also been a large effort across NHS Scotland to increase clinical recognition and recording of sepsis and this heightened awareness may also have contributed to the increase recorded.”

It went on to say other factors may also be an ageing population more vulnerable to infections that commonly lead to sepsis including flu, pneumonia and urinary tract infections.

Mr Stewart also found out that a trained quality improvement advisor was working in Primary Care supporting GPs, ambulance staff and district nurses in early identification, management and treatment of sepsis.

Stewart invites cross-party working to block £2billion pension fund’s plan to leave Inverness plumber penniless

MSP David Stewart with Murray Menzies.

Highlands & Islands Labour MSP David Stewart has secured cross-party working to win support in the Commons for a change in the law in his bid to save a 71-year-old city plumber from financial wipe out by a pension scheme.

Mr Stewart has won the backing of Moray MP Douglas Ross who has agreed to use his new role as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Scotland Office to act as a liaison and make good connections with other UK Government departments.

It comes after Murray Menzies was issued with a shock estimated bill for £1.2 million by the Plumbing & Mechanical Services (UK) Industry Pension Scheme.

The bill was generated because the pension scheme has a legally-binding requirement to issue “debt notices” to those who have left or retired, or have changed the structure of their business.

This legally-bounding requirement was brought in with pension reforms introduced in and around the 1990s following pension fund scandals.

The reforms brought in strict rules with what would appear to be unintended consequences for multi-employer schemes like Plumbing Pensions and individuals who have paid into it.

And now Mr Menzies, along with others who have left the scheme, are being told they are liable to pay astronomical sums.

Mr Stewart was appalled when he heard of Mr Menzies’ plight.

Mr Menzies said he and wife Jennifer have been “stuck in a bad dream” since the estimated bill landed on their doormat in 2018.

Mr Stewart was appalled when he heard of Mr Menzies’ plight.

He was searching for levers within the Scottish Government to help Mr Menzies but was told none existed.

With the ultimate aim of pressuring the lawmakers in Westminster to make changes to The Pensions Act, Mr Stewart approached Conservative Moray MP Douglas Ross, the new Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Scotland Office.

 He has also secured talks in Whitehall with UK pensions minister Guy Opperman.

Mr Stewart said: “I met with Kate Yates, the chief executive of Plumbing Pensions last month and she was saying she was absolutely certain that the pensions reforms never intended to so harshly punish people by sending them extortionate bills just for paying into a pension scheme for their workers. It’s a scandal and I’m looking at The Pensions Act to try to resolve this unintended consequence. But it is really positive that MP Douglas Ross has agreed to a cross-party approach. I know, from my own experience as a Parliamentary Private Secretary for Alistair Darling in my MP days that Mr Ross will be a good advocate who can make connections with other UK Government departments and act as a liaison.”

The £1.2 million pension “debt” served on Mr Menzies is equal to his share of the shortfall in the pensions scheme on a ‘buy-out’ basis.

The sum includes an allowance for the estimated expenses that would be incurred in the hypothetical situation that the scheme decided to wind up and buy annuities for all the members.

Mr Menzies’ share of the shortfall is based on the benefits accrued by each member whilst employed by him at his firm William Menzies and Son, based on Academy Street in Inverness.

He said saw no signals in the seventies, when he signed up to it, that it had the potential to leave him penniless. He thought his decision to retire and close his plumbing business in 2015 would end his association with the scheme. However, three years later, he received the shock demand in the post.

 He is now angry with the pension’s trustees, saying they should have told him about the consequences sooner.

“They were sitting on this information for about 14 years and they did not inform anybody,” he claimed.

 “They could have told me there was a way of protecting myself, because I could have protected myself by changing my business from a partnership to a limited business. Thos is having a devastating toll on myself and my wife. It’s hard to sleep at night. It feels like we’re stuck in a bad dream. We need all the help we can get.”

MSP David Stewart, in parliamentary debate, raises the right to die at home

Highland and Islands MSP, David Stewart, said today that having the right to die at home was a ‘basic human right’.

Mr Stewart, who is also Labour’s Shadow Public Health Minister, was speaking at a member’s debate raised by MSP Miles Briggs on Research Projections into Place of Death in 2040.

The debate homed in on research by charity Marie Curie, the University of Edinburgh and Kings College London which said that if current trends continue by 2040 two thirds of Scots could die at home, in a care home or a hospice. Currently less than half do.

However, the research says it is very unlikely to happen without substantial investment in community-based care including care home capacity. Without this investment hospital deaths could rise to 37,089 (57%) of all deaths by 2040.

Mr Stewart told fellow MSPs: “This is an issue that has long interested me and has fundamental public health implications for Scotland.

“Having a right to die at home in my view is a basic human right and accords with the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Mr Stewart highlighted concerns by Shetland GP Susan Bowie who contacted him about the gap in ‘hospital at home care’ for patients. He has also received similar concerns from other GPs in Scotland.

