Ian Welsh: Third sector has key role with fifth parliament

Party policies have already been shaped by outside voices says Ian Welsh

The election of any new parliament offers an opportunity for renewed hope and expectation – and the Scottish Parliament’s fifth term is no different. Starting long before voters hit the polls on 5 May, the campaigning efforts from disabled people, people with long-term conditions and my colleagues across the third sector have clearly made a mark on each party’s plan of action for the next five years.

For example, Marie Curie’s proposal for a national adviser on steps to improve childhood bereavement services was included within the SNP’s manifesto. Isolation was a key issue within both the Alliance and Age Scotland manifestos, and both Labour and the SNP proposed the development of a national strategy to tackle this. You can also see the fingerprints of SAMH’s “Ask Once, Get Help Fast” campaign throughout the manifestos – with the Scottish Liberal Democrats dedicating a specific focus to mental health problems and calling for a widening of interventions including increased social prescribing.

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So what are likely to be the main priority issues at the top of the in tray of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and our returning Cabinet secretary for health and sport, Shona Robison?

At her recent announcement of her initial priorities, the First Minister noted the government’s desire to “work with civic Scotland to establish an agreed set of social and economic rights for all Scotland’s citizens”. As part of a collective effort to add pace to this agenda we have worked closely on Scotland’s National Action Plan for Human Rights, centring our work on the importance of embedding human-rights based approaches in the delivery of health and social care, not just the principles on which support and services are based. Our Health and Social Care Academy plans to further develop collaborative and cross-sectoral approaches to embed human rights in integration and we are keen to add our members’ views to this debate.

Having worked closely with government and others on the legislation, we believe that the challenge now is to turn these strong policy guidelines into practice. Also featuring high on the list of priorities will be the implementation of the recently published National Clinical Strategy, the Scottish Government’s framework for the development of future health services.

Meanwhile, the need to shift the balance of care and increase the pace change of towards prevention has been a subject of much political consensus in recent years, but evidence suggests that progress isn’t yet happening at the speed, or on the scale required to meet growing need. The reform of Primary Care, with the implementation of a new GP contract, and trialling of new models such as the House of Care and Community Health Hubs, will be crucial to this agenda.

On that theme, our ‘Two Million Expert Voices’ manifesto made plain the need for greater signposting to sources of support in local communities and we have been delighted to note the government’s repeated commitment to the creation of 250 new “links worker” roles. These posts are key to supporting people and transforming services and support for the better.

Add to this overseeing the implementation of the new Cancer Strategy, a review of the number, structure and regulation of health boards (and their relationship with local authorities) together with many more issues and it’s fair to say that the Cabinet Secretary is going to be busy.

The dynamics of the new Scottish Parliament and requirement for agreement across parties will, perhaps, offer opportunities for a greater degree of cross-party collaboration within the next session. As the dust begins to settle, a sharp eye must remain on ensuring that we seize this opportunity to enable people with long term conditions, disabled people and carers to enjoy their right to live well.

• Ian Welsh is Chief Executive of Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (the Alliance), www.alliance-scotland.org.uk