VIDEO - Hundreds take to the streets in health service protest
INCREDIBLE scenes took place in Wick Town Centre as hundreds of people took to the streets in a protest against downgrading of health services in Caithness.
The bedpush relay organised by Caithness Health Action Team saw over 500 people take part in the protest between Thurso and Wick on Sunday.
The protest was held due to beds at CGH maternity unit being cut from six to three along with other health services being centralised elsewhere in the country and no longer available in Caithness.
Teams of five to six people each took turns to push a replica hospital bed one mile each from Dunbar Hospital in Thurso to Caithness General Hospital in Wick.
The seven hour relay saw teams push the bed through Murkle, Castletown, Bower and Reiss before reaching Wick where several hundred people welcomed them into town.
A mass march then saw the protest fill the centre of Wick as they made their way to CGH to make their voices heard.
Chat vice-chairwoman Kirsteen Campbell said the turnout showed the strength of feeling and fear in Caithness about the future of health services in the county.
She said: “Hopefully as a result of the protest, NHS Highland will start to take us seriously.
“Caithness has had enough and we do not want to see any more cuts.” She said representatives of the action group were overwhelmed when they saw how many people supported them on the final mile of the relay.
“We were close to tears when we saw the crowd at Caithness Glass factory who were waiting for us,” said Mrs Campbell.
“Realistically the best turnout we were hoping for was between 200 to 300 people, but a lot more than that came along.
“It has been an incredible response and to have the fire brigade and the pipe band supporting us during the march added to the occasion.”
Among those taking part in the protest, Kerry Sutherland (26) from Wick was forced to travel to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness by car after going into labour. 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.
She 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.”
Miriam Sutherland (55) 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.
She 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 shouldn’t have to travel 120 miles any time we require treatment.”
NHS Highland insists it does not recognise the cuts in services Chat refers to.
It said CGH is receiving a multi-million pound upgrade and key appointments have been made in the hospital recently.
A spokesman said: “We are aware of the bed march which reflect ongoing concerns, some of which we understand, but in general we don’t recognise the cuts in services they are referring to.
“It is the case that we had to put in interim measures on the grounds of safety for maternity services. These will remain in place until we know the outcome of our local reviews. We hope to be in position to report on the findings later this year, and our priority will be around safety.”