Ex-Tory MP rightly cleared of grope claim, watchdog rules

Former Aberdeen South MP Ross Thomson was accused and then cleared of sexual misconduct.

A decision to clear a former Tory MP of sexual misconduct claims has been upheld by a new watchdog. Patrick Daly via PA Media
A decision to clear a former Tory MP of sexual misconduct claims has been upheld by a new watchdog.

An appeal against the decision to clear a former Tory MP of sexual misconduct allegations has been thrown out.

Ross Thomson was cleared by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards in October following claims by former Labour MP Paul Sweeney, who said the Conservative had “groped” him in a Westminster bar in October 2018.

The Independent Expert Panel (IEP), established last year as part of a complaints process developed following a major report on bullying and harassment in the House of Commons by Dame Laura Cox, considered an appeal by Sweeney against commissioner Kathryn Stone’s decision.

But the eight-person panel ruled there was no case to answer for Thomson, who had been elected in 2017.

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Thomson said he hoped the panel’s decision, which related to allegations submitted in March 2019, marked the “end of the smear campaign against me”.

In a statement posted on social media, Thomson said he planned to “restart” legal action.

The Tory, who ran Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign in Scotland, stood down as the party’s candidate for the Aberdeen South seat in November 2019 after Sweeney went public with the accusations.

A spokeswoman for the IEP said it considered each of the five grounds of appeal made by the complainant – whom the panel did not name – “with some care”.

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“Their judgment found there was no merit in any of the grounds and do not accept that there are any valid grounds for an appeal,” she added.

Sir Stephen Irwin, a former Lord Justice of appeal and chairman of the IEP, said: “The panel made the decision in this first case guided by the principles of natural justice, fairness for all parties, transparency and proportionality, and will treat all further cases with the same regard and diligence.

“We understand the seriousness of, and the harm caused by, bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct.

“We are rigorously independent, impartial and objective, acting without any political input or influence.”

Thomson said: “l welcome the decision of the Independent Expert Panel to reject Paul Sweeney’s appeal.

“This is the second time his false and malicious allegations have been formally dismissed.

“I find it astonishing that Mr Sweeney had the brass neck to appeal (against) the commissioner’s original decision, which was based on extensive evidence, including witness statements and CCTV footage, contradicting his story.

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“I hope today’s decision finally marks the end of the smear campaign against me.

“l intend to restart legal discussions now that the appeal process has concluded.”

A spokesman for Mr Sweeney highlighted the panel’s finding that Thomson had invaded the accuser’s personal space.

He added: “We also note the counter-allegation that the complaint was made maliciously was thrown out by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

“We are considering the implications of the decision in full and have no further comment at this time.”

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‘Not enough nursing staff’ to provide safe and effective care

Poll suggests 73% of Scots believe the number of staff employed in the country’s health and care sector is too low.

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Poll respondents said pay rise for nursing staff should be a top priority for the Scottish Government.

Nearly two-thirds of Scots believe there are not enough nursing staff to provide safe and effective care, according to a new poll.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Scotland survey, carried out on January 25 and 26 by Scotpulse, suggests 73% believe the number of staff employed in the country’s health and care services is too low.

A vast majority (92%) agreed nurses should be guaranteed time for doing training and development while 89% said more should be done to protect their wellbeing.

The union’s poll also returned high figures of those supportive of a pay rise for NHS nursing staff (83%) and those who agreed nurses should be paid more for the work they do (78%).

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Respondents said such a pay rise should be one of the top three priorities for Scottish Government spending on health and care in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The other two priorities suggested were tackling the backlog of delayed treatments and reducing waiting times and increasing access to mental health services.

Susan Aitkenhead, RCN Scotland director, said: “Nursing as a profession has been integral to the pandemic response; working under immense pressure, whether in hospitals, out in the community, or looking after vulnerable people in care homes.

