Face-to-face local care must always be an option for Caithness patients

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Holyrood Notebook by Edward Mountain

Medical staff attended the health summit hosted by MSP Edward Moutain.
Medical staff attended the health summit hosted by MSP Edward Moutain.

I was delighted to see so many constituents, including a Caithness contingent, at the recent Let’s Talk Health summit that was held two weeks ago.

My campaign for a new teaching hospital supported by investment in our local hospitals is gathering pace.

Waiting times and local clinics were high on the list of issues. Until recently, consultants from Raigmore Hospital in Inverness used to see patients in local clinics. However, this appears to have been stopped by the board with no indication of when they will resume.

We need to address this, as rural patients are now having to undertake long and potentially painful journeys to get to their appointments.

In-person local care is a vital and often cannot be adequately replaced by the remote consultations that patients are forced to increasingly rely upon. Remote consultations, via phone or video, are unsuitable for complex, sensitive or potentially distressing consultations, as are long journeys.

NHS Highland have pioneered virtual consultations in the hope that they will reduce waiting lists. It is, however, important that they should remain an option and not a replacement.

After all, it was our First Minister, Humza Yousaf, who stated that “face to face appointments will always be there for people who need them”. There is no excuse – Caithness and Sutherland must not be forgotten.

MSP Edward Mountain.
MSP Edward Mountain.

The north must also not be forgotten as we discuss the government’s plan for 20-minute neighbourhoods. Many people will need to travel more than 20 minutes for their shopping let alone to see a film or friends. So, the idea that they are appropriate in remote rural areas is ludicrous.

This policy has been proposed following the Scotland’s Climate Change Plan to reduce car kilometres by 20 per cent by 2030, as part of the on-going target of net zero emissions by 2045.

Although the proposal appears feasible for urban conurbations, given the geography and scale of Scotland, it is unrealistic to expect this proposal to transfer smoothly to deliver all services to all people in rural areas.

Don’t get me wrong, I recognise the merits of reducing car miles to achieve our climate targets but to do that we need more trains and buses. Until we have adequate public transport it is an unobtainable dream.

Politicians should not forget that in rural areas 80 per cent of people travel to work by car, compared to a standard of 68 per cent. Furthermore, 84 per cent of rural areas have the lowest levels of access to public transport. This subsequently means that there is often not a viable travel alternative for those living in rural areas to make their living.

I will continue to push these issues in the net zero energy and transport parliamentary committee that I convene. A failure of other Highland politicians to do so would be to fail the constituents they represent.

  • Edward Mountain is a Conservative MSP for the Highlands and Islands.

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