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by Andrew Learmonth
21 September 2021
Exclusive poll: more than two thirds of MSPs have put on weight in last year

Exclusive poll: more than two thirds of MSPs have put on weight in last year

Nearly half of all MSPs say their health has deteriorated during the pandemic, with many admitting to having put on weight.  

Just over two-thirds of those who replied to Holyrood’s health of the nation survey, which was entirely anonymous, said they’d gained some extra pounds, while a fifth admitted their waistlines had expanded substantially. 

Meanwhile, just under a third of politicians told us they’d put off going to see the GP last year despite having concerns about their health, while others detailed their struggles to get in-person appointments with a doctor. 

The MSPs also warned of an impending crisis in mental health and cancer, sparked by the pandemic.

The political pound piling is seemingly similar to the weight gain experienced by the public at large. 

Last year a poll commissioned by Obesity Action Scotland found that 54 per cent of Scots were eating more out of boredom, with 49 per cent eating more cakes and biscuits. The majority of people, 63 per cent, were concerned about their weight.

Pre-pandemic, there was already a high prevalence of overweight and obesity in Scotland, with 65 per cent of adults classed as overweight and 28 per cent as having obesity.

That increases the risk of developing conditions and diseases such as asthma, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke and 13 different types of cancer. 

It also puts people at greater risk of serious illness or death from Covid. Nearly eight per cent of critically ill patients in intensive care units have been morbidly obese, compared with 2.9 per cent of the general population.

According to our own poll, carried out by Dods Research, 60 per cent of the 50 MSPs who replied to our survey said they considered themselves overweight, with 67 per cent saying they have gained weight during the pandemic. Just under a fifth said they had put on “much
 more” weight.

Almost half (48 per cent) of MSPs said they felt that their physical health has deteriorated during the pandemic, while six per cent said they felt that it had improved and 46 per cent reported no change.

A number of politicians said the increase in workload due to the pandemic meant they’d found it difficult to get time away from their work to exercise. This, for some, was intensified  by the election in May.

One said they tried to adopt a better diet and walking more, “but physical activity reduced due to home working”.

“Started exercising more at the start of lockdown,” another said, “but found workload just took over and have ended up doing less than before”.

Another said they’d started the lockdown eating healthier and doing more exercise, “but this was made more difficult during the election and things have gotten worse since then”.

Another: “I haven’t had time to do much else but work, it’s been extremely busy and difficult to take time off.”

Yet another: “Demands of work have certainly prevented me from undertaking more regular exercise. This includes working longer hours attempting to help constituents.”

Other politicians said their initial enthusiasm for exercise had waned. “During lockdown and home working I took physical exercise every day but this has tailed off now,” said one. 

“Initially went for those 30 min walks locally but that has dropped off through boredom with the same routes,” another added.

Most of those who replied said they were walking more than before, while others picked up yoga and some bought exercise bikes or started outdoor swimming. One told us they were now skipping regularly. 

Just under a third of MSPs told us they’d delayed visits to the doctor, despite having health concerns. 

Again, their reluctance to engage with primary care mirrors the hesitancy of the country at large. 

It’s thought that people held off seeking medical help partly because they worried they might catch Covid-19 if they had to go to the hospital and partly because they did not want to waste health professionals’ time in the middle of a global health crisis – especially when a number of services, including the national screening programmes for cancer, had been suspended. 

Researchers at Cardiff University and Cancer Research UK found that it was often an unintended consequence of the “stay home, protect the NHS, save lives” adopted by the UK’s governments at the start of the lockdown. 

Cancer Research UK found around 45 per cent of adults who developed at least one possible sign of cancer between March and August last year did not contact their GP about their symptoms.

That included significant numbers of people who experienced a “red flag” symptom such as bringing up blood, getting an unexplained lump or swelling, or the appearance of a mole changing.

When Holyrood asked our MSPs what the next big health issue to affect Scotland would be, a large number of those replying mentioned cancer.

One MSP said: “The backlog of cancer screening is a huge concern since early detection is critical, but every area of health, including dental, have large backlogs to clear and this needs planned quickly and effectively.”

“The impact of the reduction in services during lockdown and the scale of the backlog that has built up through cancelled elective procedures, reductions in routine screening, etc, take years to tackle and for many that will be too late with lives lost,” said another.   

“Backlog of healthcare will result in more complex cases and deaths which might have been avoidable,” added another respondent. 

Figures from Public Health Scotland show that over the whole of 2020 there were 4,896 fewer patients diagnosed with cancer compared with 2019.

The Scottish Government recently committed an extra £130m towards the Detect Cancer Early Programme as part of their NHS recovery plan.

Other MSPs used the survey to raise the impact that the pandemic has had on the nation’s mental health.

“There is a real ticking time bomb when it comes to children’s mental health as a result of the pandemic and the disruption to young lives,” said one.

“Huge increase in people trying to access mental health services, especially young people,” added another respondent. 

“Mental health crises caused by an increasingly precarious world,” one MSP told us. 

Obesity and alcohol-related illnesses were also a worry, as was long Covid.

“I think alcoholism and drug abuse and associated illnesses are going to increase. Long Covid will also cause issues for people for the rest of their lives,” one MSP predicted.

Others thought the delivery on the ground might be the problem. “The NHS is so poorly run I think the big health issue will be the ability of the NHS to cope,” one MSP told us. 

While another, in a one-word answer, said hypochondria would be the big problem.

When asked what the most often-raised health-related issue by constituents was, many MSPs reported long waiting times and access to services. 

One MSP said: “At present, it is access to GPs, with some constituents told they can’t get a telephone appointment (with physical appointments still not being carried out) for three or four weeks unless it is an emergency. Many people are concerned that telephone appointments will now become the norm even after the pandemic.”

Another said: “Waiting times for routine dental and eye checks have grown significantly. Over the past three weeks there has been a significant increase in cases of elective surgery being cancelled due to staff shortages leading to already long waiting times growing.”

One MSP said vaccination was a major concern for their constituents. 

Most politicians, around 81 per cent, told us they had little difficulty in seeing a GP face to face in the last year. However, 19 per cent said they had been unable to do so.

The reasons for that included “triage by the receptionist as a result of Covid restrictions” and because “they are not seeing patients, certainly not my age anyway.”

Others told us it was because of restrictions or because their GP was only offering phone consultations.

“GP practice is not providing face to face appointments and is being closely vetted via the reception staff to assess your symptoms and how urgent you require medical treatment,” said one.

A quarter of MSPs told us they had missed regular check-ups or scheduled health screening programmes, while just under half (46 per cent) had seen a dentist, though one pointed out that was because they’d gone private. 

According to the NHS, the time between check-ups should vary between three months to two years, depending on how healthy teeth and gums are. However, most dentists are still only open for urgent and routine treatments. 

Read the most recent article written by Andrew Learmonth - Scottish Parliament to discuss safety of MSPs following murder of Sir David Amess



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