Rise in self-harm 999 calls lead to call on government for better handling of COVID-19 mental health spill-over

MSP David Stewart.

SELF-HARM incidents have increased since lockdown prompting Highlands & Islands MSP David Stewart to call on government to address the mental health spill-over from Coronavirus.

Dr Martin McKechnie, the national clinical lead from the Scottish Trauma Network, told MSPs at a virtual meeting of today’s heath and sport committee in Holyrood “people have struggled”.

Following questions from Mr Stewart, Mr McKechnie said: “We have unfortunately seen a lot of serious and violent self harm and harm to others and a lot of it is lockdown or pandemic-related. People have struggled.

“That has been, I wouldn’t say unpredicted, but a new feature of some of the cases that we are seeing during this last year.”

He added however that the ongoing after-care of these patients is “much improved now”.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Stewart, who is Scottish Labour’s Shadow Minister for Health, said: “It was shocking to hear the evidence from the front line practitioners today. A rise in self-harm is one spike we probably could have expected, but nevertheless it is just another element of the sad nature of the Covid pandemic.

“We truly are facing another epidemic, which is an epidemic of mental health and emotional problems, following the Coronavirus epidemic. The government must not lose sight of this when they are concentrating their efforts a public health response to the pandemic. That must include attention to the psychological aspects of care for patients, families, and staff affected by COVID. This is evidence that comes from the front-line today.”

MSP surprised by FOI response on NHS Highland compensation payments

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, has been surprised by an answer to his NHS Highland FOI on compensation payments to victims of bullying and harassment.

Mr Stewart asked for the full content of any legal advice taken before taxable payments were decided for any pay-outs to people who signed up for the Healing Process.

NHS Highland answered

“The advice was not received in any formal documents or emails, but was discussed throughout the set up and launch of the Healing process by those working on the administration and delivery of the scheme, which included our legal and taxation advisors from Shepherd Wedderburn.”

The MSP also asked for minutes of any NHS Highland meetings, including sub-committees, where Healing Process compensation payments were discussed

NHS Highland responded:

“The Healing Process compensation payments are an operational matter and have not been discussed in any such meetings.”

In December, after pressure from those going through the Healing Process and politicians including Mr Stewart, NHS Highland said it had written to HMRC to ask if payment could be made without tax and outwith its payroll system.

Mr Stewart lodged the FOI to see if he could find out more about the background to the earlier decision to use the payroll as he was concerned that no-one envisaged the problem with a taxable system.

“I must say I was taken aback by the answers that were given as decisions were made behind closed doors and not taken for discussion at any committee or board meeting,” said Mr Stewart.

“This was not discussing people’s individual cases, but just the system of payment. I know from previous NHS Highland answers that any case recommended for compensation has to go to NHS Highland’s renumeration committee for governance reasons, although no personal details of that case is revealed.

“It’s just a mystery therefore that there was no oversight of the compensation system.”

  • FOI response and also previous response from NHS Highland re remuneration committee

Did NHS Highland approach HMRC for advice about how it could pay those receiving compensation from the Healing Process?

As set out in the update to MSPs on Thursday 17th December, a detailed request was sent to HMRC on 14th December 2020 to review the status of the payments, based on the specific and detailed information in the healing process guidance and two sample recommendations from the panels which we provided.

Ahead of this, throughout the healing process co-creation, it was stated that payments were subject to applicable tax and national insurance. It was not explicitly stated how the payments would be made during the healing process coproduction discussions and guidance, although the inclusion of “subject to applicable tax and national insurance” was this was therefore to be paid through payroll

This was because the nature of the financial payments did not fall into any of the categories which would permit tax free status or to be paid outside a PAYE arrangement and this was discussed and reviewed with the accountable executive and the legal and tax experts from Shepherd and Wedderburn, at the point arrangements for payment were being set up as well as earlier in the process..

With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that those involved had different assumptions of what this meant, but it wasn’t covered in any detail so it wasn’t clear until the payments were made that people had expectations that this would be treated in a different way both in terms of the process and the tax position. That has clearly been a learning for us, and we are sorry for any confusion that this may have caused.

If so, when was that approach made and what was the advice?

As above, this was request on 14th December and is currently pending.

If not, who did NHS Highland approach for independent legal and tax advice?

As above, Shepherd and Wedderburn have been advising on legal and taxation matters throughout the healing process set up.

What was the full content of that legal/ financial advice?

The advice was not received in any formal documents or emails, but was discussed throughout the set up and launch of the Healing process by those working on the administration and delivery of the scheme, which included our legal and taxation advisors from Shepherd Wedderburn.

I am also requesting minutes of any NHS Highland meetings, including sub-committees, where Healing Process compensation payments were discussed

The Healing Process compensation payments are an operational matter and have not been discussed in any such meetings.

