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Edward Mountain: U-turn on PICT funding is welcome but more health care challenges ahead in Highlands

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Holyrood Notebook by Edward Mountain

The PICT team will be able to continue to operate seven days a week after threats of a funding cut were withdrawn.
The PICT team will be able to continue to operate seven days a week after threats of a funding cut were withdrawn.

It is good news that our world-class Highland Pre-hospital Immediate Care and Trauma (PICT) team will receive the funding they need to continue their seven-day service.

Highland PICT had come under serious threat of having its service capabilities reduced from seven days per week to four days, following NHS Highland’s decision to withdraw funding.

One can only imagine the dreadful consequences this decision could have brought about given how Highland PICT play a key role in attending major trauma incidents, providing advanced care alongside other emergency services.

This decision was so unacceptable that around 40 health care professionals, who are involved with Highland PICT, signed an open letter to the chair of the health board calling for a rethink.

Such a life-saving service should never have been put under threat of funding cuts. We simply cannot afford to downgrade PICT’s capabilities.

That’s why I raised this issue directly with both the chief executive of NHS Highland and then the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care.

I therefore welcome that NHS Highland has finally seen sense and has U-turned on its decision to pull funding from this vital service.

My campaign to protect the PICT is far from over though. NHS Highland’s funding is only in place for the next six months, so I will continue to campaign for a long-term funding settlement that secures the future of PICT beyond September 2022.

While I will be campaigning hard to ensure Highland PICT’s future is secured in six months' time, I will also be looking forward to the National Treatment Centre in Inverness preparing to open its doors to patients.

That opening date though is heavily dependent on the success of NHS Highland’s recruitment programme for the facility.

At the time of writing, I understand that the health board have identified around 25 per cent of the team required to operate the facility. This still leaves another 200 health care professionals to be recruited.

There is still enough time for NHS Highland to build the team needed for this world-class facility, but I do have serious concerns that the Scottish Government do not appreciate the scale of this recruitment challenge.

That’s why I raised the issue directly with the First Minister at the Scottish Parliament last week. I was not reassured by what I heard.

The First Minister confirmed only 200 of the 1500 staff needed to run the National Treatment Centres across Scotland have been recruited. Therefore, NHS Highland is far from alone in facing serious problems attracting the staff it needs.

It would appear that our NHS is now paying the price for the Scottish Government’s insufficient workforce planning.

When the establishment of the National Treatment Centres were announced back in 2015, action should have been taken then by the First Minister to ensure enough health care professionals were being trained up in Scotland to staff these facilities.

Indeed, I have been calling for Scotland’s next medical school to be based in the Highlands for years.

However, the process for identifying Scotland’s next medical school was shelved at the outset of the pandemic and has yet to be restarted.

When I pressed the First Minister on the issue of a Highland Medical School, no commitments were provided. That is unacceptable given the historic struggles NHS Highland has experienced when it comes to recruitment.

Those who we train in the Highlands are more likely to stay in the Highlands and serve in our health service for years to come.

Our region needs a medical school more than ever and I will continue to campaign for its creation.

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

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