Uist dentistry decision simply must be called in

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, says enough is enough and that the decision to close local dental surgeries in Uist in favour of a centralised hub simply must be stopped.

The MSP has been raising objections to the proposal for three years.  She was advised in December 2017 that the Western Isles Integration Joint Board (IJB) had stated that the decision would be communicated to the Scottish Health Council (SHC) which would determine whether the proposed arrangements would constitute ‘major service change’ and, if the SHC did consider the new model for dental services ‘major service change’, then the case would be referred to Scottish Ministers.  The MSP was later advised however that the SHC has no formal role in processes led by integration authorities.

Mrs Grant asked the First Minister during First Minister’s Questions on 7 December 2017 if she would impose a moratorium on the IJB decision until the regulation surrounding ‘major service change’ was checked.  The First Minister said no.

The MSP then sent a further letter to the then Health Secretary, Shona Robison, on 9 January 2018 asking specifically for clarification from her as to whether a decision made by an IJB can be called in for scrutiny whether it is deemed to be major service or not.  Shona Robison replied that the Scottish Government was satisfied that robust arrangements for public engagements are in place for integration authorities.

Rhoda Grant said “The First Minister, the previous Health Secretary, Shona Robison, and now the present Minister for Public Health, Joe FitzPatrick, have all hidden behind muddied legislation to avoid doing anything to right this wrong.  However, given that the final decision to close the local practices has been taken jointly by NHS Western Isles and the Comhairle, I am assuming that this decision can at last be called in for proper scrutiny.

Mrs Grant continued “Dental infections if left untreated can lead to systemic spread of infection and we simply cannot make access to dentists difficult.  We cannot ask people to travel a 60 mile round trip to see a dentist.

“I have also asked questions of the IJB on how the outreach service is going to be provided and who will receive this service, if consideration has been given to re-visiting the participatory budgeting process which implemented the current bus services in 2017, are travel expenses going to be paid for patients who have to travel to Benbecula and is the proposal going to be island proofed?  The response I got was that these questions will be addressed as part of the delivery plan which is in development and they would revert to me at that point.” said Mrs Grant.

“That says to me that this proposal is totally flawed with no answers to these very pertinent questions which people the length and breadth of Uist are asking.  Enough is enough – this decision simply has to be called in and I have asked the Scottish Health Council and the Scottish Government to do this.”

Portfolio Questions – 06/11/19

Today at Portfolio Questions, I raised with the Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy the knock on effect the delayed Scottish budget will have on local government and the voluntary organisations. You can see my supplementary question and her response above.

MSP Rhoda Grant raises job losses at Machrihanish, Campbeltown 

The job losses at CS Wind at Machrihanish, Campbeltown, were raised by Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, at First Minister’s Questions today.

Mrs Grant said: “The First Minister will be aware of the announcement by CS Wind that they are reducing their workforce in Campbeltown by three quarters.

“This is a devastating blow for the workforce and also for the whole country because this is the only manufacturer of wind turbines in Scotland.

“Can I ask the First Minister what steps she has taken to protect these jobs and assist the workforce in this difficult time?”

Nicola Sturgeon thanked Mrs Grant for raising the issue, admitting that it will be an “exceptionally difficult time for workers who have been issued with redundancy notices.

The First Minister said the Energy Minister had spoken with the company’s management a couple of days ago to discuss the reasons behind the move. Ms Sturgoen said that the Scottish Government believed it was “a gap in the order book” not about its future prospects or long term sustainability. She added that the Government and Highlands and Islands Enterprise were committed to doing all they can to mitigate the impact of the redundancy notices and dialogue continued with the company to support it to ensure its long their sustainability and success.

Afterwards Mrs Grant said: “This is a huge blow for this area as it is understood that 73 out of 94 jobs are to go.

“The amount of manufacturing work awarded to Scottish renewable manufacturers remains too low for a country which has a huge number of windfarms, especially in the Highlands and Islands.

“Promises of employment in the low-carbon and renewable energy (LCRE) economy has not translated into the jobs boom promised and there’s been a failure of an industrial policy to ensure that workers, businesses and Government in Scotland benefit from Scotland’s natural resources.”


