Working with Scottish Parliament

The BMA in Scotland works to ensure doctors’ voices are heard at Holyrood and can help you to lobby MSPs and raise your concerns.
Location: Scotland
Audience: All doctors Patients and public
Updated: Thursday 16 January 2020
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The BMA in Scotland works to ensure your voice is heard at Holyrood and that it is taken into account by policymakers at the heart of government.

 

Our priorities

Alcohol policy

Working alongside other health organisations, BMA Scotland has played an important role in the development of Scotland’s world-leading alcohol policy. Advocating for additional proactive measures to reduce alcohol harm remains a key priority for BMA Scotland.

 

A vision for general practice

Demographic changes in Scotland will increase the demands on the NHS in coming years, which will need to be met and managed in the community. GPs can help to meet these challenges, but to do so will require real changes to their role and responsibilities.

In particular, GPs will require:

  • a more defined role which better matches their training, to focus on diagnosing, complex care and managing teams, as the expert medical generalists and senior clinical decision makers in the community
  • a role in influencing how health and social care will work in the community following the establishment of Integrated Joint Boards so they can clearly address patient outcomes, experience and service quality
  • BMA Scotland’s GP committee toured Scotland to gather the views of GPs across the country to develop a vision for the future of general practice in Scotland. 

 

Consultant vacancies

The health service in Scotland is facing real challenges with consultant recruitment and retention. Figures from ISD Scotland show a significant increase in the number of vacant posts, and many are vacant for six months or more.

Using Freedom of Information legislation, BMA Scotland has obtained data suggesting that official figures fail to fully capture the true severity of consultant vacancy rates.

 

How to lobby your MSP

Lobbying is a way of informing your elected representative directly of your concerns and securing their support and assistance on issues.

MSPs are generally accessible, and if you think they can help you don’t hesitate to make contact. MSPs value information from their constituents, particularly if it is presented concisely. 

MSPs can help by:

  • tabling questions to obtain information from the Scottish Government
  • meeting or writing to ministers
  • putting forward your views during debates, committee meetings, or when talking to colleagues
  • initiating debates
  • leading delegations to meet ministers.

You will have one constituency MSP and seven regional MSPs to represent you and you can choose which of them to contact.

The BMA Scotland public affairs office can provide a list of your local MSPs and their details, covering their political and personal background, areas of interest and attitudes on health-related issues. 

 

Contacting your MSP

The position held by an MSP affects your request. For example, it is not normal practice for a member of the Scottish Government to publicly campaign on issues affecting other government departments, but of course they can be very helpful in speaking privately to ministerial colleagues and writing to their colleagues in their capacity as an MSP.

Try to involve doctors who live or work in the MSP’s constituency or region – this carries more weight. MSPs receive a large volume of correspondence, but their assistants ensure they prioritise constituency correspondence. Failing that, stress that you are representing the MSP’s local doctors when applicable.

Where to contact your MSP:

  • at the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh EH99 1SP, or by calling the Scottish Parliament switchboard at 0131 348 5000. All post is forwarded to an MSP when necessary, even during parliamentary recess
  • the Scottish Parliament website is an excellent resource; enter your postcode to see your MSP’s contact details and short biography
  • in the constituency: most MSPs maintain a local office in the area they represent; contact details are also on the Scottish Parliament site. Some MSPs organise regular surgeries in their constituency (see below) while others arrange individual meetings when contacted.

 

Tips for corresponding with MSPs

Here are some suggestions to help you throughout the process. 

  • If you write a letter to more than one MSP at the Scottish Parliament, do not put all the letters in one envelope. Some MSPs have any post they receive in Parliament automatically forwarded to their constituency office.
  • Write individually to each MSP so they do not feel they are receiving a standard letter. Vary any examples you give to be appropriate to that MSP’s area. A standard letter is likely to attract a standard response.
  • Sign the letters personally.
  • Make sure your name and address (and position if relevant, eg LMC chair) are clear and easily understood. If possible, give a telephone number and email address.
  • Give your correspondence a clear heading so the MSP can easily identify the subject.
  • Start your correspondence by introducing yourself to the MSP. Where possible, write as a constituent from your home or place of work;  failing this, stress that you are representing the MSP’s doctors.
  • Introduce the issue immediately.
  • Keep your correspondence short. If you want to go into detail, it is better to do this by enclosing a separate briefing paper or by arranging a meeting.
  • Use examples where possible but take care that you can back them up (publicly if necessary).
  • End your correspondence with a question, so the MSP has to think about a reply rather than just send you an acknowledgement. If you can’t think of a specific question, say that you look forward to hearing their views on the situation.
  • If you want to meet the MSP personally, add a note that you will be contacting them to arrange a meeting.

 

Meeting your MSP

When a constituent asks for a meeting the MSP is likely to agree. You may wish to meet alone or involve other colleagues. It is preferable to involve no more than three people. Prepare what you want to say in advance; if going with colleagues, discuss the points you want to raise.

Have facts and figures to hand to back up the key points you want to make. Don’t worry if faced with a question you can’t answer – tell the MSP you will get back to them with the information. Leave the MSP with written information so there is a record of the points you raised.

Try to have an idea of what you want the MSP to do – eg speak to the minister with your concerns, contact the health board about your problems, raise the issue in the local press, etc. The MSP may have other suggestions.

After the meeting, send the MSP a note of thanks for their time and give any information you had promised or points that you thought of afterwards.

 

Meeting in the constituency

MSPs are often in their constituencies on Fridays, over the weekend and Monday mornings.

Some MSPs hold 'surgeries' where constituents can attend without an appointment and put a problem to them.

Surgeries are usually advertised on MSPs' websites or constituency offices, in local papers and local libraries. This is not ideal as the MSP will probably have a full waiting room and have to deal with all sorts of subjects, from housing to transport, but it could be useful if only to establish contact. Try to arrange a further, longer meeting elsewhere in the constituency.

 

Meeting at the Scottish Parliament

You’ll need to arrange an appointment in advance with the MSP if you wish to speak to them in Parliament. Call their office and speak to the MSP directly if you can, or their parliamentary assistant. Briefly explain the subject you want to discuss.

Scottish Parliament’s normal sitting times are 9am to 5.30pm, Monday to Thursday. MSPs are often available at other times during the day, although they may be involved in committees or other meetings. Many – particularly those in distant constituencies – return to their constituencies on Thursdays and may not return to Edinburgh until late on Monday or Tuesday morning.

Read more about how to prepare for your appointment on the Scottish Parliament website

 

After contacting your MSP

Once contact has been made, either by meeting or correspondence, make sure you keep the MSP informed of any developments.

The BMA Scotland public affairs office is always happy to give members advice on meeting MSPs and may be able to suggest further actions to consider following a meeting.