Public health minister faces calls to resign over 'tragedy' of drug deaths
New figures from the National Records of Scotland show that drug deaths in Scotland have continued to rise, as 1,264 people died as a result of drug use in 2019.
This was a six per cent increase on the previous year, and the highest figure since records began in 1996.
Labour Health Spokesperson Monica Lennon said at Holyrood that the people who died have been failed by decision makers, and failed by the system.
"Time and time again the Scottish Government was warned by dozens of organisations to properly fund treatment and recovery services, but delivered real-term cuts,” she said
She added: “What we're hearing from the public health minister today sounds to me like denial. Tthe figures today reveal a dreadful record that has occurred on the watch of Joe Fitzpatrick.
“There is still no radical plan, no urgency, no humility and no ambition for how we can reverse this trend any time soon.
“The public needs to have confidence in the public health minister to lead us out of this human rights tragedy. These shocking statistics and his woeful response give us none.
“The minister may have tried his best, but it is not good enough. Minister, I am sorry to say it, but I do believe your time is up. Will he please do the decent thing, resign and please make way for fresh leadership.”
Mr FitzPatrick responded that many people working on the front line of this health emergency take a “different view” to that of Ms Lennon.
"It’s easy to call names and it’s easy to personalise. I’m disappointed it’s come from Monica Lennon,” he said.
Mr FitzPatrick denied claims that he has not engaged with stakeholders working to improve the drugs crisis.
“I think in the last two years we have taken considerable action to improve the service, the idea that I am not listening is just not factual,” he said.
“It is one of the things I have taken great care to do since being appointed to this post, to listen to people across Scotland with lived and living experience and those on the front line in this public health emergency.”
Labour MSP Neil Findlay echoed the call for Mr FitzPatrick to resign.
"We have three and a half times a worse situation in Scotland than anywhere else in the UK with the same legislation,” he said.
"Working class communities are in a crisis, and we see working groups, and we’re going to take pill presses off people and think that’s going to resolve the issue.”
He added: “Minister, you are a nice man, I believe you are, but we don’t need a nice person in charge, we need a competent person in charge.
"Please stand aside and let somebody drive the change that we need.”
In response, Mr FitzPatrick said simply: “Thanks for recognising I’m a nice person.”