I hope you all managed to grab some kind of break and rest over the festive period. Omicron saw to it that many Christmas Days and New Year’s celebrations were further curtailed or disrupted. This wave has not had as big an impact as it could have had. That is all down to the actions of all of us to listen to advice, limiting social interactions and getting a booster vaccine.
To stay safe this winter, get a booster or even your first vaccine, it is never too late. Take a Lateral Flow test (LFT) before you socialise, limit the number of households you are meeting up with, follow hygiene advice and wear masks where appropriate.
The Scottish Parliament was recalled twice during its recess and I was able to question the First Minister on Long Covid on the 5th January where the First Minister announced changes to test requirements. There is no longer a need to get a confirmatory PCR test if you get a positive LFT and you do not have symptoms. You should self-isolate and follow Scottish Government advice which you can find here.
If you do have symptoms you should not take a LFT but book a PCR test. In Shetland you can book a PCR test here.
In light of this, I raised concerns that those who may yet come to live with Long Covid could face delayed treatment for Long Covid because of a lack of proof of being Covid positive. This has been the case for some who contracted Covid during the first wave, when widespread testing wasn’t available.
The First Minister stated that a positive LFT registered online would be sufficient to access treatment where required. The First Minister also stressed that all LFTs should be registered online. You can watch my question here. I also received a letter with more detail from the Scottish Government following this, which you can read here.
I was also able to question the Scottish Government about an update for those young carers who are helping adults living with Long Covid on Wednesday. You can watch my question here. The minister assured me that he would raise the matter in the cross party meeting which establishes upcoming business in the chamber. I shall continue to voice the need for help and support for all those impacted by Long Covid.
Just before the Christmas break I was also able to question the First Minister about the national importance of the Space Port in Unst for the future of space exploration. You can watch the exchange here.
On Tuesday I contributed to a member’s debate on endometriosis, you can watch my contribution here. An estimated 1.5 million women in the UK are affected, similar to the number of women who have diabetes. As high as 30-50% of women affected by infertility have endometriosis. The condition is where tissue, similar to the lining of the womb, starts to grow in other places such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes. There is no definite cure, and the cause is still unknown.
I met with the North Highland support group for Endometriosis UK last summer as its network includes Shetland. More information about the group and the condition can be found online and they can be contacted at: [email protected]
Unfortunately, too many are led to believe that their debilitating symptoms are just something they have to put up with. Girls’ education can be impacted if endometriosis forces them to take one week off a month from school to cope with the chronic pain.
Encouraging openness and breaking down taboos around women’s health issues so those affected know when to seek help is so important. Misconceptions need addressing, and medical staff need training to spot signs of endometriosis sooner. Plainly, we must do better than averaging eight and a half years for a diagnosis of endometriosis.
On Wednesday the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment (RAINE) committee met for the first time this year in a virtual session where members were able to question the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands. I quizzed the minister about the Scottish Government’s proposed cut to the Highlands and Islands Enterprise budget. Combined with a real terms budget cut for Shetland Islands Council I am concerned that business will not get the resource needed to support them through the latest covid wave.
I also asked about the controversial Islands Bonds policy of the Scottish Government. The proposed £300,000 budget will have maximum payments of £50,000 and likely many smaller payments to applicants. I believe this money would be better spent on infrastructure to support islanders and businesses.
The second half of the RAINE committee focused on required measures after exit from the EU. In discussions on the issue of chilled meat, I grilled the minister on a proposed extension of the current policy.
On Thursday morning I presented the Cross Party Group on Poverty to the Standards Committee, you can watch my presentation here. The group was subsequently approved and aims to act as a forum for exploring the drivers of and solutions to poverty in Scotland.
Over 1 million people in Scotland live in the grip of poverty. 16 per cent of children in Shetland are thought to live in poverty and 1 in 4 Shetland households live in fuel poverty. With rising fuel costs and growing inflation these numbers are likely to rise.
Poverty in Scotland is not new but the pandemic has highlighted it and its impact. There’s cross-party consensus to do something about it which is why this new group has been formed. No one should face a situation where they are worried that they do not have the means to live, but over a million people are in that situation and it invades every part of life for all members of the affected households.
There are many small groups working in communities up and down the country trying to help. Building a platform for them to share experiences and exchange ideas will be of great benefit. It will allow many voices across Scotland to put their concerns directly to decision makers. Together we can make a difference.
In the Chamber on Thursday afternoon I responded to a ministerial statement on the proposed 20% reduction of car miles by 2030. I was pleased that the statement recognised that reduction would not be uniform across Scotland as there is such diversity between communities in urban, city, rural, remote and island areas. For many, a car is an essential, not a luxury. I asked the minister how the ‘active travel’ (walking, cycling, wheeling) budget would be split in order to address this. While I did not get a clear answer from the Minister I will take his advice and write to Shetland Islands Council to see how we could work up a proposal to address this. You can watch my question here.
If you have a matter you believe I may be able to assist with please do not hesitate to contact me. I can be contacted at:
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 01595 690 044
PS – You can read my Shetland Times Column for this week here.