MSP tries again to have damaging Uist dental decision reversed

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has said that the Scottish Health Council (SHC) and the Scottish Government’s Minister for Public Health, Joe Fitzpatrick, have ‘totally missed the point’ about calling in the Uist dental decision.

Mrs Grant said “I contacted both organisations on 12 November asking them to now call in the decision to centralise dental services in Uist.

“Had the IJB taken the decision the Scottish Health Council would not have had the power to call it in as there is a loophole in legislation which prevents the SHC from calling in a decision made by an IJB.  This decision however was eventually taken by NHS Western Isles and the Comhairle so I have asked that the SHC now calls it in as they do have the power to scrutinise decisions made by health boards.

Mrs Grant continued “Taking local services out of communities is to be avoided at all cost and I will try, yet again, to have this damaging decision reversed.”

True picture of mental staff shortages shocking says MSP

Health chiefs have told an MSP that it is short of more than five full-time mental health nurses on a ward which was recently closed.

NHS Highland said the Strathy ward, in Migdale Hospital, Bonar Bridge, stopped taking “new admissions” in the middle of November, but the health authority has now said it has “no patients” on the ward at present.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, wrote to NHS Highland’s Chief Executive, Iain Stewart, to ask more questions about the closure, following representations from a concerned constituent.

“The Chief Executive’s reply reveals a very shocking picture of mental health staff shortages which are especially felt in a rural area such as Sutherland,” said Mrs Grant.

“The small ward cares for ten older, adult elderly requiring assessment. Having that facility closer to home would have been a boon for the patients but also for their families and friends.

“It brings home the dire shortage of such staff and prompts the question of whether facilities such as the Strathy ward can ever reopen without a huge investment in both training and funding.”

Mrs Grant is writing to Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, to ask what steps the Scottish Government is taking to ensure that mental health facilities and services are retained and expanded in the region.

The health authority’s reply highlights that the full establishment for the Strathy ward for qualified staff is 10.32 whole time equivalents (WTE) but there are 5.64 WTE registered mental health nurse vacancies.

The Chief Executive said that shortages meant that on the ward there would have been only the equivalent of just over two full-time staff available to work there, considering staff on sick leave and maternity leave.

NHS Highland said it was doing “all we can to recruit staff and in due course reopen the ward”.

“Every effort is being made to obtain nursing staff on a temporary or permanent basis with bank posts being fast tracked through recruitment and temporary contracts being offered to bank staff to ensure that the ward can safely open to admissions,” said the health authority.

“Clearly the risk of using bank and agency staff is that their attendance cannot be guaranteed therefore we cannot guarantee the safety of patients admitted to a ward based only on this staffing model. This is particularly relevant to patients requiring mental health care.”

It was also stressed that Migdale Hospital’s general Kylesku ward remains open and busy.

In November NHS Highland announced the ten-patient ward had both vacancies and sick leave affecting staffing numbers, and while every effort had been made to obtain registered mental health nursing cover including staff members working additional hours, bank and agency support there had been little success in getting the cover required.

It said then that older patients requiring inpatient mental health care would need to be admitted to New Craigs in Inverness.

Mrs Grant added: “I know that New Craigs has its own staffing problems and that community services have been cut.”

Migdale Hospital opened in 2011 at the cost of £8million.



Scottish Government could take action on zero hours contracts in procurement

Today at First Minister’s Questions Scottish Labour spokesperson for Finance, Jobs and Fair Work Rhoda Grant asked the First Minister what action the Government would take since 1 in 20 households who use foodbanks have an unstable income due to self-employment or zero-hours contracts.

In response the First Minister claimed the issue was out of the hands of the Scottish Government due to employment law being a reserved matter.

When Mrs  Grant challenged the First Minister to use the Scottish Government’s powers of public procurement to end the scandal of zero-hours contracts being used by private agencies contracted by the public sector the First Minister again evaded the question and responded with rhetoric.

The fact of the matter is that the Scottish Government’s powers of public procurement allow it to outlaw the giving of contracts to any and all private contractors that employ people on zero-hours.

Commenting on the First Minister’s evasive response Mrs Grant, who also represents the Highlands and Islands, said:

“The First Minister’s shameful response to my question is yet another example of the SNP refusing to be straight with the Scottish public and refusing to use the powers they already have.

