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Keeping me regular

Yesterday was a catch-up day. For the first time, there were no online or telephone meetings related to my being a Parliamentarian.

But in my personal life, there was an important call. And one that illustrated a little movement back to normality in the NHS.

We know that many planned consultations, check-ups and operations have had to be postponed due to the need to focus on the pandemic. As someone in my seventies, I am periodically invited by our health service to participate in various tests to confirm that one part or another of my body continues to work properly or find that they aren't.

One such test is designed to identify bowel cancer early enough to prevent its developing into a terminal condition. I have taken this test on a number of occasions. And sometimes this has shown a positive result, suggesting that further investigation is required. That involves sending a camera in to look at my insides. That involves no discomfort beyond the injection of a little anaesthetic. These examinations have delivered negative results on each occasion. Excellent!

But the camera never lies. It shows that I have a mild condition, so mild that it neither requires treatment nor causes me any discomfort, which is the cause of the false positives from the cancer-screening test.

Nonetheless, I am on the "watch list" of the consultant at Dr Gray's Hospital in Elgin. I have previously been bidden to attend about once a year for a chat about my health. That takes a couple of hours of travel out of my day, and the consultant only runs the relevant clinic on days when Parliament would previously have been sitting - Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday - so overall the impact on me could be quite large. The consultation rarely lasts more than five minutes, but a whole day may be lost to me.

The exigencies of the pandemic have led to a radical, and for me very welcome, move to telemedicine. A phone call from an admin person to synchronise my consultant's diary with mine for a mutually suitable appointment for this year's review. 11:10 goes in my diary for Thursday. No longer any need for me to attend Dr Gray's.

At the agreed time, actually five minutes early, my phone rings and the annual conversation takes place over the plain-old-fashioned-telephone-system (POTS). Alexander Graham Bell first demonstrated this technology in public in 1876. Good to see it coming into wider use at last.

I know that video calls are now also being used for certain consultations. All this means more efficient use of highly trained and experienced NHS personnel. That means it's more efficient and more convenient for the patient as well.

One of the benefits of this seems likely to be a shortening of the time patients need to wait to see a specialist. It also raises the question in my mind as to whether this may lead to fewer missed appointments by patients. Remove the need to travel and you remove one source of hassle for the patient. And the consultation being at home is also going to be less stressful? Sounds like a way to go all round.

But much of the resistance to moving has always been said to come from patients. Has the pandemic changed the way we are prepared to interact with NHS? My subjective view is that it has. But to what degree? And with what quantifiable benefits?

I look forward to seeing numbers on this sometime in the months ahead. When my father was a GP, you turned up and sat, possibly for quite an extended period, to be called through. We've moved over the years to GP appointments - radical! Online is the next big move. Looks like we're all ready for it. For rural areas an especially big potential benefit.

Today also saw a change for me which, although of very little interest to the general public, perhaps to a few journalists, only affects MSPs, their staff and Parliamentary employees.

With all but the essential staff in our Parliament working from home, there has been a change in how we can submit our expense claims. The Allowances Office is now virtual.

Previously I had to submit a paper form with a "wet signature" (a legal term indicating that an electronic one would not do) on it, accompanied by original receipts, to make any claim. Now we can fill out the form, we still need to "wet" sign it, scan it into our computer accompanied by scans of the receipts, and then email that in. A welcome reform, albeit a loss to the Post Office who formerly sold me a stamp for my weekly submission. However, I have transferred that small item of expenditure to the writing, and posting, of more physical letters to friends and family than before.

The need to submit original receipts always puzzled me. But heh ho, if that's what they wanted. Because in this modern electronic age, almost all of mine were ones I received online and then printed out. My previous weekly train journey south would be booked online; the ticket downloaded to my ScotRail card via my mobile phone. All without the need for any paper until the expense claim.

This week is week ten of the financial year and the first in which I have submitted a claim for travel; alas by car. I had, however, about a month ago, to claim for ink for my personal printer at home. Previously I did not bother but with my ink consumption rising dramatically as I now print out my Committee papers here rather than in Edinburgh, needs must.

Expenses is one area where MSPs need to pay close personal attention to the detail. Not simply because if we were to demonstrate ineptitude in managing the expenditure of relatively modest amounts of public money, how could we be reasonably be trusted with the over thirty billion pounds controlled in Edinburgh? But there may also be opportunities of "cheap shots" for the media in the data which are published on the detail of our expenses. I was once criticised for a very large expenditure for my constituency office for toilet rolls in one quarter. It roughly halved the costs per roll and meant there were no further such claims for well over a year!

So the weekly prompt from my diary means a review of an expenses form. Done. Emailed in.

For me, an essential part of this process, as with others, is regularity. Do it every week, even though for twelve weeks it has meant I have produced, for my internal records, a form which says on it "Nil Claim". And maintain a ledger of claims and receipts.

Yesterday also saw me return to some regularity on the exercise front. A walk to post a letter - about six miles with a wee diversion - and half an hour on the rowing machine. It's the regularity that keeps me sane. And fit.

A bonus was being able to buy eggs, carrots and strawberries from the hut at the end of Coxton farm road.

This micro-enterprise seems to be doing better than ever as people avoid travel.

All the products I bought, locally produced.

All delicious.

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