I hope this response is helpful. If you are unhappy with my response, I am very happy to discuss this with you further. Alternatively you have the right to ask for an internal review by making a formal request in writing to the:-

Freedom of Information Officer

NHS Highland

Assynt House

Beechwood Park

Inverness, IV2 3BW

or via email High-UHB.FOIRequestsHighland@nhs.scot

What David Stewart and constituents were told by NHS Highland last year:

“The Healing Process has been fully coproduced with representatives of interested groups including the Whistleblowers and staffside and it has been approved by the Board and Scottish Government. This is now in operation and consultation on the design has ended. NHS Highland is a publicly funded body and any payments or financial commitments made by the Board must comply with Standing Financial Instructions and other Board and Government policy and be fully and properly scrutinised and audited. Any payments from public monies also have to comply with the appropriate oversight and governance standards – this is national not locally determined policy. There will be no circumstance under which public monies can be given to individuals without due process and consideration, and nor should there be. I would further point out that the remit and the required membership of the Remuneration Committee is set out in the national governance standards for NHS Boards, This is not open for individual boards to amend or alter.”

Stewart speaks up for renters at risk of eviction in these dark times of the pandemic and asks how the new Covid strain affects the very young

At the Scottish Parliament’s Covid Committee just passed, I asked Michael Russell, the Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, Europe and External Affairs, to extend a No Eviction policy for the rest of the year so people can keep a roof over their heads at the very least in what has become the darkest hour of the pandemic.

I also asked Professor James Leicth, the National Clinical Director of the Scottish Government, if he was concerned about young people’s increased susceptibility to the new widely-publicised UK variant of Covid.

He said the new variant “gives the same disease” but is indeed more transmissible and therefore if you are young you are very, very likely to have a mild course of disease.

SCRUTINY committee urged to keep a watchful eye on the Scottish Government to make sure it follows through on its “long-awaited” promise to cut road death on the A82

A SCRUTINY committee was urged this week to keep a watchful eye on the Scottish Government to make sure it follows through on its “long-awaited” promise to cut road death on the A82.

Road safety campaigner and MSP David Stewart said the Public Petitions Committee had a critical role in ensuring the government followed-through on its pledge to look at 20 options for the A82 to make the route safer.

The Highlands & Islands MSP made the call at today’s virtual sitting of the committee.

Speaking in support of a petition lodged by The Inverness Courier, which called on the Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to upgrade the A82, Mr Stewart argued for the petition to stay open to allow members to track the government’s progress.

And he said the baton should be passed on when committee membership changes after the next Scottish Parliament election on 6 May.

However, members unanimously agreed the committee did not have the time to do the petition justice.

The petition was closed on the basis that the government’s submission had underlined more than 20 options currently being investigated to make the road safer.

The committee said it would write to the Scottish Government to flag up the petition.

And it will invite the petitioner – Inverness Courier journalist Louise Glen – to resubmit if progress is not made.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Stewart said: “I congratulated Louise Glen from the Inverness Courier for her initiative on this issue. This is what good campaigning local newspapers are all about. The government’s promises to make this road safer are long-awaited and pressure and scrutiny is crucial. Today’s decision was purely procedural and I would hope the Inverness Courier would submit a fresh petition to the new committee after the election so this can continue to be looked at.”

Ends.

Highlands and Islands MSP supports Scottish Cot Death Trust’s new guide

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, and his wife Linda, are supporting the launch of a new guide by Safe Sleep Scotland which is being released today.

Safe Sleep Scotland, run by the Scottish Cot Death Trust, has launched the resource for families, healthcare and childcare professionals, called Back to Basics, Back to Baby.

Mr Stewart is a trustee of the Scottish Cot Death Trust and he and Linda lost their youngest son, eight-month-old Liam, to cot death in 1991 and were supported by the trust.

As well as supporting families affected by Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI), the trust educates families about the risk factors for SUDI. The aim is to allow parents and carers across the UK to be fully informed so that they can make their own decisions to reduce the risks.

The resource comes with a bendable tube attached which replicates a baby’s airway. This allows parents and carers to appreciate how fragile baby’s airways are, which reinforces the importance of the Safe Sleep messages.

Mr Stewart said: “Losing a young baby is one of the greatest traumas that parents can ever face.

“The trust’s new guide will be a valuable resource for all would-be parents, parents, carers and professionals.

“The hard copy resource is supplemented by the Safe Sleep Scotland website and an easy to follow video which I am sure will be of benefit to all those who care for babies and young children.

“As many people as possible should be educated about safe sleeping in the hope that we can prevent many of these tragedies.”

More information on-line:https://scottishcotdeathtrust.org/launch/

  • If you would like to talk to the SCDT team about the support available please get in touch by visiting the website or calling on 0141 357 3946. For more information about Safe Sleep and reducing the risks of SUDI, please visit http://www.safesleepscotland.org or by following @cotdeathtrust on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Stewart still pressing for research into ionisers in fight against Covid

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, has said he is still pressing the Scottish Government to see if negative ion ionisers could be used in the fight against Covid-19.

Mr Stewart, who is Scottish Labour’s Shadow Minister for Public Health, was first contacted about these devices on 25 March, just three days into the first lockdown, but has of yet not received any real reassurance that the Scottish Government has properly investigated if the use of these devices could help in the fight to control the virus.

Mr Stewart said “I was contacted by a constituent in the very early days of the first lockdown who provided scientific data which suggested that negative ion ionisers could be a useful tool in the fight against the virus.