Disappointment at weak Government response on Uist dentistry

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has expressed extreme disappointment that the proposal to centralise Uist dental services in Benbecula is not subject to higher level scrutiny.

Mrs Grant has received a response from the Scottish Government’s Minister for Public Health, Joe Fitzpatrick, advising that he is seeking assurances from NHS Western Isles on particular aspects of the new service, including the outreach component.

The Minister has advised that he is also keen to ensure that concerns from the local community and other health care professionals are addressed in full, and that the IJB has a satisfactory communications and engagement plan in place with the Minister advising that he has asked officials to convey these points to the IJB and intends to ensure they are acted upon.

Rhoda Grant said “The communities affected by this proposal want the decision called in by Scottish Ministers.  What they have got instead is a weak plea for assurances that all will be well with the new proposal.

“The Minister says that he is keen to ensure that concerns from the local community and other health care professionals are addressed in full.  The views of service users must be heard and the views of health care professionals simply must be adhered to.  They know what service provision is adequate, and what is not.  Outreach services cannot meet all the needs of patients at a distance.

Mrs Grant concluded “I had hoped for a more robust response from the Scottish Government given the strength of local opposition and I will again ask for a full enquiry to be carried out and for an islands impact assessment to be carried out before this deeply worrying proposal is allowed to go any further.”

Transport Scotland says roundabouts will be considered for Tain junctions

A range of improvements, including roundabouts, are to be considered for improving the safety at two Tain junctions, an MSP has discovered.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, wrote to Transport Scotland after the community backed putting in roundabouts for the Tain A9 Asda and Lidl junctions.

Mrs Grant had already been told about planned improvements including reducing the speed limit to 50mph on a 3km stretch of the A9 – 260 metres south of the A9 junction with the B9174 Knockbreak Road and continuing until 180 metres north of the A9 junction with the B9174 Morangie Road. This is to be put out to consultation.

Now Transport Scotland’s Chief Executive, Roy Brannen, says it is looking for a consultant to review long-term engineering options for the stretch and this will include a range of junction improvement, including roundabouts.

“This is good news, but I have to raise a note of caution as Transport Scotland has told me that any larger scale projects will be subject to funding and will compete with other priorities on the trunk road network,” said Mrs Grant.

“I do hope the Scottish Government will see this as a priority for funding given the number of accidents and near misses on this stretch.

“The community is anxious to avoid a serious accident or a fatality at these junctions, so I hope planning these longer-term improvements will not take long.

“I hope that Transport Scotland will also look at other alternatives in the long term that provide safety as well as ensuring the journey north is not permanently lengthened.”

Last year Mrs Grant was contacted by constituents who told her that ‘nearly every week’ an incident happens’ around the Asda and Lidl junctions.

She has highlighted recent publicity about 11 accidents at the Tain Asda junction, labelled the worst A9 hotspot.

Why not give Skills for Tomorrow a try?

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, is welcoming an initiative introduced by BT to digitally upskill 10 million people in the UK by 2025.

Working in collaboration with a series of partners such as Google and Linkedin, the Skills for Tomorrow programme aims to help people of all ages and backgrounds to engage in the digital world.  The programme aims to uplift people’s ability to make the most of technology, which will have knock on effects for both economic productivity and social inclusion.

Rhoda Grant said “This is a fantastic resource which will help people with varying degrees of internet experience.

“There are short courses on a range of issues from mastering the basics of the internet to launching and building a business.

Mrs Grant continued “We all know people who are not confident in using the internet and need a bit of a hand to allow them to engage.  These short courses can be done at any time of the day, from the comfort of your own home and with categories such as Daily life, Parents, Work life, Business and Teachers there is something for everyone.”

“Why not click on the link https://www.bt.com/skillsfortomorrow/index.html and give it a try?”

Anger at Crofting Bill being shelved

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has said it is ‘shocking’ that, despite several assurances to the contrary, the Scottish Government has abandoned plans for crofting reform to be introduced in this session of the Parliament.

Rhoda Grant said “The Cabinet Secretary, Fergus Ewing, gave a statement to Parliament last month (10 September) advising that “Members could be assured that his officials continue to work on reform of crofting legislation” and now, just a few weeks later, he advises that work on the Crofting Bill will be suspended ‘for the foreseeable future’.”

