Health committee will be “a fresh pair of eyes” on Scotland’s NHS, says Neil Findlay

Written by Tom Freeman on 8 July 2016 in Interviews

From fierce debater to consensus-builder, Neil Findlay looks ahead at his new role as Health and Sport Committee convener and its work programme

Neil Findlay - credit Holyrood magazine

Holyrood’s Health and Sport Committee has been a vital and constant part of the Scottish Parliament since its inception, covering as it does the biggest budgetary responsibility of the devolved government.

And while recent years have seen a considerable amount of political consensus about the challenges facing Scotland’s health and the long term strategies to address them, the committee’s new convener is best known as a fierce partisan debater in the chamber.

More than once Scottish Labour’s Neil Findlay has caught the eye of the Scottish Parliament’s presiding officer for what some might describe as a bombastic debating style.

“I’ve never been called bombastic in my life,” he protests.


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As the committee publishes its work programme for the coming parliamentary session, Holyrood asks how he’ll adapt to the new role, something he admits is a different challenge.

“One of the things I did right away was to meet individually each of the members of the committee and talk through that, and say ‘look I am as party political as anyone, and I don’t expect anyone to leave their party political heart at the door. However we all have to understand, none more so than me, that this is a different role,” he says.

Of the committee’s 11 members eight are new MSPs, and after discussions about what each member’s priorities are, it was decided to embark on a crash course in some of the biggest challenges in health.

“I think we have a real opportunity to get stuck in to some of the real huge issues out there. The health service is our greatest ever public service, the greatest social policy ever introduced, and it’s under massive pressure like it’s never been before, so there’s a critical role for the committee to play in shaping and influencing future healthcare in Scotland,” says Findlay.

During the autumn session the committee will hold a series of one or two-session blocks investigating some of the most pressing issues identified by members. These include the Integrated Joint Boards, GPs and the new GP hub model, delayed discharges from hospitals, obesity and the effectiveness of NHS targets.

“Then, after Christmas we’ll be able to sit down and plan what we’re going to do as a more substantive pieces of work going forward.”

Findlay says he is “under no illusion” there are quick fixes, but the committee has issued a summer call for views and evidence from those with an interest in the topics.

Social care will be examined in two of the sessions, one on delayed discharge and another on challenges around the workforce.

“For me, social care is one of the biggest issues in the country at the moment. With demographics, how the country prepares for that and manages that. Because the crisis in social care is not coming, it’s here now,” he says.

Mental health was raised by a number of the committee members, Findlay says. “It’s a complex issue, multi-faceted, and something we could probably spend the next five years looking at, but it clearly was a priority for all the committee members.”

Labour colleague Mark Griffin’s plans to resurrect last term’s organ donation bill – exclusively revealed in the last issue of Holyrood magazine – may well disrupt the programme.

The bill from former MSP Anne McTaggart sought to introduce a ‘soft opt-out’ register for organ donation. Despite the SNP government claiming to support the idea in principle the party voted down the bill at stage 1 without attempting to amend it. The decision split last term’s health committee.

Griffin’s version may move quickly as it does not need a consultation phase. Will this session’s health committee be ready?

“It’s certainly not something we’ve considered so far but obviously if legislation comes forward, then absolutely. I think it was dubious grounds on which it was rejected [last time],” says Findlay.

With more members than ever, and a “good mixture” of people with experience in the NHS - Clare Haughey is a registered mental health nurse and Maree Todd is a registered pharmacist – and those with none, Findlay says the new committee can be “a fresh pair of eyes” on Scotland’s health and care environment.

“The committees can be really effective at times when there’s unity, putting forward a line, and often that’s a difficult tightrope to manage,” he says.

But will his new role as mediator dampen his enthusiasm for the cut and thrust of the chamber?

“Oh no. It’s two different roles. We have to have robust debate in politics. It’s a passionate business. I hope, sincerely, that everybody who comes into it does want to change the world. If you don’t then maybe you shouldn’t be in it…”

More details of the committee's programme here.

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