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RHODA GRANT: Paused NHS Highland projects 'should have been completed many years ago'

By Scott Maclennan

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An ambulance overtakes a car in rain and snow-melt flooding. Picture: Alison White. Image No..
An ambulance overtakes a car in rain and snow-melt flooding. Picture: Alison White. Image No..

I want to start my column today by highlighting the decision by the telecom industry, including BT, to pause all non-voluntary switch overs to digital landline services.

There was real concern that vulnerable customers who have telecare services incompatible with the digital switchover would be cut off. It is welcome news that a decision has been taken to pause this although it is frustrating why it has taken so long to do so.

People with a telecare device which will not work with a digital landline will now not be switched until they are ready.

Moving on to politics, there was another decision to pause projects, this time, one that I am wholly against.

The Scottish Government have made the disappointing decision to reassess the funding promised to new capital projects. Refurbishment and improvement projects to Caithness General in Wick, multi-million pound plans for a replacement to Belford Hospital in Fort William, and the £9 million improvement to the maternity unit at Raigmore Hospital have now all been thrown into doubt.

These projects should have been completed many years ago. The anxiety and disruption caused by the bad weather this month that led to major road closures and limited public transport has again shone a light on the difficulty of travelling for healthcare and the dangers of centralised health services.

I raised the importance of these hospital upgrades and urged the First Minister to reverse the decision and was given an answer around continued commitment for consultant-led services in Dr Gray’s Hospital by 2026.

This is an important commitment to Moray – one that must be kept – but I will continue to put pressure on the Scottish Government to save every capital project in the Highlands and Islands and look for a similar commitment for Caithness as the one that has been given to Dr Gray’s.

In Parliament this month, I led a debate on the Bank of Scotland’s decision to close their mobile branch service. Mobile banks were already a compromise that many were unhappy about, but now they too are closing.

This decision will have the biggest impact on people who are already struggling. There was broad cross-party support for my motion which shows the strength of feeling on the matter, that I hope will lead to the Bank of Scotland reconsidering their approach.

I also spoke on the Rural and Islands Youth Parliament debate, echoing many of the priorities that young, rural people have about their communities. I attended the first meeting of the Youth Parliament in November last year and was impressed with the passion and purpose brought through the event.

Young people who live in rural and island communities are often best placed to advise the Government on what is needed there. They must be listened to, and action must be taken to stem depopulation and keep young people in Highland communities.

This means making more housing available and affordable, creating jobs and opportunities, improving access to services and connectivity, amongst others. This is essential if our rural and island communities are going to continue to thrive.

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