Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

Updates from Holyrood

Alison writes a regular column for local newspapers in the North East to keep residents updated with the latest goings on at Holyrood, and on her work on important issues from around the region. Below you can find a recent column, along with links to those from previous months.

Local NHS waiting times

Official statistics released last week showed that just 89.9% of people attending A&E in January 2015 were treated by NHS Grampian within four hours - significantly below the national target of 95%. Many more people than last year waited in excess of 12 hours to be seen in A&E. Neighbouring NHS Tayside performs very well in comparison.

Similarly, only 51% of children requiring crucial mental health services were treated by NHS Grampian within the 18-week target period.On this measure, NHS Tayside only performed marginally better with 52%.

You wouldn't expect a young person to wait over six months with a broken leg. The treatment of mental health issues is no less urgent. It is time for the SNP to heed Liberal Democrat calls to enshrine in law parity for the treatment of mental and physical ill health.

These figures also expose the scale of the problems being experienced by NHS Grampian. It is struggling to meet crucial targets, damaged by the continued underfunding of our health board by the Scottish Government.

Ministers promised in January to give NHS Grampian a fair settlement but by February had taken their eye off the ball and reneged on this promise. Instead of being given the real financial boost it needs, NHS Grampian will be short-changed again in the forthcoming year - this time to the tune of £17 million.

Staff and patients deserve better. It is particularly frustrating that they haven't even been given a proper explanation as to why the Scottish Government isn't delivering what was promised to them just weeks ago.

I will continue to demand a fairer settlement at every opportunity.

Super ID database

Last week attentions turned to the SNP's plans for a super ID database as Willie Rennie and I led a debate at Holyrood on this controversial scheme.

Ministers plan to allow 120 bodies access to the NHS central register. It would mean this one database is shared across the public sector, among organisations as diverse as Quality Meat Scotland and the Royal Botanic Gardens.

It hasn't been explained why they all need access, how our personal data could be kept secure if so many were granted rights to it, or whether this information could in future be searched, profiled and mined. The Information Commissioner, civil liberty campaigners and the BMA have all warned the plans could breach UK and EU privacy laws.

Despite our securing the support of every other opposition party, the SNP government used its majority to narrowly defeat our motion calling for these plans to be subjected to full parliamentary scrutiny. The super ID database may therefore be ushered through the backdoor, without the approval of all MSPs. This would be intolerable.

International Women's Day

Last Friday I attended the Inspiring Women Conference at the University of Aberdeen - an event marking International Women's Day.

It is not unusual in my job to find myself to be the only woman in the room. Meetings at parliament and across government, like many other working environments, are often male-dominated. The opportunity to meet and hear from so many exceptionally talented women was therefore encouraging and refreshing.

The speakers included Dame Jocelyn Burnell. She is a world-renowned astrophysicist, known for pioneering achievements including the discovery of pulsars - often described as one of the greatest astronomical discoveries of the last century. Despite her being the first to observe and analyse pulsars, famously the Nobel Prize in Physics awarded in recognition of this work was given to her male thesis supervisor.

Dame Jocelyn has consistently worked to increase the number and profile of women in academic and professional science posts. However, recent research highlighted just how far we still have to go.

Women make up 44.5% of academic staff at Scottish universities but in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) this drops to just 16%. A significant pay gap also persists across academia.

Like so many other working environments, much more needs to be done by universities to improve diversity and ensure female talent is retained, valued and recognised.

My Holyrood Columns