World Hypertension Month – 23rd May 2017

Motion S5M-05136 : Maree Todd MSP

That the Parliament notes that May 2017 marks World Hypertension Month; understands that this awareness month will highlight this silent condition, which is a preventable cause of stroke and heart disease, and provide information regarding its prevention, detection and treatment; notes that it is estimated to cause around nine million deaths globally each year; understands that 30% of adults in Scotland have high blood pressure, half of whom are not receiving treatment, and that 70,860 people in the Highlands and Islands region are living with the condition, and acknowledges and welcomes the work of Professor Rhian Touyz, of the British Heart Foundation Centre of Research Excellence at the University of Glasgow, which aims to understand the causes of hypertension.”

(From 31:01)

I played my part in addressing the issue of hypertension earlier this month, when I was given a monitor to wear for a day. I handed it in the next day, and the doctor phoned me and said, “You peaked at 240/190”. I said, “Oh, right”. He asked me where I had been at half past 7 the night before; I said that I was at my branch meeting. There is a clue: members should not go to their branch meetings and their blood pressure will be all right.

I too thank Maree Todd for bringing the debate to the chamber in recognition of world hypertension month, which raises awareness of those who are suffering from stroke and heart conditions. It is crucial that we recognise not only those who are affected by high blood pressure, but those who remain undiagnosed with a silent condition.

The International Society of Hypertension presents, through its blood pressure awareness campaign—May measurement month—the ambitious goal of screening 25 million people who have not had their blood pressure measured for more than a year. That involves screening an average of 100 people on 100 sites in 100 countries every day throughout the month of May. It is an ambitious yet achievable goal and, by working together, we can make a difference by tackling the biggest single contributor to global death.

Sixteen million people in the United Kingdom have high blood pressure and one third of them do not know they have it, as high blood pressure rarely has any symptoms. Those people are also three times more likely to develop heart disease and stroke.

High blood pressure is entirely preventable and one of the most preventable conditions, but it still remains one of the leading causes of death in the UK. We face complex challenges to prevent and control hypertension globally and nationally, and I hope that the data collected during world hypertension month can be used to support research on a national, regional and global level.

There is only one way to identify blood pressure, which is by having a GP or other health professional measure it. That is why we need to educate people and increase awareness.

Hypertension risk varies with income. Those of lower socioeconomic status are much more likely to develop heart conditions than those who are wealthier and generally better educated. The risk persists even with long-term progress in addressing the main risk factors such as smoking and high cholesterol. That is why low socioeconomic status needs to be regarded as a heart disease risk factor in itself by the medical community as well as the political community, as the effects are cumulative.

Among women especially, it has been proven that levels of high blood pressure increase as income decreases. According to the British Heart Foundation, women are less likely to seek medical attention and treatment despite the warning signs. The risk of heart disease and menopause are correlated, and risk continues to increase with age. Women’s hormones might provide some protection from heart disease, but the risk rises post menopause.

It is crucial for women to recognise symptoms. Heart disease kills more than twice as many women as breast cancer every year, but society still perceives it as a “man’s disease”. The women in hypertension research network was

“established to encourage, support and inspire women in science and medicine in the field of hypertension and related”

heart conditions, and it creates avenues for women to communicate, collaborate and educate.

In 2016 in Scotland, 30 per cent of those tested had high blood pressure. The number is higher in Fife, where 39 per cent of those tested have high blood pressure. Keep well clinics—a Scotland-wide programme—seek to reduce the risk of ill health, and there are several clinics across Fife where community nurses can measure blood pressure.

Despite the tremendous services provided by the NHS, heart disease can place a massive emotional burden on people and create serious financial stress. In Scotland, Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland and Citizens Advice Scotland have appointed three benefits advisers to give advice and information about social security benefits for people who need assistance.

In conclusion, I applaud the efforts by those involved in world hypertension month to improve the population’s overall health. We need to prevent people from developing high blood pressure in the first place by encouraging better diet and exercise, and by reducing stress. I hope that the initiative brings together communities, healthcare professionals, health systems, non-profit organisations, charities, and private sector partners to improve care and empower the Scottish population to make heart-healthy choices.

