Dennis Robertson (Aberdeenshire West) (SNP): I begin by commending Duncan McNeil for his excellent speech, which set the tone for this debate. In doing so, I say that I think that all the conveners have taken on board their respective portfolios and considered how they can look towards the health inequalities that exist.
I want to focus on a few measures that I think make a difference. I believe that free eye tests make a difference to health inequalities. They are a preventative measure that can prevent people from suffering trips and falls and enable people to get about their daily business, which they might not have been able to do before the test.
Before the introduction of free eye examinations, a lot of people were reluctant to go to an optician for fear of the on-going cost. However, free eye tests identify cataracts at an early stage and can identify other conditions such as diabetes and macular degeneration. Those conditions have an impact on the quality of life of those who acquire them. For example, they can prevent them from going out, taking part in things or, say, making a simple meal. We should continue to support free eye tests and ensure that community optometrists are aware of how they can signpost people to third sector organisations and other agencies and determine whether a person needs the on-going support of the national health service.
The integration of health and social care is probably the model that may—I stress may—make the biggest impact on health inequalities. At the moment, part of the problem that we have arises from the fact that we are addressing this issue in silos. We cannot do that, because we need to take a holistic approach to the problem of health inequalities, which affect all aspects of a person’s life.
I commend Stewart Maxwell for introducing the issue of people with sensory impairments in early education. For many years, those children have been disadvantaged, because the teaching materials that would enable them to obtain the level that they are perhaps capable of have not been made available to them, and nor has the necessary support thereafter. I know that a lot of work has been done to try to level that playing field, but a lot more needs to be done, especially for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. There is a great deal more to be done to resolve the inequalities that exist for them. We know that, when they leave education, those who have significant hearing loss, especially those who are deaf, can find that they do not have the opportunities that exist for other people to get into employment, further education or the skills market, which means that they are instantly affected by the fact of their sensory impairment.
Similarly, those with physical impairments are constantly disadvantaged because of their housing situation and our environment. We need to resolve those inequalities.
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