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Health issues in the far north should be the top priority



Holyrood Notebook by Edward Mountain

Lorna Stanger from Thurso ran from Caithness Hospitals to Raigmore in Inverness to highlight the patients’ long journey to the far north. Photo: Robert MacDonald

Earlier this month, the Queen officially opened the Sixth Session of the Scottish Parliament in a ceremony which also celebrated Scotland’s unsung local heroes.

Each MSP has been tasked with nominating a local hero who has made a positive contribution to their community, so that they have the opportunity to attend Holyrood in recognition of their accomplishments.

While it was really difficult to choose just one local hero, I was particularly inspired by the tremendous work of Rachel Howells, a care practitioner employed by Highland Home Carers.

At a time when Covid-19 hit the Highlands particularly hard, Rachel continuously took additional steps to ensure that the elderly and vulnerable continued to receive the care and support they needed.

The Local Hero initiative has also acted as a timely reminder to all PSMs that our first call of duty is to serve our constituents and make a positive difference in their lives and not to engage in partisan politics.

Indeed, I think it is an immense privilege to represent the Highlands and Islands in a parliament which has now become the most powerful decentralized legislature in the world. Holyrood has all the powers necessary to improve the provision of healthcare, education, justice, transport, agriculture and many other portfolio areas.

This is why it is all the more disappointing that the current SNP-Vert government seems more interested in stoking constitutional grievances rather than serving our local communities.

The Prime Minister was more guilty of this than most, too. I recently raised with her the issue of mental health recruitment in our region which, as the NHS Highland explained to me, has arisen due to a complex mix of local challenges.

What the Highlanders need to hear from the Prime Minister is what steps the Scottish government is taking to provide more support to the NHS Highland on housing, career development and pay scales for healthcare practitioners mental health in rural areas.

Instead, the Prime Minister gave no constructive response and blamed everything on Brexit.

Such a callous response ignores major local issues and gives cold comfort to families and friends who have lost loved ones to the mental health crisis in the Highlands.

Not only is there a lack of meaningful responses from the Scottish government, but also a flagrant lack of engagement with local communities.

For example, I was disappointed to see the SNP Health Secretary and the Minister of Public Health reject an invitation to taste the 102 mile journey many pregnant Caithness mothers have to make to the hospital in Montreal. Raigmore.

This snub is deeply disrespectful and underscores how far SNP decision-makers are from responding to the needs of local communities.

I don’t know how MSP Maree Todd hopes to advocate for the concerns of many in Caithness and Sutherland when they actively avoid the challenges some of their constituents face. The people of the Far North deserve better than this.

Indeed, I welcome all these local champions from our region who continue to raise the issue of healthcare provision and who are not discouraged by the inaction of the SNP-Vert government.

Most recently, Thurso’s Lorna Stanger embarked on a 130-mile race to highlight the grueling journey patients and their families face as they travel south to Inverness. His efforts are truly commendable.

As long as the people of Caithness and Sutherland continue to inspire each other to raise the issue of healthcare provision, I believe the Scottish government will have no choice but to listen.

Rest assured that I will also continue to play my role in holding this Scottish SNP-Green government to account on the local issues that matter most to those in the High North.

MSP Edward Mountain.
MSP Edward Mountain.
  • Edward Mountain is a Highlands and Islands List MSP for Scottish Conservatives.

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