Dr Bowie and Mr Stewart believes there should be an automatic right for people to have full care at home day or night for their last few days of life, so that then can have their wish fulfilled to die at home.

Mr Stewart explained that the Parliament had previously been praised for ‘legacy policies’ such as free personal care, the smoking ban and minimum unit pricing on alcohol.

He continued: “In my view a right to die at home policy could join the illustrious group of legacy policies that parliamentarians and constituents of the future could look back on with pride.”

Mr Stewart said that in a recent Marie Curie poll 61% of Scots said they would prefer to die at home and research by group, Dying Matters, found around 70% of people would prefer to die at home, yet around 50% currently die in hospital.

“Parents have the right currently to have their child born at home and the NHS provides midwives, but we don’t have the right to have carers to enable us to die at home. So, I see a real policy gap there,” said Mr Stewart.

“In conclusion there can be fewer more important policy areas in health than one that provides certainty to those suffering from terminal conditions and the choice over place of death, to spend the last days and hours at home with loved ones rather than in hospital with strangers.”

Mr Stewart asked Public Health Minister, Joe Fitzpatrick, if the Scottish Government had thought about enshrining in law the right to die in a community setting. Mr Fitzpatrick replied that it wasn’t something that had been considered but he wondered whether it should be.

  • Mr Stewart’s own member’s debate on the right to die at home is set to be heard early in 2020.


Note for editors

During the debate Mr Stewart outlined the concerns of Dr Bowie who said in the past when someone wished to die at home, she was able to organise volunteer help for families in caring for their relatives, as often children find it difficult to take care of their parent’s personal needs.

A list of trained people would be available occasionally to help if required, and to give relatives a break. It was a great low-cost service.

However, this was closed in Shetland years ago and social care could not fill the gap, so carers were not available at night or at weekends.

He said during the debate that the situation had moved on since last year with Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, telling him that the current model of on-call nursing on Shetland is to be extended to a waking night service using advanced nurse practitioners alongside care staff to support people in the community. This will start this year.

However, despite reassurances to the contrary from Shetland IJB, he has heard that there are still not enough carers and nurses especially during weekends and evenings.

“This can only get worse with an ageing Highlands and Islands population,” he added.

“I agree with Marie Curie that the care of terminally ill people must be given a higher priority and there must be more substantial support services.”

A read of the P&J this morning was the honey on Stewart’s cornflakes

Highlands and Islands MSP David Stewart was heartened to read in the P&J this morning (below) that the Tories have joined efforts to have a new medical school built in the Highlands.

He said: “I have long been calling for a new medical school to be custom-built in the Highlands and Islands. Just a few weeks ago, I was questioning Jeane Freeman, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, about the SNP’s plans for this vital new project. Seldom does praise come from her corner which is probably why I so clearly remember her turning round and saying I was the first MSP to battle for the new building.

“Glad to welcome the Tories to the table.”

MSP to ask for meeting with NHS Highland to untangle bullying and harassment cases

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP David Stewart will be asking for a meeting with the Chief Executive of NHS Highland to untangle exactly how the health authority plans to deal with historical bullying and harassment cases.

The MSP is surprised the board did not ask for extra Scottish Government funding to cope with the number of former employees seeking compensation for the way they were treated while working for NHS Highland.

Mr Stewart, who is also Labour’s Shadow Public Health Minister, put down a Parliamentary Question on November 26, which has now been answered by Health Secretary Jeane Freeman.

She has told him that NHS Highland had not requested funding to set up a compensation scheme but had “approved the principles underpinning the launch of a healing process for current and former staff”.

“What I cannot understand is that in September, at the Scottish Parliament’s health and sport committee, NHS Highland’s then Interim Chair, Professor Boyd Robertson, told me that compensation was being considered,” said Mr Stewart.

“We all know that the health authority is strapped for cash so one wonders how it could consider this option without knowing there was another funding stream available?”

Mr Stewart says the issue is made more opaque as Ms Freeman expects NHS Highland to consider all complaints by current employees, as well as former employees who have lost their job or felt compelled to leave their employment.

Ms Freeman has also made clear that this must be done on a case by case basis, taking into account each individual’s needs – as recommended in the Sturrock report. While NHS Highland has confirmed it will review any such claims “fairly and act on professional advice – including settlement, alternative dispute resolution and/or proceeding to a formal hearing to determine the outcome.”

Mr Stewart continued: “So it appears on one hand NHS Highland says it will look at claims for settlement, but publicly it has said those seeking compensation will have to look at legal options such as employment tribunals or civil cases.

“Confused? Yes, victims are and let’s not forget it’s been a year since this was raised publicly.”

Mr Stewart has stressed that many of the constituents who have contacted him want an independent panel to look at cases. Some are not looking for compensation but just to have their voices heard and may need further counselling.



