CHAT column, May 2018

First published in John O’Groat Journal in May 2018

WHAT’S the CHAT?

Welcome to Caithness Health Action Team’s new monthly update which coincides with the new paper format and intends to keep the readers up to date with CHAT matters as, although CHAT has a large following on social media, we recognise that not everyone is online.

Let’s start with a bit of background. CHAT was formed about two years ago by a group of young mothers after the Maternity Unit at Caithness General Hospital was downgraded and is run by unpaid volunteers who I’ll introduce in future updates. Past events organised by CHAT include the Big Bed Push and the Visual Demonstration gathering in Bignold Park,   both of which attracted 100s of folk. Other achievements include almost 3000, 100 Miles Too Far postcards sent to Holyrood and the 100 Mile Helper Kits for patients having to go to Raigmore at very short notice.

Campaigning groups need the support of the community to keep going and    it’s fair to say that is something CHAT has. Last October when we asked the public to support the Candlelit Vigil and Day of Action, 3000 folk turned out in horrendous weather. A tremendous show of unity! That was a very important day in our history when the folk of Caithness sent an incredibly strong message to NHS Highland which forced them to put the brakes on the so called ‘bed review’.

This demonstration did not go unnoticed.  An MSP told me later that Nicola Sturgeon demanded to know from NHS Highland why there were 3000 people on the streets in Caithness.

CHAT have travelled twice to the Scottish Parliament and met the health minister the second time.

At this meeting we presented a package of Caithness health issues and handed over Dr Binghams damning letters. This is where we showed Shona Robison the now famous Dorothy Anderson video (almost 40000 on line views to date). This incredibly brave lady certainly sent them a powerful, emotional message.

Like any organisation we have our critics. Most of us are relatively new to this game and may make mistakes, but when we do we learn from it and move on.

Since joining CHAT I have been shown round our three hospitals, the Ambulance Station at Wick and the Community Health Centre in Thurso and have to say that every facility I’ve been in is full of hard-working, dedicated, caring staff. The number of letters and notes of thanks on display is testament to that, as are the public and private donations given to the hospitals.

CHAT started campaigning on maternity matters but now, because there are so many health issues in Caithness, we have had to expand our campaign to include such things as trying to reduce the number of patients and expectant mothers travelling to Inverness and fighting the reduction of hospital beds.

We recently started an online fund raiser for lay flat baby seats and within three hours donations from Kian’s Trust and an anonymous donor enabled us to order three.

CHAT was involved in the NHS Highland ‘bed review’ meetings and hopefully we will be invited to the next stage of ‘Caithness Redesign’ meetings in May.

CHAT are dealing with a lot of issues at the moment and I will cover them next month.

Ron Gunn
Vice Chair CHAT