Clare Haughey writes exclusively for The National on why she’s best equipped for the challenges ahead

LAST week, I had the incredible honour of being chosen to be Scotland’s new Mental Health Minister.

As someone who has worked as a mental health nurse for more than 30 years, I am excited and passionate about the job that lies ahead – but will never shy away from the fact that there will be significant challenges too.

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My predecessor, Maureen Watt, was a trailblazer in many ways. She was the first dedicated mental health minister anywhere in the UK, and her hard work to improve services and lead innovation in this area has been rightly praised across the sector.

The SNP in government have matched our ambition on mental health with action.

This year alone, we have launched a youth campaign to end stigma and discrimination on mental health issues; announced an extra £3 million of funding for suicide prevention; brought together a team of young people from across Scotland to lead research into the services available to them; increased mental health staffing to record levels; and introduced new online support for eating disorders.

I hope that I can bring my own experiences of working in frontline NHS services to bear in my new role, and aim to keep driving continuous improvement in our mental health services which can, in many cases, really change or even save lives.

Put simply, being a nurse is part of my DNA and my passion for helping people meant I did not give up the role after becoming an MSP. I’ve continued to work on a voluntary basis as a NHS nurse in my spare time, because it is what I do.

And it isn’t only useful because I’m able to give a helping hand to colleagues, or because it allows me to retain my nursing registration, it also gives me the chance to better understand the issues that really matter to my constituents and any concerns among the workforce. I can see exactly how the NHS is operating in Scotland on the frontline – and I have a wealth of experience in what works in mental health care, and what doesn’t.

Valuing and listening to what nurses, doctors and the health professions more widely are saying and experiencing is a vital pool of knowledge when it comes to improving the care we deliver for patients.

I’ve been a mental health nurse for nearly half of the NHS’s existence. It’s a real privilege to be given the responsibility in government to drive forward further improvements. I’m up for that challenge and for making the most of the opportunities that lie ahead.

We owe the NHS a huge debt of gratitude. As it celebrates 70 years of improving the nation’s health, there’s no better way to repay that debt than by redoubling and restating our efforts to make it the very best it can be.