An SNP backbencher has challenged the Scottish Government to take “real action” to tackle the number of dog attacks.
Colin Beattie pressed community safety minister Ash Denham on the issue after the number of cases where people attend A&E after being attacked by a dog increased from 6,483 in 2018 to 6,992 the following year.
Ms Denham said she has some concerns about the figures, suggesting the possibility of “some double counting”.
But she conceded the Scottish Government does not currently have any target in place to reduce the number of attacks by a specific date.
MSPs on Holyrood’s Public Audit and Post Legislative Scrutiny Committee questioned Ms Denham as it considered the impact that the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 has had.
Referring to the rise in the number of hospital attendances, Mr Beattie said: “However you look at it, 7,000 people had to attend A&E to seek treatment following a dog attack, and that is completely unacceptable.
“If this was drunken drivers mowing down 7,000 people on the streets, then I think there would be a bit more than a working group put together. It would be a crisis and it is a crisis.
“The impact on the National Health Service, the reconstructive surgery that has to be done to children who are the prime recipients of these attacks.”
Mr Beattie, who represents Midlothian North and Musselburgh, told the committee some of his constituents have suffered life-changing injuries as a result of dog attacks.
He told Ms Denham: “This is matter of real urgency. These are our citizens being attacked. Something has to be done, we need to protect our citizens, we need to ensure responsible dog owners are still able to enjoy their companions, but we need to crack down very heavily on dog owners that are not responsible.”
He asked the minister when “real action” will be taken to tackle the problem.
Ms Denham responded: “I am very concerned about the number of people that are having to attend hospital as a result of a dog attack.”
But she insisted it is “completely not the case” that all ministers have done is set up a working group, adding that progress has been made on all but one of the recommendations MSPs had made in an earlier report on the issue.
Listing some of the actions taken, Ms Denham continued: “I got extra staff resource put on to the team that is dealing with this, we have updated the guidance, we have updated protocol as well.
“We have set up the working group, which I thought was a good way to get joint working, that collaborative approach.”
That working group includes representatives from councils and Police Scotland, but also has a “victims’ voice, representing survivors of dog attacks”, she said.
In addition, she said the Government will “shortly” run another awareness-raising campaign to promote responsible dog ownership.
She told the committee: “That is a substantial amount of work that is being taken forward on this issue.
“But I do agree with the member that there is more to be done and I think we will all be very pleased when we can see the numbers presenting start to decrease.”