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Caithness comes out in force against cuts to health services


By Will Clark

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An estimated 500 people took part in the final mile of the protest. Photo: Will Clark
An estimated 500 people took part in the final mile of the protest. Photo: Will Clark

WE’VE HAD ENOUGH!

That was the big message from more than 500 people who marched through Wick town centre to protest against cuts to health services in Caithness.

 In one of the biggest protests seen in the far north in recent years, people took to the streets and rural roads across the county demanding that NHS Highland safeguard existing services at Caithness General Hospital, Dunbar Hospital and elsewhere.

Caithness Health Action Team organised the protest around the Big Push, a 21-mile relay in which teams took turns to push a bed between the two hospitals in Thurso and Wick. About 100 took part in the marathon which followed the A836 and A99.

Hundreds of people were waiting at the car park at the foot of Wick Industrial Estate to join in the final mile of the seven-hour relay to Caithness General.

Among those who protested were people who had been affected by cuts to health services in Caithness as well as those who are relying on them being maintained in the far north.

Kerry Sutherland (centre) feared she might have to give birth en route to Inverness from Wick last month. She is pictured with her team Labour Pains during the bedpush relay. Photo: Will Clark
Kerry Sutherland (centre) feared she might have to give birth en route to Inverness from Wick last month. She is pictured with her team Labour Pains during the bedpush relay. Photo: Will Clark

Kerry Sutherland from Wick was forced to travel to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness by car after going into labour in September.

However, she required an ambulance halfway through the journey due to the pain she was experiencing. Within half an hour of arriving in Inverness, she gave birth to her daughter Hannah.

The 26-year-old said having to travel for two hours while in labour to reach a hospital deemed to have the necessary facilities is something no woman should have to go through. She said: “Six weeks ago I had to travel to Inverness while I was in an advanced stage of my labour.

“I travelled halfway of the journey by car but I didn’t think I was going to make it so had to stop at Golspie and call for an ambulance which took me the rest of the way.

“It was an absolutely terrifying experience.

I was by myself in the ambulance and my husband had to travel in the car behind me, which was really stressful for him too.

“During the journey I thought we were not going to make it – it was a nightmare.

“I was only in Raigmore for 30 minutes before I gave birth. I am protesting as I want to see changes at Caithness General’s maternity unit to allow more women to give birth at the hospital again.”

Laura MacDonald (left) and Shona Munro (second right) with the Can't Call the Midwife Team had personal reasons for taking part. Photo: Will Clark
Laura MacDonald (left) and Shona Munro (second right) with the Can't Call the Midwife Team had personal reasons for taking part. Photo: Will Clark

Laura MacDonald from Thurso was diagnosed with cancer in February and is currently receiving chemotherapy treatment at Caithness General.

However she said other cancer patients who require radium are forced to travel to Raigmore Hospital.

While she is thankful she can receive her treatment in Wick, she hopes it will not become another service which will be centralised.

“I am just so thankful that chemotherapy is being provided in Wick as it is a great service that is provided in CGH,” said the 58-year-old.

“It is so important that chemotherapy services are kept in Wick as it saves a lot of hassle for patients.

“I know a lot of people who are receiving radium which is provided in Inverness.

“They have to spend a whole week away from their families to receive treatment.

It is important chemotherapy services at Caithness General are maintained.”

Protestors made sure their messages were heard loud and clear. Photo: Will Clark
Protestors made sure their messages were heard loud and clear. Photo: Will Clark

Shona Munro from Thurso said she was fortunate enough to have given birth to her children at Caithness General.

The 33-year-old is saddened to see so many other women being forced to travel to Inverness and said the number needs to be reduced.

“I’ve had two children at Caithness General and the maternity service was excellent.

“I can’t fault the staff or praise them highly enough.

“With my second child, I would not have made it to Inverness. Nothing went wrong during my pregnancy but my labour went really fast and I would never have made it to Raigmore to have her. “The service at Wick was amazing and they need the resources to allow them to continue.

“We just want to highlight the cuts that are being made up here.

“We are trying to get people’s awareness raised so these cuts can be stopped in some sort of way.”

Andrew Mackay (left) with members of the Castletown Hotel team taking part in the bedpush relay in Castletown. Photo: Will Clark
Andrew Mackay (left) with members of the Castletown Hotel team taking part in the bedpush relay in Castletown. Photo: Will Clark

Hotelier Andrew Mackay from Keiss was inspired to support the campaign after his wife Vicky was forced to travel to Inverness to give birth. As well as the stress his wife went through during her pregnancy, Mr Mackay said it also had a major impact on the family.

“My wife recently had a baby and she had to go to Raigmore,” he said.

“We were lucky it all went OK, but we have older children who we had to look after as well.

“They also missed the opportunity of seeing their little sister in the hospital.

That is something which we can never take back. More and more services are being taken away from the community, even things like five minute appointments and it is just getting worse and worse.

“There are times when these appointments are cancelled as well. It is so disruptive to people’s lives up here.

“It is crucial more is done not only to attract but to keep people in the area.”

Miriam Sutherland (back right) with the Carry on Caithness team. She said its vital health services in Caithness are maintained due to the county's ageing population. Photo: Will Clark
Miriam Sutherland (back right) with the Carry on Caithness team. She said its vital health services in Caithness are maintained due to the county's ageing population. Photo: Will Clark

Miriam Sutherland from Reay said her parents have to travel to Inverness to receive treatment due to the lack of services available in the county.

Her mother, who suffers from cancer and recently had a stroke, received treatment in the Queen Elizabeth rehabilitation and assessment unit at Caithness General, which is set to close down.

The 55-year-old fears more services will be centralised, coinciding with a growing elderly population in Caithness. She said: “We have a right to be born in our community; a right to have health care in our community; and a right to die with dignity in our community. “I feel each of these three rights are being stripped away from us bit by bit.

“I have travelled with my parents up and down to Inverness to receive hospital treatment.

“My mum received treatment at the Queen Elizabeth Unit which was the best wing I have ever come across which provided care and it is now being closed down.

“Staff are being stripped away from the hospital and that is what I have a big problem with. We have a growing elderly population here.”

She added: “There are lot of people from Caithness who suffer from Alzheimer’s

who are being treated at New Craigs Hospital in Inverness because there are not the services available up here.

“We know we are geographically remote, but more needs to be done to bring people into our community to make us feel safe.

“We shouldn’t have to travel 120 miles any time we require treatment.”

Watch our highlights of the bedpush relay across Caithness.


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