CHAT column, May 2019

First published in John O’Groat Journal in May 2019

CHAT members were busy last week with several down at NHS Highland’s annual review in Inverness on Thursday 25th April.

In the morning I met the Health Minister Jeane Freeman and NHS managers where I raised the issues of the very high number of outpatients (still over 11,000 a year) having to travel to Inverness, 90% of mothers having to go down to Inverness to give birth, 950 Orthodontic patient appointments and 500 patient transfers a year using an emergency ambulance which is then out of the county for at least 6 hours.

The Health Minister did agree these figures seemed high and asked if they could be compared with other areas in NHS Highland. She said that she was aware of problems over ambulance cover and would ask SAS about the transfers.

The new NHS Highland Chief Executive Iain Stewart agreed that out patient numbers were far too high and said steps were being taken to reduce the numbers. This includes the use of ‘Near Me’ and managers looking at whether all patients actually have to go to Inverness. I gave the example of an elderly gentleman from Caithness who had to go to Raigmore to get a 24hr blood pressure monitor fitted and was also expected to return the following day to get it removed. The Health Minister agreed that was a good example of where there was no need to go to Inverness as it could have been done locally.

In the afternoon during the Annual review, Bill and Maria raised similar concerns but this time in public, about the impact the centralisation of health care is having on the economy and people of Caithness. They also highlighted orthodontics, maternity, babies with jaundice, out patient clinics and the amount of people having to travel to Inverness for their healthcare. Bill then revealed that Caithness patients had in total completed 3 million miles travelling to and from Inverness.

We had assurances from Iain Stewart that clinics will be reinstated back to Caithness, which was really good to hear. He did however state that the maternity model would not be changed. He also said that the new management team wanted to build back the trust that had been lost and agreed to meet with CHAT in May. After the meeting we had an informal discussion with midwifery managers who said that they wanted to work with us and the community to find ways to allow more mums to give birth locally, and to ensure mums, dads and families can also have the Best Start even though they live in a remote and rural area.

We left with a feeling of optimism.

CHAT is a non political group but are supported by several politicians like MP Jamie Stone, MSPs Edward Mountain, Rhoda Grant and David Stewart.

On Friday 26th April, Bill and I were invited to meet Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard who wanted to hear from groups involved in health and social matters in the county. We had a good discussion and left feeling we had a new ally.

Some CHAT members (including wee Jake (who really wanted to swim in the birthing pool!) delivered another batch of 100 mile helper kits for maternity to our midwives in the CMU, with a sincere thanks for all their hard work and dedication to our Caithness families.

Ron Gunn
Vice Chair Chat