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Campaign must continue to restore rural services

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Holyrood Notebook by Rhoda Grant

Promised changes to services had to be put on the backburner during the Covid lockdowns.
Promised changes to services had to be put on the backburner during the Covid lockdowns.

In the summer of 2019 I was contacted by constituents really concerned about the lack of orthodontic services in Caithness, highlighting that parents and carers had long journeys into Inverness for the simplest of treatments.

The service was reliant on one locum consultant, but NHS Highland told me that a trainee orthodontist and the use of 3D technology was going to be brought in to ease the situation.

Local dentists were also going to be trained to deliver some services such as brace fitting.

Then Covid hit and many of our concerns over rural health issues were put on the backburner to allow the NHS and front-line staff to cope with the increased pressure and, of course, Covid vaccinations and testing followed.

However, there was some good news from Caithness health campaigners, CHAT, which has raised the issue again with NHS Highland’s chief executive, Pam Dudek.

Families of children needing orthodontic treatment at Raigmore were not being able to claim expenses, which was extremely unfair as adults had to take time off work and youngsters time off school, sometimes over a number of appointments.

Also, families on breadline budgets could not afford these 200-mile round trips and so this was leading to inequality for a service which should be available for all.

Ms Dudek has now decided to allow expenses for those who need such appointments as the service isn’t available locally in Caithness. A sensible decision.

The chief executive has also promised to look into the wider issue of the service not being available in Caithness and this is where it is not going to be easy to resolve due to a shortage of orthodontic consultants.

This fact has to be combined with the health authority’s previous insistence that it did not have enough money to employ another consultant and that has to be down to the lack of funding that is coming from the Scottish Government.

My prediction for the future is that SNP MSPs, who are part of the government, will try to shift the blame back to the health authority when there is a public outcry regarding lack of local rural health services.

It’s a tactic that is used about education, about the state of the roads and so on. Campaigners may have won one battle but the war to restore rural services goes on.

I’m coming up to Caithness this month to see members of Caithness Roads Recovery and investigate the damage to the roads for myself.

It’ll be good to get out and about in the constituency again after such a long time behind a computer.

I know the NC500 will be busy, but I am longing to see our beautiful countryside again and see faces outside a Zoom screen, albeit that it might be a bumpy ride.

Following the election in May, I have been appointed as Scottish Labour’s spokesperson on Land Reform and the Islands, as well as Chief Whip. I look forward to taking on this role and addressing key issues such as transport links, connectivity and investment and support in Community Land ownership and development.

Additionally, I plan to push for a Bill on the Right to Food which would give every Scottish citizen the right to obtain healthy, nutritious food.

I am of the view that no-one in this country should be hungry or malnourished and I hope to ensure this is enshrined in law within this parliamentary term – I will keep you posted on developments.

  • Rhoda Grant is a Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands.

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