The Cabinet Secretary was challenged last month by Labour’s Rural Economy spokesperson, Colin Smyth, who stated that

“Two years ago, the programme for Government stated: “We will … consult on and develop proposals to reform crofting law”.

“A year ago, the programme for Government stated: “We will take forward work on a Crofting Bill and publish a national development plan for crofting”.

“Just six months ago, at the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, the Cabinet Secretary said: “I committed to seeking to introduce a crofting bill in sufficient time for it to be passed before the end of the session. That commitment remains.”— [Official Report, Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, 24 April 2019; c 7.]

Mrs Grant said, “So many times we have heard Fergus Ewing extol the worth of crofting in the cultural heritage of Scotland.  He’s also stated that crofting continues to contribute to the sustainability of remote and rural communities and that that is partly as a result of the support and attention that the Scottish Government and its predecessors have provided in the past and are providing now.”

“Even his own SNP colleague, Alasdair Allan, said last month that he was disappointed to hear about the timetabling problems relating to a crofting bill.

“Fergus Ewing was happy to take the praise for the value that crofting contributes to the sustainability of remote and rural areas yet just weeks later, his officials get pulled away to deal with Brexit, leaving these vulnerable communities high and dry, ignoring the needs of crofters.

Mrs Grant concluded “The SNP used their last majority to force through damaging legislation and now won’t take the time needed to sort it.  I would think crofters the length and breadth of the Highlands and Islands will be feeling very let down by Mr Ewing and and his SNP colleagues as they turn their backs on the needs of this industry.”

MSP outraged at Uist dental revamp

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has today said she is outraged to hear that new plans for an upgraded dental suite at Uist and Barra hospital have been unveiled despite the fierce prolonged opposition locally.  After almost three years of objection to the proposal, NHS Western Isles and the Comhairle announced last month, that they intend to press ahead with closing the dental practices at Lochmaddy and Liniclate (with Lochboisdale having already been closed) and centralise dental services in Benbecula.

Mrs Grant’s plea for a meeting with the former Cabinet Secretary for Health, Shona Robison, was ignored and last month she contacted the new Cabinet Secretary, Jeane Freeman, asking her to launch an enquiry into this decision as a matter of urgency.

Rhoda Grant said “The level of opposition to this plan has been staggering from the start yet NHS Western Isles and the Comhairle are battling on with their plans to centralise dentistry services in Benbecula, leaving some patients facing a 60 mile round trip to access an NHS dentist.

“The Uist LPG made it clear to the Integration Joint Board (IJB) in November 2016, that after a comprehensive options appraisal exercise, there was strong backing for the retention of the three site provision, as existed at that time.  This was reinforced by the Association of Community Councils, by a stakeholder event held in Lochboisdale, and by all local elected members serving at that time.  Concerns from dental professionals have also been raised, and it would appear, ignored.

Mrs Grant concluded “Tooth infection can have untold effects on many other parts of the body if infection is not detected early enough.  We need to encourage people to go for regular check-ups, not take dental services out of their communities which leaves access to dentists very hard for people who may have mobility issues, or do not own a car to travel these distances.

“I am contacting the Cabinet Secretary again to ask that these plans be stopped until the Scottish Government carries out a full enquiry into this appalling decision.”

North last in line for R100 contract

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has expressed disappointment at the North of Scotland coming last in the delivery of the R100 contracts.

Responding to a government initiated question, the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, Paul Wheelhouse, advised that Procurement for R100 has been split into three lots – North, Central and South – with funding allocated to each. The Minister advised that BT plc were the only bidder for the Central and South lots, and that, subject to due diligence and governance, the Scottish Government intends to proceed to contract with BT as soon as possible.

The Minister however also advised that more than one bid was received for the North and they will announce a preferred bidder in due course.

Rhoda Grant said “It is disappointing as the North arguably requires investment in connectivity before the central belt does. The market provides competitive broadband in the central belt however the same cannot be said in the North where we have some of the lowest broadband connections in the country.

Mrs Grant concluded “I will continue to press the Minister to proceed with awarding the North contract as soon as is practicably possible.”