“As the focus begins to shift towards recovery and remobilisation, we have set out what needs to be done to meet the health and wellbeing needs of the people of Scotland and to protect the future of nursing.

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“It is clear that the public agrees that more needs to be done to value the nursing profession and enable nursing staff to provide the best possible care.

“Our members remain committed to their profession, but action is urgently needed to ensure nursing is attractive, well-paid and meaningfully supported, otherwise we risk many of our members leaving – at a time when the nation needs them more than ever.”

It comes after other union leaders said workers deserved a pay deal that recognises their “sacrifices” during the pandemic, as it was announced more than 150,000 NHS staff are being awarded an interim 1% pay rise.

Health secretary Jeane Freeman said the increase, backdated to December 2020, comes amid the “sustained pressure” they have been under with formal negotiations also impacted by the delay to the UK Government Budget.

The RCN is continuing to campaign for a 12.5% pay rise for NHS staff across the UK with Ms Aitkenhead adding: “Scotland’s nursing staff deserve better.

“Our members will be angry and disappointed that the Scottish Government is not willing to do more to value the skills and expertise of the nursing profession.

“They will not understand why they have to wait until the summer for negotiations to commence.

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“This is not the substantive pay award our members are looking for and does not recognise their contribution.

“Today’s unexpected announcement has been imposed rather than negotiated and we would ask Scottish Government to honour its commitment and enter into meaningful negotiations now.”

Covid breaches rise as police break up more house parties

Enforcement of restrictions is at its highest level since emergency powers began.

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In the first week in January, there were fewer than 500 charges recorded by police, but last week that number was more than 1,000.

Police say there has been a significant increase in the number of breaches of Covid regulations, including a rise in house parties.

At a Scottish Police Authority (SPA) conference on Wednesday morning, deputy chief constable Will Kerr said the number of house gatherings “have been rising significantly”.

The overall number of charges, which includes fines for breaking coronavirus rules, has more than doubled since the start of the year.

In the first week in January, there were fewer than 500 charges recorded by police, but last week that number was more than 1000.

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Although the majority of interactions between police and the public continue to be resolved without enforcement, the percentage of occasions when officers have had to take action increased by 21% between the first week in January and the week up to February 10.

A report presented by lawyer John Scott to the SPA on Wednesday found that enforcement was at its highest level since emergency powers started just under a year ago.

The report said: “Some individuals are feckless or careless, and some transgress through genuine confusion, albeit the persistently large number of unlawful house gatherings may be hard to excuse in that way.

“Some, especially when it comes to self-isolation, may simply be unable to adhere to requirements due to financial or other need which continues in many cases to go unmet and unsupported.”

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The percentage of FPNs issued has risen from fewer than 400 in the first week of the year to around 750 last week.

Police in Glasgow issued 171 FPNs in one weekend, on February 13 and 14.

The report to the SPA also highlighted concerns regarding how gatherings of children aged 12 and over were treated in the same way as adults.

The report said this had a “serious impact on the health and wellbeing of such children”.

Although there is no pro-active policing on travel regulations, police had issued 532 FPNs for breaking these rules as of February 14.

‘Powerful case’ for police being given vaccine priority

Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said hundreds of police officers and staff already have benefits from being given 'surplus' vaccines.

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Vaccine: 'powerful case' for police officers.

There is a “powerful case” for police officers and other key workers such as teachers to get priority for Covid-19 vaccines, Scotland’s most senior police officer has said.

Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said hundreds of police officers and staff already have benefits from being given “surplus” vaccines – unused jabs which would otherwise have gone to waste.

He said he would continue to make the case to the Scottish Government that Police Scotland officers and staff should be a priority group, once the initial rollout of the vaccine to those aged 50 and above and those with underlying medical conditions has been completed.

The Chief Constable spoke as he gave his latest update to the Scottish Police Authority (SPA).

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He stressed it was an “an absolute priority” for him to ensure the safety of his staff, saying this “goes to the core purpose of my duties as Chief Constable”.

