MSPs raise Gypsy 'discrimination' concerns

A committee of MSPs has said it is "appalled and horrified" by the discrimination suffered by Gypsies and travelling people in Scotland.

The Equal Opportunities Committee said there had been repeated failures on access to health and social care for the travelling community.

Its report said very little had changed for travellers over the past 15 years.

The Scottish government said there should be no barriers to Gypsy/travellers accessing health care.

The committee's Gypsy/Traveller and Care report found that the average life expectancy for male members of the travelling community was just 55.

Many encampments were of poor quality and located beside landfill sites or under electricity pylons, the committee said.

The report also said GP surgeries often refused to see traveller patients, while government recommendations and initiatives were simply not being implemented.

The committee's convener, Mary Fee MSP, said: "If we were to substitute any other ethnic minority instead of Gypsy/travellers in our report there would be uproar at the obvious racial discrimination.

"Yet, our report shows that despite initiatives in the last 15 years by successive governments, very little real change has actually been achieved to improve the lives of Gypsy/travellers.

"Access to health and social care alongside other public services must be universal. We look to the Scottish government now to take the lead in making real, significant changes to the lives of Gypsy/travellers, with speed and commitment."

In May this year, the committee heard from members of the traveller community who spoke about their lack of access to health and social care.

At the time, traveller Lizzie Johnstone told MSPs that the "the barriers have to come down" and gypsy travellers should be able to "ask for help if they needed it".

Drop-in surgeries

The committee's report called for an investigation into the extensive delays in waiting times for aids and adaptations for elderly or disabled people living in caravans and chalets.

It said assurances should be given that alternative options for care support should be considered, including drop-in surgeries and/or a network for GPs to share information on patients who may move from one local authority to another.

And it said policies on GP registration and treatment should take into account cultural sensitivities and not indirectly discriminate by requiring a fixed address, for example.

The Equal Opportunities Committee is also conducting a second inquiry, titled Where Gypsy/Travellers Live, which is expected to report early next year.

The Scottish government said NHS Boards are responsible for providing primary medical services and there should be no barriers to Gypsy/travellers accessing or receiving health services.

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