“I have contacted the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Jeane Freeman, and the Minister for Innovation, Ivan McKee. I have tabled Parliamentary Questions and I also raised the matter directly with the First Minister on the floor in Parliament, all to no avail.”

Mr Stewart continued “My constituent advises me that these devices are being used in other countries to fight the virus and he is deeply frustrated at the Scottish Government’s lack of urgency in fully researching their potential use.

“With the Covid crisis deepening day on day, I am again trying to encourage Scottish Ministers to speed up their research into this. The Cabinet Secretary for Health replied to me on 9 November advising that the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has set up a Short Life Working Group to consider the evidence surrounding the efficacy of “air cleaning” devices.

“Weeks later however I still do not have an answer as to when the Working Group will determine its findings, yet the virus continues to spread.

“We really need an injection of urgency from the Cabinet Secretary here and I have tabled a further Parliamentary Question asking when the Group will report back on their findings. It is essential that every possible avenue is explored in a bid to bring the virus under control.”

Scottish Government answers questions on Healing Process compensation being taxed

Following on from the information released yesterday that NHS Highland had contacted HMRC about the taxation of compensation payments through the Healing Process, Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, answered two of my parliamentary questions today. See below.

SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT

WRITTEN ANSWER

22 December 2020(Holding Reply Issued 21 December 2020)

Index Heading: Health and Social Care

David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Scottish Labour): To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of The Healing Process, the initiative set up in response to bullying and harassment at NHS Highland, in light of reported complaints regarding compensation payments being taxed at source.

S5W-33872

Jeane Freeman: We are in regular contact with the NHS Highland and have had received positive feedback about the process itself. We are aware of the concerns about tax deductions and the board are addressing the concerns raised by actively pursuing these directly with HMRC to reaffirm the position and to explore if there is any dispensation available in respect of the compensation payments. Without this they cannot legally waive tax or NI contributions.

SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT

WRITTEN ANSWER

22 December 2020(Holding Reply Issued 21 December 2020)

Index Heading: Health and Social Care

David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Scottish Labour): To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with (a) NHS Highland and (b) HMRC regarding compensation payments for people who have been bullied being tax free.

S5W-33873

Jeane Freeman: Given our ongoing conversations with NHS Highland that have provided assurances that NHS Highland are directly pursuing the matter with HMRC, we await HMRC’s decision to inform further actions.

Health authority contacts tax office re Healing Process

NHS Highland is contacting HMRC about tax on payments through the Healing Process. I have already received a letter about this from the health authority and sent it out to all those constituents who are in contact with me. But here’s a link to what’s on the website today.

Click here
https://www.healing-process.co.uk/tax-faqs/
The health authority says: “At this time, NHS Highland must process these payments via the payroll, for current or former colleagues. We have written to HMRC to clarify the situation and should they subsequently give a dispensation to process out with payroll, this will then be applied.”

Stewart seeks answers on football funding

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, has tabled questions in the Scottish Parliament today (Tuesday) seeking clarification on when the funding and grants being made available for Scotland’s football clubs will be open for applications and what the process will be for clubs to apply.

A £55m funding package was announced last week by the Scottish Government to help sports clubs tackle the void of lost ticket revenue caused by the outbreak of Covid-19. £20m of funding is being made available to football clubs in the premiership with £10m of grants being made available for clubs at every other level of the game.

The MSP, who has been a lifelong Inverness Caley Thistle supporter and is Chair of Inverness Caledonian Thistle Trust said “Football clubs up and down the country have been hit hard by the implications of Covid-19 restrictions and I was pleased that the Health and Sport Committee agreed to my request to hold an inquiry into this. As part of that inquiry, the Minister for Sport, Joe Fitzpatrick, gave evidence at the Committee this morning (Tuesday).

“While the meeting was very helpful, the detail of how and when the funding and grants will be made available is not yet known and I know clubs at every level of the game are keen to know when and how they can apply for the help being offered.” continued Mr Stewart.

“As an avid football fan, I know just how perilously close some clubs are to going under and we need to make sure this money gets to those who need it without delay.

He continued “Football is in the very fabric of communities up and down Scotland and loss of gate sales and hospitality revenue has hit clubs hard. We must get that help out to the clubs immediately to secure the future of the game, at every level, in Scotland.” concluded Mr Stewart.

Traffic speed being surveyed at A82 spot at Drumnadochit after calls by road safety campaigner David Stewart

The Labour MSP requested an investigation by Transport Scotland to determine whether the road meets the criteria for speed cameras. Concerns were raised with Mr Stewart about cars and HGVs speeding through the area, paying no heed to the 30mph signs.

Mr Stewart said he was really pleased with prompt action by Transport Scotland to place sensors around the village – and he welcomed their agreement to add additional sensors.

He said: “This intervention will be welcome news for residents and I am pleased to see extra sensors are also now in place.

“Transport Scotland chiefs have listened and acted, and I am very grateful to my constituents for their input. They have told me they believe the sensors are now in a far better position and will be interested to know the findings. They say they are witnessing vehicles speeding through the section at all hours of the day and night.”