A paper from him ahead of the SPA meeting disclosed that by February 15, more than 400 officers and staff had received the first dose of the vaccination as part of an initiative in which local health boards give “surplus vaccines, which would otherwise be wasted, to frontline officers and staff”.

Mr Livingstone said he was “pleased to report, to ensure where surplus vaccine become available which would otherwise be wasted, that they can be taken up by officers and staff working right across Scotland in local communities”.

He added: “This is a real positive initiative which has provided already hundreds of officers and staff with vaccinations which otherwise would have been wasted.”

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The Chief Constable and other senior figures from Police Scotland will also “continue to discuss the national vaccination programme with the Scottish Government ministers and senior officials”, he said.

The police will stress the “legitimate concerns of officers and staff about exposure they encounter during their daily duties”.

He spoke about how the job of the police involved officers “taking themselves into situations of danger, taking themselves into places where people are breaching the coronavirus guidelines, and the anxiety and concern that comes from that”.

He said: “There is, in my view, a strong case to protect officers and staff through vaccination, and through vaccination of officers and staff, therefore, protect the public that they serve.

“I will continue to advocate on their behalf into senior levels of government.”

Mr Livingstone added there was a “very powerful case for police officers and police staff, indeed school teachers and nursery care workers and others involved in public life, key workers”, to be a priority for vaccines.

The jabs are currently being given out in line with guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, with Mr Livingstone saying this list was “clinically led” and focused on achieving the “greatest impact of vaccination”.

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But he told the SPA: “I think there is an understanding within government of the concerns of policing and I will continue to advocate on behalf of policing and voice those concerns in a proportionate and legitimate manner.”


Any end date for Covid restrictions now ‘would be made up’

Nicola Sturgeon addressed the announcement of June 21 as a possible date for the end of restrictions in England.

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she would be “making it up” if she gave a specific date for the end of Covid-19 restrictions.

Speaking at the coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh on Wednesday, Sturgeon addressed the announcement of June 21 as a possible date for the end of restrictions in England.

In setting out her government’s plans on Tuesday for easing the lockdown, the First Minister did not give a similar date.

The Scottish Conservatives accused Sturgeon of giving people “next to no hope”.

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She told the briefing: “If I was to give you a fixed, hard and fast date right now, I would pretty much be making it up and I don’t think that’s the approach I should take with you.

“I’m not ruling out any specific dates. I want it to be as soon as possible and we have every reason to be hopeful that come the summer life will be much, much, much better than it is just now, but when I stand here and give you what I think the actual date when all or most restrictions will come to an end is going to be, I want to be as sure as I can be that is real and it can be delivered.”

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Boris Johnson set June 21 as a possible date for the end of restrictions in England.

Sturgeon added: “I don’t just understand the frustrations that people have, I feel those frustrations.

“As has been the case all along, I’ll have to take decisions that sometimes you agree with and sometimes you disagree with, but I can assure you that the Scottish Government will continue to do our very best to lead the country as quickly but also as safely and sustainably through this horrible ordeal and out the other side of it.”

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Speaking after confirming Scotland has recorded 47 deaths from coronavirus and 798 positive tests in the past 24 hours, she said the Scottish Government’s updated framework for easing restrictions focuses on the next six weeks as “that’s the timeframe that right now we can be most confident about”.

The First Minister said there is uncertainty over how the more infectious virus strain will behave once restrictions are lifted and the impact of the phased return to schools will be particularly scrutinised in this regard.

She said: “My hope is that the more we learn about the impact of the early changes, the more confidence we will then have that we can go further and faster, without risking a resurgence of the virus that would set us all back. In the meantime, we will move forward carefully.”

She also announced care homes should be supporting up to two named visitors for each resident from March 1, where possible, and Scottish Government guidance on this “very important way forward” will be published on Wednesday.

Sturgeon gave a further update on the daily coronavirus figures, announcing the daily test positivity rate is 3.9%, down from 4.8% on Tuesday.

