We invited all candidates for the 2022 elections to respond to questions from the community, follow us over the coming days to see more responses…
Question 1 – Over the last 5 years we have seen a massive decline in our local women’s health services. Caithness General used to have 2 gynae surgery days a week. The loss of this has had a massive negative impact on the Highland waiting times which again have been impacted by Covid. The wait is now at least 2 years! If elected what will you do to bring about much needed local improvements for women’s health services in Caithness.
Thurso & Northwest Caithness
The present situation in respect of Womens Healthcare Services in Caithness is totally unacceptable. Two YEARS? I recently played a part in the making of a video report by a north newspaper, and I stood in a rutted pit at Olrig and said to camera, “Would a pregnant woman in Inverness, Glasgow, Edinburgh, or London be expected to travel over 100 miles in these conditions? Of course not. So why should Caithness women be expected to do so?” And that is the starting point. Expecting women to undergo torturous journeys in pain and distress (after a two year wait) is beyond belief. I am a very strong supporter of CHAT, and of the Womens Healthcare Campaign, and, whether or not I am elected, they will continue to have my total backing. I also fully support the recent petition to the Scottish Parliament calling for the establishment of a Caithness Health Trust, to take back local control. I intend to make the question of womens healthcare services a major part of my remit. I will lobby politicians at all levels, demanding better for the women of Caithness (who incidentally represent 51% of the population) and I will keep going until we get results. Caithness women deserve better.
This is something of huge concern. There are three Petitions working their way through The Scottish Petitions system relating to local women’s health problems. I wholeheartedly support all of them and if elected I would put my position as a Highland Councillor behind them.
The decline in women’s health services was a consequence of the downgrading of maternity services in 2016. CHAT are campaigning for an independent review of maternity and women’s health in Caithness and if elected I would use my position as a Highland Councillor to fight for the review.
I know other candidates including Matthew, Iain and Struan all support the call for an independent review. I would like to try and pull all of the newly elected eight councillors to come together to show a Caithness wide united front to engage with NHS Highland to improve the situation.
The process to improve local health services is ongoing with the redesign of health and social care in Caithness. That process has provided a sharp focus on this topic, along with the excellent local team campaigning on Endometriosis being involved to explore solutions with our NHS professionals.
I take a great deal of encouragement from the ongoing redesign process. The scope of this project is huge with our health professionals, 3rd and voluntary sector, community representatives and campaign groups being involved. The innovative and creative thinking that is being applied to apply radical solutions to the over 150 health and social care services being delivered in Caithness is exciting.
That change can ensure that Primary care services are delivered in the urban and rural settings, when and where they are required. We need to continue working hard at making a success of how we deliver these changes. Monthly meetings with local NHSH managers will continue to monitor and report progress publicly.
If re-elected I will continue to wholeheartedly support CHAT and continue to meet with NHS officials. I recently met Maree Todd, the Women’s Health Minister, in person, albeit mainly in connection with the appalling safety risks on our roads, which affects every person in Caithness. If necessary I will travel to Edinburgh, hopefully with like-minded colleagues, to state our overwhelming case that no other area in Scotland tolerates what we have to. It is, simply, disgraceful. I suspect it is a major factor in the projected depopulation figures and I personally know people who have moved south because of the health service failures.
A few miles away in Orkney many services for women are available locally. I will never give up and support both CHAT candidates, namely Bill Fernie and Ron Gunn.
The work of CHAT, Rebecca Wymer and Kirsteen Campbell of Endometriosis UK has underlined the significant concerns health campaigners have about women’s health services in Caithness.
Successive Health Secretaries from Nicola Sturgeon to Humza Yousaf have failed to grasp the vital importance of key services, delivered locally. With the lack of engagement with local representatives, campaign groups or frontline members of staff over the years a truly shameful legacy of healthcare priorities in the Far North from the Scottish Government.
Because of the lack of local availability and the resultant wait times spiralling out of control I have enthusiastically repeated the calls for increased local delivery in the Highland Chamber. Our current delivery model for a range of healthcare services in Caithness is deeply flawed and NHS Highland and Scottish Government Ministers need to address the deep-seated issues we have in Caithness.
Island health boards like NHS Orkney seem to be able to adopt and maintain unique healthcare models that work for their community. I believe we need to do something similar here in Caithness, with the services being shaped by the needs of the patients and not the demands of our Health Board.
