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Edward Mountain: Health care issues in far north should be top priority

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Holyrood Notebook by Edward Mountain

Lorna Stanger from Thurso ran from hospitals in Caithness to Raigmore in Inverness to highlight the lengthy journey patients in the far north face. Picture: Robert MacDonald
Lorna Stanger from Thurso ran from hospitals in Caithness to Raigmore in Inverness to highlight the lengthy journey patients in the far north face. Picture: Robert MacDonald

At the beginning of this month, the Queen officially opened the sixth session of the Scottish Parliament in a ceremony which also celebrated Scotland’s unsung local heroes.

Every MSP was tasked with nominating one local hero who has made a positive contribution to their community, for them to have the opportunity to attend Holyrood in recognition of their achievements.

Whilst it was really difficult to choose only 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 badly, Rachel continuously picked up additional work to help ensure that elderly and vulnerable people continued to receive the care and support that they required.

The Local Hero initiative also acted as a timely reminder for all MSPs that our first call of duty is to serve our constituents and make a positive difference to their lives and not play party politics.

Indeed, I feel it is an immense privilege to represent the Highlands and Islands in a parliament which has now become the most powerful devolved legislature in the world. Holyrood has all the powers it needs to enhance health care provision, education, justice, transport, agriculture and many more portfolio areas.

That’s why it makes it all the more disappointing that the current SNP-Green government appears to be more interested in stirring up constitutional grievances rather than serving our local communities.

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

What Highlanders need to hear from the First Minister is 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.

Instead, the First Minister gave no constructive answers and blamed everything on Brexit.

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

Not only is there a lack of meaningful answers from the Scottish Government, but a distinct lack of engagement with local communities too.

For example, I was disappointed to see that both the SNP’s Health Secretary and Public Health Minister reject an invitation to sample the 102-mile journey that many pregnant Caithness mothers have to make to Raigmore Hospital.

This snub is deeply disrespectful and underlines how distant the SNP’s decision makers are from meeting the needs of local communities.

I’m not sure how MSP Maree Todd hopes to champion the concerns of many in Caithness and Sutherland when she actively avoids the challenges some of her constituents face. The people of the far north deserve better than this.

Indeed, I welcome all those local champions in our region who continue to raise the issue of health care provision and who remain undeterred by the inaction of the SNP-Green government.

Most recently, Lorna Stanger from Thurso undertook a 130-mile run to highlight the gruelling journey patients and their families face when travelling south to Inverness. Her efforts are truly commendable.

For as long as people in Caithness and Sutherland continue to inspire one another to keep raising the issue of health care provision, then I believe the Scottish Government will have no choice but to listen.

Rest assured, I will also continue to play my part in holding this SNP-Green Scottish Government to account on the local issues that matter most to those in the far north.

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

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