There are 1018 people in hospital confirmed to have the virus, down 58 in 24 hours, and there was no change in those in intensive care which remains at 93.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “The First Minister seems to be rattled by the backlash to her plans.

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“Nicola Sturgeon gave people next to no hope of when restrictions would ease and now she’s having to furiously backtrack. She seems to be on the verge of a climb-down over her lockdown plan already.

“After Scottish Conservative calls for a u-turn on the slow school reopening, she dodged questions about return dates.

“She’s now suggesting the loosening of restrictions to level 2 might happen earlier and, in another masterclass of political spin, trying to rewrite history and claim that was the plan all along.

“When people just want a clear message of hope and certainty, they’re getting less clarity and more confusion from the First Minister.”

Weekly coronavirus death toll falls over past seven days

The National Records of Scotland said 9347 people have died of confirmed or suspected coronavirus.

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The weekly number of people who have died with coronavirus has fallen in the past seven days.

A total of 9347 people have died in Scotland with confirmed or suspected coronavirus, according to the National Records of Scotland (NRS).

The figures show 290 deaths relating to Covid-19 were registered between February 15 and 21, down 35 on the previous week.

Since then, another 103 deaths have been announced at the daily coronavirus briefings.

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On Wednesday, the First Minister said 47 people died over the past 24 hours, with 655 new cases of coronavirus reported.

The total number of deaths under this measurement – within 28 days of a positive test – now stands at 7053.

The total number of positive cases of coronavirus in Scotland now stands at 199,637, with the daily test positivity rate at 3.9%, down from 4.8% in 24 hours.

There are 1018 people in hospital confirmed to have the virus, down 58 in 24 hours, and there was no change in those in intensive care which remains at 93.

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Meanwhile the number of people who have had their first coronavirus vaccine has risen to 1,488,077, an increase of 22,836.

Indoor care home visits to resume from next month

Two named visitors will be able to visit each resident twice a week from March 1.

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Indoor visiting at care homes can resume from early March, the Scottish Government has confirmed.

Two named visitors will be able to visit each resident twice a week, although only one person can visit at any one time.

Full guidance on the resumption was published by the Scottish Government on Wednesday.

Deaths in care homes related to coronavirus have reduced by almost 70% over the last four weeks, according to official figures.

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Care homes will have to put various safety measures in place before welcoming visitors, including personal protective equipment such as face masks.

A vast majority of care home residents have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

However, some care providers such as Barchester have questioned the decision, with one saying only vaccinated people should be able to visit.

Speaking at the daily coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “That may not sound like much and we obviously hope to get back to even more normality in the weeks to come, but I know for many across the country, even that is a big step back to a more normal way of life.

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“It’s not a complete return to normal yet, because there will still be a lot of Covid safety measures in place, face coverings, rigorous hygiene and the availability of testing, but it is nevertheless a very important way forward.”

Barchester said it would ask the government to prioritise regular care home visitors for vaccination.

A spokesperson said: “We think it is important to take a cautious and phased approach, ensuring the one designated visitor per resident or patient is supported in complying with the protocols including the use of PPE and being tested using a Lateral Flow Device before entering a home, and our desire is that they are also vaccinated, if possible.

“In order to support this, we are lobbying with the government for designated visitors to be prioritised for a vaccination.”

Meanwhile, the GMB union has said there needs to be more staff in care homes, a whistleblowing protocol for homes not meeting safety standards and “stringent enforcement” of Covid-19 rules.

Rhea Wolfson, from GMB Scotland’s women’s campaign unit, said: “The balance between compassion and safety is precarious at this moment. Confidence is fragile among care home workers and there can be no room for complacency.

“That’s why ahead of the return to care home visits GMB has asked the Scottish Government to ensure the delivery of three basic provisions.”

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She added: “Everyone wants to see families reunited but government and employers owe a great debt to these key workers after the last year, and it’s important their voices are now being heard.”

