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Concern over 'severe lack of women's health services' in Caithness after Scottish Government publishes its Women's Health Plan

By Jean Gunn

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Kirsteen Campbell (left) with Labour MSP Monica Lennon in the Scottish Parliament at the start of last year's Endometriosis Awareness Month.
Kirsteen Campbell (left) with Labour MSP Monica Lennon in the Scottish Parliament at the start of last year's Endometriosis Awareness Month.

A health campaigner in Caithness is calling for a review of women's health services in the far north after the Scottish Government published its Women's Health Plan.

Kirsteen Campbell, who set up a Facebook group in January after coping with endometriosis for over 20 years, was involved in a couple of the later stage meetings for the health plan.

But despite welcoming the overall tone of the plan, she questioned what benefits would be seen for women in Caithness.

Kirsteen (40) said: “It is great to see menopause, heart health, mental health and miscarriage services take a huge focus in the report. Not wanting to be negative, I can’t help but feel a bit concerned that we might not see all the benefits in Caithness.

"Our gynaecology services are pretty much non-existent now which concerns me greatly. The A99/A9 is such a busy road compared to what it used to be, we have huge volumes of traffic, we have seen quite a number of road accidents too. I can’t understand how that is safe.

"When I was in Raigmore back in January a member of staff made a comment how they feel too far away from the doctors as they are four floors up from maternity, so how can 100 miles away be okay?

"I have been concerned for high-risk cases such as a haemorrhage or ectopic pregnancy since our model changed to a community midwife unit.

"I’m not talking about maternity but gynaecology. We have a severe lack of women’s health services.

"We don’t even have local miscarriage services now. This would be the perfect time to see a review for Caithness. We deserve a model that makes us feel safe. Our gynaecology care used to be outstanding and there is certainly demand locally.”

Rebecca Wymer, due to train as Kirsteen's co-leader for the group and who also lives with endometriosis, said: “Aiming to reduce endometriosis diagnosis time is fantastic and the focus on female heart health is particularly personal for me and many others, so it is great that it’s included.

"However, it’s disappointing that only one sentence touches on the difficulty that proximity to services due to remote areas causes.

"The proximity to care in Caithness affects huge numbers of women who are suffering from various conditions needlessly and I feel it has been massively overlooked.

"Surely the undue stress of having to travel a seven-hour round trip for every routine appointment or labour causes more stress and strain on the heart than is optimal? Especially in adverse weathers.

However, both women said the national plan was broadly welcome.

"It is fantastic to see how much endometriosis is focused upon in the women’s health plan," Kirsteen said. "The average diagnosis time now is eight-and-a-half years, which is truly crushing. The proposal of getting that reduced to 12 months will make a huge difference.

"There is nothing worse than that feeling of not being believed."

Kirsteen trained as a group leader with Endometriosis UK in December, setting up the Caithness and Sutherland branch in January this year, but the membership grew so much, and with the next closest group in Aberdeen, it was decided to change the name to the Endometriosis UK North Highland Group so no one was left out. There are now 73 members with most of those based in Caithness.

Commissioning endometriosis research to develop better treatment and management, as well as a possible cure, is one of the key aims of the new plan.

Rebecca added: "Overall, it’s a very positive and forward-thinking report and I can’t wait to see it flourish into reality soon.”

Kirsteen's daughter Samantha Campbell (19) said: “It is great to see the plans to reduce diagnosis times for endometriosis. Personally, I have been on a six-year journey of frustration and having to rely on painkillers almost every day.

"Life some days feels like an existence. I am finally on the waiting list for a diagnostic laparoscopy. I am glad less woman will suffer this feeling of being unbelieved and the heartbreak it causes.”

Launching the plan earlier this month, Maree Todd said: “Our vision for women’s health is an ambitious one – and rightly so. It is clear that wider change must happen to ensure all our health and social care services meet the needs of all women, everywhere.

“Women’s health is not just a women's issue. When women and girls are supported to lead healthy lives and fulfil their potential, the whole of society benefits.

“Together, we are working to address inequalities in all aspects of health that women are facing. The Women’s Health Plan signals our ambition and determination to see change for women in Scotland, for their health and for their role in society. We want Scotland to be a world leader when it comes to women’s health.”

The Women’s Health Plan sets out 66 actions to ensure all women enjoy the best possible healthcare throughout their lives. It takes on board the real life experiences of women who have given their feedback on what is important to them.

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Endometriosis group offers support to women in Caithness and Sutherland

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