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Edward Mountain accuses First Minister of 'shameful' comments linking Brexit to mental health care problems

By Alan Hendry

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Edward Mountain asked what was being done to secure more specialist support in the Highlands.
Edward Mountain asked what was being done to secure more specialist support in the Highlands.

North politician Edward Mountain has accused Nicola Sturgeon of “shameful and disrespectful” comments after she suggested that problems affecting mental health provision can be attributed to the UK's exit from the European Union.

“I am deeply frustrated that the First Minister believes it is appropriate to blame everything on Brexit," the Conservative MSP for the Highlands and Islands declared.

Mr Mountain was speaking after he challenged Ms Sturgeon over mental health treatment and asked what was being done to secure more specialist support in the region.

He has called on the First Minister to spend more time looking at specific issues that are unique to the Highlands and are having an impact on the recruitment of rural mental health practitioners.

Mr Mountain is leading a cross-party effort with Labour's Rhoda Grant on mental health care in rural communities. That came about after the two MSPs led discussions with NHS Highland during the summer to identify which major obstacles stood in the way of enhanced provision.

During Ms Sturgeon's Covid-19 statement on Tuesday, Mr Mountain said: “The First Minister will be aware of the enormous strain on the provision of mental health treatment across the country, which has been exacerbated by Covid.

“The chief executive of NHS Highland has told me that personnel shortages are the problem, not funding, and that she is not happy with the ‘offering in terms of responsiveness and support’.

“Can the First Minister confirm what action is being taken to secure specialist support in the Highlands from outwith NHS Highland before more constituents lose their lives?"

Ms Sturgeon replied: “Edward Mountain is right that funding, of course, is vital. But if that funding is not then able to secure the recruitment of staff then it’s not going to have the desired effect.

“There’s a range of support in place to help with recruitment across the National Health Service and social care and we will continue to support NHS Highland and other health boards in recruiting the staff that they need.”

The First Minister added: “Many people who came to Scotland from other European countries provided great contributions and support and many of them have now been lost to our public services and to our economy as a result of the wrong-headed ending of freedom of movement, which we are all now paying a significant price for.

“So I take my responsibility for supporting the NHS to deal with these challenges. But perhaps Conservative members could take this message to their bosses in Westminster and spell it out to them, in no uncertain terms, the damage Brexit is doing to our National Health Service and social care across the country.”

Mr Mountain said later: “It is clear there have been long-running problems with NHS Highland’s provision of mental health care, which a cross-party group led by Rhoda Grant and myself raised with the SNP health secretary recently.

“We need to know what action the Scottish Government is taking to offer more support to NHS Highland when it comes to housing, career development and pay scales for rural mental health practitioners.

“However, the First Minister ignored those key concerns and instead gave a shameful and disrespectful response which gives cold comfort to those families and friends who have lost loved ones in recent years. The Highlands deserve better than this.

“If the First Minister cannot answer my question effectively then maybe she should spend some more time looking at the facts specific to the Highlands.”

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