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North has 'a rising tide' of mental health issues, says Fernie

By Gordon Calder

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SUICIDE rates and deaths from drug overdoses are "extremely high" in Caithness, local health campaigners have claimed.

Representatives from the Caithness Health Action Team (Chat) raised their concerns with new NHS Highland chief executive, Pam Dudek, when they met her in Wick.

Bill Fernie is concerned about the increase in mental health issues in the north
Bill Fernie is concerned about the increase in mental health issues in the north

Chat chairman, Bill Fernie, said there is "a rising tide of issues" and said the area needs a fully staffed mental health team and a psychiatrist based in the far north to help tackle the problems.

He said children are waiting "extremely long lengths of time to get a neurological diagnosis" while the centralising of maternity services in Inverness is causing distress and anxiety for mothers and their families. Some have decided to have no more kids while others have moved away from the area, said Mr Fernie.

He claimed locum psychiatrists do not provide "a quality service for people needing urgent mental health diagnosis, care and support.

"We need as a priority a consistent and fully-staffed mental health team based in Caithness including a full time psychiatrist," he said.

Mr Fernie welcomed additional funding for Caithness for mental health services and said the Scottish Government recognises the difficulties and is putting more money into health boards to help tackle the problem.

Other issues raised with Mrs Dudek by Mr Fernie, Chat vice-chairman, Ron Gunn and secretary Maria Aitken included the centralisation of clinics to Raigmore hospital in Inverness.

"People are still having to attend Raigmore for minor ops and to attend clinics that can be held locally which is putting an additional strain on our severely deprived communities who struggle financially and suffer additionally through lack of public transport.

"We were promised that our local hospitals would be used to their full potential with minor operations being carried out here and major operations in Raigmore," said Mr Fernie.

Chat would also like to see more orthodontic treatments provided locally but claim patients who have to go to Inverness for appointments should get their travel expenses reimbursed if they are referred to a private clinic by NHS Highland. At present, patients receive their travel costs if they are treated at Raigmore but not if they are referred to a private clinic, said Mr Fernie.

"If NHS Highland is sending people to Inverness for an appointment they should get their travel reimbursed irrespective if they are seen at Raigmore or privately. It is unfair if they are not getting their travel expenses. They are getting treatment but, in some cases, not their expenses," he said.

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