Last updated on June 23rd, 2020
How to work through your MSP to advocate for better eating disorder care in Scotland
You don't need to wait for others to drive change.
You don't need to wait for thousands of people to sign a petition.
Ultimately a government minister has to understand what's needed and to care enough to make it happen. Right now, with the current government, there seems to be a genuine desire to review and improve services.
If you're not sure how to work through your MSP or a minister, you're on the right page.
If you want to know more about what's going on and what needs improving, I write about this here. But it's also really useful to 'just' tell an MSP about your experience of using services, asking them to table a parliamentary question about how the government plans to prevent this sort of thing happening again.
Tell a minister the changes you want to see
Each of us can write directly to a minister. Most likely the minister for mental health, or one level up from them, the cabinet secretary for health and sport. Writing to a minister may be effective. The downside is there is no guarantee that they will personally read your letter. The reply you get may be written by one of their officials.
Tell an MSP the changes you want to see
But don't despair – through any one of our MSPs (we each have eight of them) we can get a response from the minister and have confidence they have personally attended to the matter.
How is this done? The easiest way is to email one or more of your MSPs with a request. (Or write a letter or meet them.) If an MSP agrees that your issue matters, they will 'put down a parliamentary question' to the relevant minister. This minister then has to answer publicly within 10 working days. The answer may not satisfy you. It may be vague and devoid of action. (This happened a lot with a previous minister, but things may be a lot better now). So you keep the process moving by asking your MSP to put down another question, and on and on.
The format of your letter can be:
- I'm writing to you about eating disorders because … (include your personal experience if relevant)
- I'm requesting …. (accompany this with any facts you have about the problem or the proposed solution)
- "Please would you table ['table' or 'put down'] a parliamentary question, asking the Scottish Government [or the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, or the Minister for Mental Health ] to do xxx / when they will xxx / how they plan to xxx / what considerations they have made of xxx
- Please would you ensure this information is fed into the "Review of eating disorder services", which will produce recommendations around Spring 2021
- Thank you, and I'm looking forward to your reply once you've received a response from the relevant minister.
Tips: what you can ask your MSP in order to improve eating disorder services
To help you phrase a request for your MSP so that they put down a parliamentary question, you can use my list below for inspiration. (My emphasis is on child and adolescent services because that's what I know most about.)
But your own personal experience is extremely valuable. Government can't ignore anecdotes that show where the system is just not good enough.
My understanding is that it's better to make just one or two requests at a time. You can ask all your MSPs the same thing, or spread out loads of requests between all of them. Don't worry about perfect wording, as the MSP will know how to word it to turn it into a parliamentary question.
Example: Please bring in waiting time targets for eating disorders in Scotland
I explain the issues on this page. Below are forms of words you can use as you write to your MSP.
- Scotland's target maximum waiting time for eating disorders treatment — the mental health illness with the highest mortality — is the same as for any treatment, at 18 weeks. Specialists agree that prompt treatment gives better, faster recovery. Experts in NHS England have set a target for children and adolescents to start treatment within one week for urgent cases, 4 weeks for routine ones. Work is going on to extend this to all ages. Please would you table a parliamentary question asking for the same targets in Scotland?
or put it differently:
- Scotland has no standard for the maximum waiting time over-18s with an eating disorder to access treatment, other than a general 18-week target that is inadequate to eating disorders. What plans does the government have to ensure eating-disorder sufferers of all ages get early intervention?
and another version, using the government's own commitment:
- The Scottish government’s Mental Health Strategy 2017-27 – a 10 year vision emphasises early intervention: 'We will deliver a focus on prevention and early intervention for children, young people and adults (including over-65s), to help prevent the development of mental health problems and to step in promptly if they do develop.' In the case of eating disorders, where experts consider treatment is needed within 1 week for urgent cases and 4 weeks for routine cases, how will the government ensure that 'early intervention' and 'prompt treatment' are indeed delivered, and how will it monitor that this is happening?
Now ask for what YOU want
The above is just one example of areas that need improvement. I list others here and remember that what matters to YOU, from YOUR experience, matters.
Another route to getting change is through petitions. BEAT is the obvious body that creates petitions, but any of us can create a petition to the Scottish government.
Groups working on change in Scotland
Read their excellent Campaigners Toolkit. They explain what routes to follow to get change in Scotland. They offer great guidance on writing or talking to your MSPs. Although I offer you tips of my own here I do recommend you check out this toolkit as well.
SEDIG is Scottish Eating Disorders Interest Group. They are connected with BEAT, with parents, sufferers and clinicians. They have a plan with a handful of specific items they want to campaign on. Do subscribe to their mailing list, follow them on Twitter, and do join the group. You can do even more if you are able to volunteer for any vacancy on the committee.
Regarding under-18s, the Scottish CAMHS eating disorders steering group has parent representatives to help the clinicians keep priorities in mind. It seems to have gone very quiet, parent-wise, so it's probably more useful to get active via SEDIG.
When I do campaigning work I do so as one parent, not as an organisation. If you're a parent, clinician, politician or service user interested in what's going on in Scotland, I'm happy to keep you updated with what I know. Just get in touch with your contact details.