There is a growing field of study that common conditions and medications present or affect the two sexes differently with textbook guidelines based on men so it is only right that matters of singular importance for female wellbeing receive dedicated attention.
That said, multiple areas have been deprioritized over Corona. As we emerge from its shadow, I hope to see more returned to Caithness.
I am reliably informed that parity of service will be arriving here for many gynae services such as post-menopausal bleeding. I fully support visiting clinics and expansion of remote visits through NHS Near Me and training of Advanced Nurses Practioners.
Wick & East Caithness
Health matters are mainly the responsibility of NHS Highland. However there should be opportunities given the partnership working that exists to lobby for improvements particularly in certain committees including the main Highland council committee where questions can be asked and responses given. As one of the founder members of Caithness Health Action Team (CHAT) I would ask that we continue to lobby NHS Highland and Scottish Government for a much improved service for women in the north.
First of all and most important is to bring these decision makers to task In other words get them up here to Wick for a high profile round the table meeting and get them to listen to what we have to say and to listen to our concerns on woman’s health services, they have to be made to listen and understand face to face is a positive start.
I am very aware of the issues surrounding the lack of health services in Caithness and will do everything in my power to ensure that services are returned to the area. This is especially the case with women’s health services. While the Council does not have power to direct NHS Highland I believe that as a Highland Councillor I would be able to use my influence to intervene on behalf of constituents to have these services introduced.
Not only will I fight to bring as many clinics and health services back to Caithness, but I will also fight to bring back full maternity services. It is not acceptable that a pregnant mother must travel over one hundred miles (nearly 3 hours) on one of the worst roads in the country in labour (or to be induced, or section) to give birth safely. This is downright draconian model and urgently needs addressed by the Scottish Government. The Health Secretary has re-instated Dr Gray’s, maternity services in Elgin due to distance from Aberdeen or Inverness, this is unacceptable when you consider our services. Like MSP Douglas Ross I have personal experience. My daughter had a major haemorrhage when she gave birth in Caithness 14 years ago, if this happened today, she would not have survived. In March 2015, she also had to travel to Inverness for a planned induction if she wanted to give birth safely (as was on the red path at the time). She had to bring her new-born baby home from Inverness whereby she had to stop on numerous occasions, as her baby was being sick and kept choking. At times she had to take the baby out the car seat when the car was still moving to prevent the baby choking as there was nowhere to safely stop. I therefore have a first-hand understanding of the danger (and the stress) to pregnant (and new) mothers and new-born babies in not having a fully functional maternity service in Caithness. The new model risks lives, and I will fight to empower Caithness Health Services and ensure that mothers can deliver safely in Caithness. I also note that 170 mums from Caithness gave birth last year at Raigmore and only 10 in Caithness, this has a knock-on effect as we are losing future employment in Caithness for the young. This has socio-economic issues for Caithness and will only exacerbate depopulation, at a time when Caithness is already predicted to occur the biggest population decline in the Highlands over the next decade.
NHS Highland literally does not want to listen to anyone about maternity services. Every time it was raised at any of the NHS Redesign meetings, anyone who asked about maternity was quickly interrupted and the subject moved on. For there to be any improvement at all, the NHS first of all has to be willing to even allow a discussion about it, before actually listening. In my five years as a Councillor, I have certainly not struggled to vocal and unignorable on the issues I have raised and actually getting them seriously round a table and not have them just defend their position is the first vital step.
I recently held discussions with the Chief Executive Officer and other senior clinicians of NHS Highland to see what action is planned in respect of reducing waiting lists and tackling the unaccetpable waiting times. I did this after meeting and having chats with one of the campaigners for Endrometriosis to discuss how I can support them. Those discussions continue and I look forward to my next meeting with the senior clinician responsible for gynaecological services who I’m due to meet again shortly. If I’m re-elected, I’ll continue to follow through with the work I’m already doing in respect of women’s health services and specifically with a commitment to reducing waiting times and unnecessary pain for those who are affected by the failure of NHS Highland to deliver the service needed locally.
I put in place monthly meetings with NHSH managers as a local Councillor and, if re-elected, I will ensure that progress is monitored and referred to during these discussions and reported publicly.
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