NICOLA STURGEON was pressed to intervene and save failing mental health services at a Scottish health board today after the publication of a damning report earlier this week.
At First Minister’s Questions, the SNP leader was pushed to commit to a swathe of measures at NHS Tayside.
The independent inquiry into mental health services in the region found a culture of “fear and blame,” with more than 50 suggestions made about how to make improvements.
Scotland’s Labour leader Richard Leonard asked Ms Sturgeon whether her government would step in at the health board and put in place “special measures” to ensure implementation of the recommendations.
He said: “NHS Tayside has a history of evading scrutiny, deflecting criticism and resisting change.
“They have repeatedly ignored recommendations from Healthcare Improvement Scotland and the Mental Welfare Commission.
“Will you today instruct your Cabinet Secretary to re-escalate NHS Tayside’s mental health services so that your government steps in to drive the transformation of mental health services in Tayside?
“First Minister, will you do the right thing?”
Ms Sturgeon said she offered her apologies to all families who had been let down by the NHS.
She added: “The Scottish government will continue to take the action that is already under way and we will consider all suggestions.
“We will continue to monitor the progress of NHS Tayside through the Tayside Oversight Group, which is a vital part of the picture here.
“As I said, the Mental Health Minister will keep Parliament updated and we have proactively asked David Strang to review this after a year and to provide an update into the progress that has been made.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said an interim report into mental health services in Tayside will be published “imminently”.
Responding to questions from Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard about the inquiry, Ms Sturgeon said she would expect relatives who campaigned for the inquiry to be given advance copies of the interim report, which is expected to be published this month.
The inquiry was launched following a public campaign by families who blamed poor care at the Carseview Psychiatric Centre at Ninewells Hospital for a series of suicides.
The interim report will be published next week although it will be several months before the full inquiry report is completed.
Mr Leonard told the First Minister that some of the relatives whose campaigning led to the inquiry feel they have not been kept up-to-date with its progress and believe it is not “transparent”.
He said that when the inquiry was set up then health secretary Shona Robison said it should be seen as “a force for good” and asked if Ms Sturgeon believed this aspiration is being met.
Mr Sturgeon said it would be wrong for the Scottish Government to “pre-empt” the inquiry but said its findings would be scrutinised and any recommendations acted upon.
She added: “Of course we want to learn lessons and our sympathies are with the families who have experienced those losses.
“We established an independent inquiry in Tayside. That hasn’t yet reported. I hope it will report soon and it will be fully scrutinised by the government.”
Mr Leonard said Mandy McLaren, the mother of Dundee suicide victim Dale Thomson, has lost confidence in the inquiry.
He said: “She asked me to ask you directly if families will see an advance copy of the interim report before it is published.
“Will you listen to the voices of those families? Will you do what you can do to restore their confidence in this inquiry?”
Ms Sturgeon replied: “This inquiry is being led by David Strang. It is an independent inquiry.
“If the government was interfering in the conduct of that inquiry, I am sure Richard Leonard would be raising that in the chamber.
“I understand David Strang has met with family members. It would be full my expectation that an advance copy of the report would go to those directly affected.
“I will pass that specific point to David Strang but I would stress it is an independent inquiry.”
Earlier, Conservative MSP Bill Bowman pressed health secretary Jeane Freeman over plans for a 24-hour crisis centre in Dundee.
Councillor Ken Lynn, the the vice-chairman of Dundee Heath and Social Care Partnership, has pledged his “total commitment” to creating a centre in Dundee, but Ms Freeman the issue had not been raised with her or the minister for mental health, Claire Haughey.
Mr Bowman said later: “It was clear from the cabinet secretary’s answer that the SNP are disconnected from the challenges faced on the ground.
“There seems to be no plans for the new centre in Dundee, or for the government to help NHS Tayside create one.”
A probe into serious abuse allegations at Carseview could impact a controversial shake-up of mental health services.
The first phase of a planned review, which will see general adult psychiatry acute admissions centralised in Dundee, is due to begin in June.
However, health chiefs say they are prepared to make changes if necessary,when the findings of an independent investigation into claims patients were pinned to the floor and mocked by staff at the Carseview mental health unit in Ninewells.
The Perth and Kinross Integration Joint Board heard preparatory work on the mental health review is already under way, with the first phase due to begin in June.
The plan was agreed in January 2018, following months of consultation and protest. Learning disability inpatient services will be provided at Murray Royal Hospital Perth, after services were transferred out of the outdated Mulberry unit at Stracathro in Angus.
The board was given an update by the four-person panel leading the review.
Conservative councillor Colin Stewart asked: “We’ve heard that we need to work quickly to address risks, but we are also told there are delays to the redesign programme.
“I understand there is going to be an interim report on the independent inquiry published later this month.
“Have you had any indication that there may be points raised for action in this report, that might have implications for the redesign programme?”
Arlene Wood, associate director for mental health, confirmed she had not had any feedback or update on the review. “The clear steer that we have had from the chief executive is that we continue, for now, on the quality improvement and redesign programme because we know there are inherent risks in the system and this work needs to happen,” she said.
“It would be remiss of us to wait for the report. If there are things raised that require us to change our course of action, then we would address that at the time.”
The board heard the heads of health partnerships in Dundee, Perth and Angus were working on a Tayside Mental Health Alliance, to tackle a range of challenges facing the sector.
Professor Keith Matthews, associate medical director for mental health services said: “It would be a mistake to underestimate how challenging the environment is for mental health services.
“We have issues with recruitment and there are emerging difficulties with retention of staff.”
He said the Scottish Government was attempting to address a national shortage of psychiatrists with an international recruitment campaign.
“Although many efforts are being taken to resolve these matters, the likelihood of anything being resolved soon are pretty low.”
He added there was a need to move away from a workforce reliant on high-cost agency work.
Suicide rates in Dundee are higher than any other city council area in Scotland, according to a new report.
The Scottish Suicide Information Database also shows that men accounted for three-quarters of suicides across Tayside in the last seven years.
According to the report, there were 164 deaths caused by suicide in Dundee with an average of 16.7 per 100,000 population between 2011 and 2017.
Angus along with Perth and Kinross Councils recorded 98 and 126 suicides respectively.
For Tayside as a whole, 388 suicides were recorded with an average per 100,000 population of 14.1.
Men were more likely to take their own lives, with the rates across Scotland highest among those aged 35-54 and in deprived areas.
Nearly three-quarters of those who died had contact with healthcare services in the year before their death.
An inquiry is currently under way into NHS Tayside’s mental health services after a number of concerns surrounding the Carseview Centre.
Phil Welsh, whose 28-year-old son Lee took his own life last year, said the latest statistics were “damning”.
He said: “It’s clear that there’s a situation here that isn’t working.
“I think the fact there is an inquiry shows there’s something amiss.
“Mental health is a discussion point now but it’s all well talking, we need support for people afterwards and that is why we badly need a crisis centre.”
A spokeswoman from NHS Health Scotland said: “National suicide prevention programmes need to incorporate a comprehensive public health approach which seeks to reduce stigma, improve mental wellbeing in the whole population and address the underlying causes of poor mental health.”