18 December 2019 (Holding Reply Issued 11 December 2019)

Index Heading: Health and Social Care

David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Scottish Labour): To ask the Scottish Government whether NHS Highland has requested funding to set up a compensation scheme for former victims of bullying and harassment.


Jeane Freeman: No. NHS Highland has, however, advised the Scottish Government that it approved the principles underpinning the launch of a healing process for current and former staff.

The Health Secretary has been very clear that she expects NHS Highland to consider all complaints by current employees, as well as former employees who have lost their job or felt compelled to leave their employment. Ms Freeman has also been clear that this must be done on a case by case basis, taking into account each individual’s needs – as recommended in the Sturrock report.

NHS Highland has confirmed it will review any such claims fairly and act on professional advice – including settlement, alternative dispute resolution and/or proceeding to a formal hearing to determine the outcome.

The Health Secretary is monitoring the application of these commitments closely to ensure her expectations are met. She also intends to spend time with the board and staff again in the new year and hopes to meet again with the whistleblowers group.


FMQs (19.12.19)


Today, I asked the First Minsiter, following a report from The Times showing that only a quarter of Scottish schools have fire sprinklers installed, if she would have an urgent meeting with local authorities to retrofit sprinklers.
You can see my question and the First Minister’s response above.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, has asked the First Minister about the risk of fire and lack of sprinklers in Scotland’s older schools.

During First Minister’s Questions today he said:

“The First Minister will be well aware, from reports in yesterday’s Times, that only a quarter of Scotland’s schools have sprinklers installed to slow down fires.

“According to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, 66 primary and secondary schools face a high risk of fires.

“New schools of course require sprinklers, but will the First Minister arrange an urgent new year’s meeting with local authorities to identify high risk older schools to retrofit sprinklers to protect our pupils, our teachers, and our staff.”

Nicola Sturgeon thanked Mr Stewart for raising the important issue and said she would ask the Deputy First Minister to respond in detail, including on the suggestion of a meeting in the New Year.

But, she also pointed out, it was up to local authorities, which were responsible for the school estate, working with the fire and rescue service, to ensure fire safety plans were in place, and said the government had invested in the fabric of the school estate.

Mr Stewart previously introduced a Member’s Bill in the Scottish Parliament, leading a campaign for greater fire safety measures in Scottish social housing.

As a result, the Scottish Government is taking forward Mr Stewart’s Bill, which requires fire sprinkler systems to be installed into all new-build social housing across Scotland, as a method of tackling Scotland’s high rates of fire death and injury.

MSP at a loss why no reply from Scottish Government on compensation question

Highlands and Islands MSP,  David Stewart, is still to get a reply from the Scottish Government about if it was asked by NHS Highland to step in to fund a compensation scheme for bullying and harassment victims.

Mr Stewart, who is also Labour’s Shadow Public Health Minister, put down a Parliamentary Question on November 26, but, despite Health Secretary Jeane Freeman saying it would be answered on December 11, she has now said she will reply “as soon as possible”.

The MSP is at a loss as to why the answer is taking so long. “I do not understand why it cannot be answered in the time allocated,” he said.

“Cynics might suggest the answer might well pop up sometime over the festive period, but I am hopeful it will be answered while the parliament is still sitting this week,” said Mr Stewart.

“I would have thought it was a simple ‘yes/no’ answer.”

Mr Stewart previously said it was a blow that NHS Highland had announced that victims of the NHS Highland bullying and harassment scandal would have to seek compensation through the legal system.

The health authority said it had been decided that the healing process would “not extend to matters of financial loss or compensation”.

Mr Stewart said: “I know there are former employees who’ve lost or left their jobs and, in some cases, had their careers ruined and will be unable to go to an industrial tribunal due to a time-bar on cases and will be unable to afford a civil case.

“In September, at the Scottish Parliament’s health and sport committee, NHS Highland’s Interim Chair, Professor Boyd Robertson, told me that compensation was being considered, but he could not give a definitive answer about how it would be tackled. That gave people some hope which has now been taken away.”

Mr Stewart added that he knew NHS Highland’s financial state meant that it could not afford a compensation scheme itself.

He also explained the Sturrock review had highlighted that maybe some form of independent review panel might be established for a limited period to bring closure for people who appeared to have suffered some financial loss because of alleged inappropriate handling of their situations and were in financial difficulty as a result.

The MSP has written to Jeane Freeman and NHS Highland’s Chief Executive, Iain Stewart, asking what has happened to that suggestion.

  • On the parliamentary system on Monday December 16
    Question S5W-26537: David Stewart, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 26/11/2019 To ask the Scottish Government whether NHS Highland has requested funding to set up a compensation scheme for former victims of bullying and harassment.

Answered by Jeane Freeman (11/12/2019): I shall reply to the member as soon as possible.