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Cuts to health services in Caithness 'very disappointing' says north MSP

By Gordon Calder

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A NORTH MSP says it is "very frustrating and very disappointing" that Caithness people are experiencing cuts rather than improvements to their health services.

Rhoda Grant, the Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, hit out after the report on the front page of this week's Caithness Courier on claims about what campaigners describe as declining standards in the level of health care.

The Caithness Health Action Team (Chat) has written to NHS Highland chief executive, Iain Stewart, to express its "profound disappointment" at the care provided in the far north.

It says gynaecology procedures are now only being carried out in Raigmore, chemotherapy and renal dialysis clinics have been "severely reduced at very short notice to patients and staff", and the cataract eye scanner has been taken to Raigmore.

The campaign group also says mental health services are "virtually non-existent" and maintains its concerns have not been addressed despite assurances from Mr Stewart at a meeting in the summer.

Rhoda Grant says cuts to health services are "very disappointing"
Rhoda Grant says cuts to health services are "very disappointing"

Mrs Grant is also"extremely concerned" about the cuts to health provision in the far north.

She said: "I’ve been contacted by campaigners over many, many months and joined campaigners on the streets, challenging the Scottish Government about its continuing centralisation of health services for those in remote and rural areas.

"It is therefore very frustrating and very disappointing that people are seeing further cuts instead of further improvements."

She added: "When the midwife led maternity unit was established in Caithness, the community was promised 'a hospital close to home' by the health authority and the community is rightly angered that this has not happened and services are being cut and not enhanced.

"In particular, I am saddened that treatments such as dialysis and chemotherapy are being centralised as travelling time has a huge effect on patients.

"Austerity brought in by both the Tories at Westminster and the SNP in Scotland are continuing to hit our health service."

As reported on Wednesday, Chat chairman, Bill Fernie, in a letter to Mr Stewart on behalf of the group, claims issues raised at a meeting in July have not been addressed. "As a matter of fact, the situation with health care in Caithness has grown significantly worse."

Mr Fernie acknowledged the staffing issues being faced by NHS Highland but said babies, women, children, the elderly and those suffering from cancer, renal failure and chronic illness are being affected. "The severe detrimental impact of your lack of care for our fragile community is shocking and disgraceful," he said.

Mr Fernie wants a meeting with the health authority to discuss these issues.

NHS Highland said it is in discussion with Chat about its concerns. It has faced a number of particular challenges, mainly staffing pressures, but a spokesman said the services have been maintained "whenever it has been safe to do so".

Issues around ambulatory or outpatient care are being addressed while cataract clinics are held in Caithness on a monthly basis, said the spokesman.

He added: "We remain committed to providing services as locally as possible."

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