NHS Highland blamed for erosion of healthcare in Caithness with 'centralisation' to Raigmore
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NHS Highland has been accused of presiding over a steady erosion of healthcare in Caithness which could result in families having to move away to be closer to vital services.
Caithness Health Action Team (CHAT) says it is concerned about the impact on health, birth rates, the local economy, schools and communities in the county as a result of treatment being "centralised" at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.
And the campaign group has suggested a virtual or face-to-face meeting at which members of the public can put questions to health board managers.
CHAT challenged NHS Highland on a number of points following a virtual meeting it had this week with health board staff and managers, with three Highland councillors also taking part.
In an email to NHS Highland management, and posted on social media, CHAT described the meeting as "very disappointing" and rejected a suggestion that it was to blame for "bad publicity".
CHAT stated: "NHS Highland claim that the reason they are not able to recruit is because of the bad publicity they are getting from social media, with the finger clearly pointed at CHAT. To be clear, we are a platform for the voices of Caithness people who are at the moment suffering from a healthcare system that is being centralised to Raigmore over 100 miles away."
CHAT insisted it was "not alone" in its concerns, with Highland MSPs Edward Mountain and Rhoda Grant and local MP Jamie Stone making similar comments.
The email continued: "Like the condition of our roads, each year our health provision has been eroded. To be viable our remote community needs a fully functioning health service like the one 20 miles away in Orkney.
"We feel the only solution to this is for CHAT to hold a public virtual or face-to-face meeting where the community can ask NHS Highland managers their questions and to have their voices heard directly and not through social media channels."
The group called on the chief executive of NHS Highland, Pam Dudek, to publicly respond to questions about the concerns over health services in Caithness.
CHAT chairman Bill Fernie told the John O'Groat Journal: "There is little doubt that spending and therefore services have not kept up with what was the norm in the past. Health boards and councils have not had sufficient funding to keep services up to scratch.
"The Scottish Government has centralised more and more and forced changes to health services and council services due to the squeeze on funding. It is difficult for the public to understand budgets and funding, but they can see that services have disappeared from their area.
"It is long past time that the sparsity of population in rural settings should not be used as an excuse for more centralisation and no amount of justification such as safety, training, etc., should be used as reasons why we cannot have the services we once did. If we continue down the current path, more and more people and families will decide they need to move away to be closer to important services."
NHS Highland was invited to comment.