CHAT column, July 2018

First published in John O’Groat Journal in July 2018

This month I thought I would give you a bit of an insight into CHAT.

CHAT was born when some of local mums decided to start a campaign group to fight the downgrading of the maternity unit at Caithness General Hospital.  Nicola Sinclair was one of those mums and while still involved with CHAT, Nicola is now a Highland Councillor for East Caithness.

Bill Fernie is the Chairman and Prof Iain Baikie is the Vice Chair for Wick. Our secretary is Maria Aitken, Lynne Duff is the event/meeting secretary and Sand Owsnett is the Treasurer. Committee members are Liz More, Ashley Miller and Derek Bremner. About a year ago CHAT expanded and formed a Branch in Thurso.  Their committee members are myself, Shona Munro (secretary), Gary Cormack and  Paul Cannop.

CHAT has a Web page and a Facebook page and receive a large number of emails and messages covering a variety of health issues. These messages are generally dealt with by Maria, Lynne or Bill. CHAT can give general advice but more complicated cases we pass to the Patient Advice & Support Service (PASS) which is run by the Citizens Advice Bureau. This is a free,confidential,independent advice and support service for patients of the NHS in Scotland.

Nicola, Bill, Iain, Maria, Lynne and I have all done TV/radio/press interviews on CHAT issues. A short while ago Maria was live on BBC Scotland’s Kaye Adams show discussing Caithness mothers having to travel to Inverness to give birth. Last month Lynne was on Radio Scotland speaking about our recently acquired baby seats which have been very popular with mums to be. Lynne and Ashley who administer the system have been flat out arranging bookings etc. In fact there has been so much demand that CHAT are fundraising to buy some more.

I recently spent a very pleasant afternoon at Pulteney House Care Home in Wick.
Pulteney House could become the new NHS Hub for Wick so I thought it would be beneficial to arrange a visit.Penny Cormack, the Manager, invited me to have tea and cakes with the residents and as they are very much involved in the running of the home any visit is discussed with them before hand. Thankfully I was given the ok! We had a good blether and discussed a variety of things including the time Wick was bombed during the war, resident’s experiences of having babies in Caithness and who was the best butcher in Wick.

Everyone seemed very happy being there and were full of praise for the staff. Penny and her staff  have an excellent relationship with residents and know straight away if something is not right. I was very impressed with the homely atmosphere and must
say the staff and manager are a credit to their profession.

We now have a new Health Minister, Jeane Freeman.  At our last CHAT meeting we
felt it was appropriate to write to Ms. Freeman asking her up to Caithness to discuss the issues affecting healthcare locally.

CHAT are keeping an eye on what is happening at Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin.
Services at the hospital will be soon be reduced due to a shortage of junior doctors, meaning all medium and high-risk births will be transferred to Aberdeen or Inverness. This increase in numbers could have a knock on effect on Caithness mothers to be who have to travel to Raigmore to give birth. CHAT have been in touch with Keep Mum, the campaign group set up to fight the downgrading of Elgin’s maternity unit.

Ron Gunn
Vice Chair CHAT