Link to the Scottish Parliament Official Report

Scotland’s Veterans – 31st Jan 2017

Motion S5M-02578: Scotland’s Veterans (Graeme Day MSP)

“That the Parliament welcomes the publication of the report by the Scottish Veterans Commissioner, The Veterans Community: Employability, Skills and Learning; understands that the study looks at the crucial issue of veterans’ employability and makes recommendations that both seek to promote the skills, experience and attributes of veterans more vigorously and remove barriers to civilian employment; acknowledges that this is the third report published by the commissioner; understands that the commissioner believes that there is an increasingly enlightened attitude towards ex-military personnel, and welcomes the part that it hopes this report can play in the formulation of policy pertaining to skills, training and employment for veterans in Angus South and across the country.”


(From 21:23)

I thank Graeme Dey for bringing the motion to Parliament for debate, and for raising awareness of the significance, strength and qualities of Scotland’s veterans.

The veteran-civilian relationship is complex and often challenging. Throughout history, veterans have served their country and returned with an expectation that the country would ease their transition back into civilian life. That has not always happened, of course. The UK Government spends billions of pounds a year on the military—2.7 per cent of its gross domestic product—but only a tiny fraction of that is spent ensuring that veterans are employed, or, if they are not employed, that they build skills or receive training to ease their transition back into society.

I welcome the publication by the Scottish veterans commissioner, Eric Fraser, of the report, which studies the crucial issue of veteran employability in Scotland. I hope that the Scottish Government and my fellow MSPs embrace the report’s findings and recommendations, as we have an obligation as policy makers to invest in programmes that will help veterans adapt to social, political and economic life. The area in which that can most powerfully and successfully be demonstrated is employment, as the report on employability, skills and learning clearly exhibits.

I highlight the paradox that veterans are able to provide us with protection but struggle to secure employment at an acceptable rate upon returning to the civilian world. The Ministry of Defence recently published statistics that highlight the problem and show that former military personnel are less likely to be in work and more likely to be unemployed than their counterparts among the general Scottish population. Although the numbers show a significant improvement when compared to studies conducted in 2014, they continue to highlight the gap between veterans and non-veterans.

I make special mention of some of the organisations and programmes that help veterans and support them back into employment: SaluteMyJob, Forth Valley Chamber of Commerce, Veterans Scotland, Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish veterans employment and training service, to name a few. It is crucial that those partners not only secure meaningful and sustained employment for veterans but aid personal fulfilment and development. In my constituency, veterans first point Fife, which was established only last year, consists of veterans along with peer-support workers, clinicians and therapists, who provide information, support, social networking and understanding to promote wellbeing.

I also highlight the importance of addressing the challenges that many female veterans face. We need to recognise that women veterans experience military service in different ways from men. Without intervention, those and other issues can put women veterans at greater risk of unemployment. Therefore, we need to address the individual needs of women through specialised programmes.

The Scottish political agenda emphasises that education is a tool for ensuring a certain level of veteran employability, as barriers to significant and sustainable employment are intensified by the absence of educational attainment. Veteran higher education is often met with resistance due to monetary challenges, lack of acceptance and stress about competing with younger students. In most cases, opting out of higher education is an economic decision. As a response, the Scottish veterans fund has provided crucial financial support in the form of grants. Apprenticeships, mentoring and sponsorship opportunities are not only available but actively encouraged to help to establish networks, while our sense of community allows for an ambitious and generous charitable sector on which many veterans rely.

Although the Scottish Government is supportive of veterans, there remains work to be done to shift the stigma surrounding them that still exists among employers, the media and the public. There are often assumptions and stereotypes regarding veterans that can make some employers reluctant to hire them. However, veterans are assets. Their skills can easily be transferred into a variety of different employment opportunities. I am confident that we can mend the veteran-civilian relationship by guaranteeing that the credentials and talents of veterans are more extensively acknowledged not only by employers but, as importantly, by Scottish society in general.

I again thank Graeme Dey for securing this important debate. I hope that the Scottish veterans commissioner’s recommendations are taken on board.


Link to the Scottish Parliament Official Report.