A 36-page guidance document for visiting outlines a number of criteria which should be met, including adequate stores of personal protective equipment (PPE), staff and visitor testing and “high level coverage” of the coronavirus vaccine.

Health secretary Jeane Freeman said: “I am grateful to care home providers and Scottish Care, directors of public health, Care Home Relatives Scotland and partners for helping to develop this guidance and for supporting its implementation.

“Essential visits are unaffected by the resumption of indoor meaningful contact and should always be compassionately and generously enabled by care homes when needed.”


Police issue 500 Covid travel fines in three months

People in poorer areas and those with criminal records were more likely to be fined for breaking restrictions, report finds.

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People with criminal records were also more likely to be caught out and handed a FPN.

More than 500 fines for breaching Covid-19 travel restrictions were handed out by police in the last three months.

A report to the Scottish Police Authority found those in poorer areas and with criminal records were more likely to have to pay-up for rule-breaking.

The review on the use of temporary coronavirus law enforcement powers showed levels of inequality in the numbers of fixed penalty notices (FPNs) issued.

The report read: “Some individuals are feckless or careless, and some transgress through genuine confusion, albeit the persistently large number of unlawful house gatherings may be hard to excuse in that way.

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“Some, especially when it comes to self-isolation, may simply be unable to adhere to requirements due to financial or other need which continues in many cases to go unmet and unsupported.”

University of Edinburgh Professor Susan McVie’s latest data report showed that people living in the 10% most deprived neighbourhoods of Scotland were more than 11 times more likely to receive a Covid fine than those on the opposite end of the scale.

People with criminal records were also more likely to be caught out and handed a FPN.

Professor McVie said the prevalence of those with criminal histories suggests that a better understanding of their behaviors and experiences is needed.

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Between November 20 and February 14, officers made 2033 interventions relating to Covid travel restrictions, including issuing 532 FPNs.

More than 10% of people who were fined once received an additional ticket.

The highest single FPN value given out in Scotland was £480, the maximum possible is £960.

The report found the data suggested “there was a small core of individuals who repeatedly breached the regulations”.

The report said: “These findings do reflect an additional degree of inequality in the way the pandemic was experienced amongst some people who live in communities that are already typified by poorer health, economic, educational and environmental outcomes.”

Women and older people living in deprived areas were also more likely to receive FPNs according to the data, but that it was not possible to explain the pattern of why some groups received fines more often than others.

During the first lockdown, the majority of FPN recipients were young men, and most of the individuals who were fined had prior criminal records.

Some landlords ‘behaving disgracefully’ during pandemic

A number of landlords are hiking up rents and refusing to carry out repairs on properties, MSPs have heard.

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More measures are needed to tackle above-inflation rent rises, MSPs told.

Some landlords have behaved “disgracefully” during the pandemic, MSPs have heard, hiking up rents and refusing to carry out repairs on properties.

More measures are needed to tackle above-inflation rent rises which are swallowing up tenants’ income, Holyrood’s Local Government committee was told.

The committee was hearing evidence on the Fair Rents (Scotland) Bill, proposed by Labour MSP Pauline McNeill, which would prevent private landlords from increasing rents by more than the CPI measure of inflation plus 1%.

Gordon Maloney, national committee member of tenants’ organisation Living Rent, said coronavirus had exposed the lack of power tenants had in their relationships with landlords.

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He said: “In the Scottish Association of Landlords’ response, they cite a handful of examples of cases where landlords have been fairly generous with their tenants.

“We could cite just as many examples of cases where landlords have frankly acted disgracefully – hiking rents, refusing to make repairs, treating tenants appallingly over the course of the last 12 months.”

He said the system of rent pressure zones introduced in 2016 had not led to substantial changes for tenants.

Any moves to curb rents should consider the fact that rents have been rising above inflation by around 40% over the last decade in places like Glasgow and Edinburgh, he said.

