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Rejection of Chat request by NHS Highland was wrong, says north MSP.

By Gordon Calder

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THE dismissal of a request from a Caithness campaign group to be involved in decisions made by NHS Highland was wrong, according to north MSP, Rhoda Grant.

The Labour representative for the Highlands and Islands, hit out at the response from the health authority after it rejected the request made by the Caithness Health Action Team (Chat).

It wanted to participate in the decisions made by NHS Highland under the Community Empowerment Act 2015 which was intended "to encourage and support community involvement and participation in public services." The request was turned down with no right to appeal.

Rhoda Grant outside Caithness General hospital in Wick
Rhoda Grant outside Caithness General hospital in Wick

Mrs Grant says that is unfair and has backed a petition by Chat – lodged by secretary Maria Aitken – to allow an appeals process. The MSP supported the case when she appeared at the Scottish Parliament’s Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee on Wednesday morning.

The health authority said Chat is not constituted as a Community Controlled Body and rejected the request.

However, Mrs Grant said: "I believe that the group is controlled by the community and do need to be recognised as such. Chat has a constitution and that includes provision that they are community led. They hold regular AGMs and have regular meeting with the community that they represent."

She added: "I then took this up with NHS Highland on the group’s behalf but they have not changed their position. There is also no appeals process, so no chance for Chat to debate its case with someone from outwith the organisation.

"Members of the public regularly contact Chat asking for their assistance and advising them of issues that they have faced.

"This often puts them at odds with NHS Highland, if I am being honest, but I believe they are fulfilling an important role in the community."

Mrs Grant pointed out that the campaign group had not been consulted over the introduction of a midwife-led maternity unit at Caithness General hospital in Wick which has resulted in a 200-mile round trip to Raigmore for at risk women who are pregnant.

"I agree that people in Caithness are victims of a centralisation of healthcare services and rural areas are being left out of the decision-making process. An appeals process would let the group question the ruling of any public body and I would support its introduction sooner rather than later," she stated. Mrs Grant said dismissing the request "out of hand was wrong."

The committee heard the Scottish Government has asked the Scottish Community Development Centre to explore what an appeals process might look like and the centre will report its findings later this year.

Meanwhile, committee convener, MSP Jackson Carlaw, said the petition would be kept open.

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