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Mr Maloney said: “Having a cap of inflation plus 1%, there’s a very real risk that that acts as an incentive and for that reason we would support a stronger measure that imposes stricter limits in some places.

“If one of the consequences of reducing rents is that landlords choose to sell properties, perhaps to families currently renting who would much rather buy, I think that’s something we should welcome and embrace.”

John Blackwood, chief executive of the Scottish Association of Landlords, also gave evidence to the committee on Wednesday.

He said government needed to collect better data on rents which were actually being charged in the sector.

Mr Blackwood said: “My concern is that actually this Bill will just further exasperate that, we believe it will result in higher rent and more frequent rent increase.”

McNeill, a member of the committee, asked Mr Blackwood why private rent increases had been higher than inflation for Greater Glasgow and the Lothians over the past decade.

He said an affordable social housing sector was needed so private accommodation could become “the sector of choice rather than last resort”.

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Costs of repairs could exceed inflation, he said, adding: “Any link to CPI as suggested within the Bill is almost irrelevant to actually what landlords need to invest in the property.”


‘Vital first step’ as Long Covid care gets £760,000

It is estimated as many as 10% of people who have had the virus are now living with long Covid in Scotland.

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Funding announced to improve care for people with long Covid.

A £760,000 joint funding package has been announced to improve care for people with long Covid.

Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland (CHSS), which is providing £300,000 of the funds, said the investment is a “vital first step” towards providing better all-round care for people suffering the debilitating long-term effects of the virus.

Long Covid is a complex condition and sufferers experience a variety of symptoms ranging from breathlessness, chronic fatigue and anxiety to stress.

It is estimated as many as 10% of people who have had the virus are now living with long Covid in Scotland.

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It has been described by some as the “pandemic behind the pandemic”.

The funding will boost capacity for CHSS support services and over the coming months it will also lead to the creation of a co-ordinated nationwide “care pathway” between the NHS, GPs and the charity.

Jane-Claire Judson, CHSS chief executive, said: “No-one should be left to struggle with long Covid alone. This joint funding package with the Scottish Government is a vital first step in providing better all-round care for people suffering the debilitating long-term effects of this devastating virus.

“There are a number of steps still to take to get to a fully integrated, nationwide service for long Covid, but this funding will make sure that people can now get better support.

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“Over the coming months we will be working with people living with long Covid, the NHS and the Scottish Government to make sure that the process of accessing the full range of help and support gets easier.

“Right now, we’re encouraging people affected to call our long Covid advice line on 0808 801 0899 for help. Please do not suffer alone.”

The charity set up the advice line to help people with long Covid manage feelings of anxiety, breathlessness, fatigue and stress.

CHSS said its services will become a routine part of the NHS referral system over the coming months, meaning GPs and health professionals will automatically be able to refer patients for help.

The Scottish Government is contributing £460,000.

Health secretary Jeane Freeman said: “We know that many people are suffering from the effects of the virus on both their physical and mental health.

‘The impact of this virus affects your whole life. I lost the job that I loved because I wasn’t well enough to continue, I lost my health and it really affects you mentally.’

Dr Amy Small, a GP who has been living with long Covid

“We are committed to ensuring they have nationwide and co-ordinated care that meets their needs. I’m pleased that working with Chest, Heart & Stroke we are able to benefit from their experience and with the financial support we’ve provided, work to help provide the right care to those affected.

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“There is still much to learn and a great deal to be done, but this Government, clinicians, specialist healthcare professionals and important organisations like Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland are working hard to make sure people can access the services currently available and that we make the improvements needed as quickly as possible.”

Dr Amy Small, a GP who has been living with long Covid, said: “Having someone to help you live day-to-day with long Covid is so important.

“The impact of this virus affects your whole life. I lost the job that I loved because I wasn’t well enough to continue, I lost my health and it really affects you mentally.

“There’s lots that we still need to fix, but it’s great to see that everyone is coming together to build the service that people with long Covid need and want.”

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