“The SNP could today outlaw the use of zero-hour contracts by companies contracted by the state but they refuse to do so. Why? Simply because it does not fit in to their narrative of grievance.

“The SNP may vacillate on this issue, but Labour won’t. A Scottish Labour executive in Holyrood elected in 2021 would commit to using the powers of public procurement to end this practise and a Labour Government elected this December would eliminate the scourge of zero-hour contracts entirely.

“The SNP offer the people of Scotland nothing. Labour promises to bring about, in Scotland and throughout the UK, the real and lasting change this country needs.”

  • In the chamber Mrs Grant said:

“What action the Scottish Government is taking in response to reports that one in 20 households that use food banks has an unstable income due to self-employment or being on a zero-hour contract.”

  • Her follow up question to the FM was:

“It is clear the First Minister is failing the workers of Scotland. We have seen a ten per cent rise in the number of people employed on zero hour contracts, reaching a staggering 70,000 workers. It is simply not enough to promote fair work, the government must act upon it. Public procurement is one of the opportunities to end insecure work. Will the First Minister act now to outlaw zero hours contracts when procuring services from the private sector and make it a stipulation of every contract?”


Another Gruelling Challenge for Ally K

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has tabled a motion in Parliament this week commending Ally MacPherson, or Ally K as he is known, who is from Skye, for embarking on yet another gruelling challenge, this time to raise money for Highland Hospice.

Mr MacPherson will attempt to run the 180-mile distance between Glasgow and Inverness in just 70 hours. This will be his fourth challenge. He became the first man recorded to run the 125-mile distance around Skye in 35 hours raising £37,000 for Cancer Research UK. He then ran from Skye to Inverness non-stop in aid of Maggie’s Highlands. His third challenge saw him navigate 10 islands on the west coast in in two days raising £18,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support.

Rhoda Grant said “Ally’s efforts are fantastic and should be congratulated. He should be really proud of all that he has achieved and I wish him the very best of luck with this next venture.”


Motion Number: S5M-19994
Lodged By: Rhoda Grant
Date Lodged: 20/11/2019

Title: Another Gruelling Challenge for Ally K

Motion Text:

That the Parliament commends Ally MacPherson from Skye, who is known as “Ally K”, on embarking on another gruelling challenge, which will see him attempt to run the 180-mile distance between Glasgow and Inverness in just 70 hours to raise money for Highland Hospice; understands that this will be Ally’s fourth endurance challenge; congratulates him for tremendous efforts so far, which have raised £78,000 for various good causes; notes that these have seen him raise money for Cancer Research UK, by becoming the first man on record to run the 125-mile distance around Skye in 35 hours, running from Skye to Inverness non-stop, in aid of Maggie’s Highlands, and navigating 10 islands on the west coast in two days, to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support, and wishes Ally the very best of luck with this latest challenge.

Highlands and Islands MSP congratulates rail group for silver anniversary

A motion has been lodged in the Scottish Parliament this week celebrating 25 years of a group campaigning to protect, promote and deliver services and infrastructure on the Far North Line.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, praised Friends of the Far North Line for working ‘tirelessly’ to keep the economic and social value of the railway line in the public eye for more than two decades.

The group was formed in 1994 to support and campaign for this beautiful railway which links Thurso and Wick with Inverness and services to the south and east. It has also supported rail links with Kyle.

It has just published a 76-page illustrated volume FoFNL 25, marking the 25 years with stories and memories, highlighting its fight to upgrade the line and reduce journey times on the Caithness/Inverness service.

“FoFNL’s members have shown true dedication, often taking rail companies and politicians to task in order to save and develop this line for the future, both for the passengers who rely on it and for freight,” said Mrs Grant, who is also the group’s Vice President.

“We tend to forget that people really care about their railway but turning that care into a long-lasting campaign is something to be proud of and something to celebrate.

“I hope that the Scottish Government will give FoFNL the ‘gift’ of the Lentran Loop –reinstating a dual stretch of track north of Inverness to remove congestion on the railway and enable more trains to be run as well as cutting delays.

“It has long been on FoFNL’s wish list and I hope that it comes to fruition soon. It would be a fitting tribute to these stalwart campaigners and I will continue to press the Government on this.”

The booklet sets out the group’s policies, how it sees the future of railways north of Perth, especially the Far North Line, as well as celebrating the people who have campaigned down the years and those who care for stations along the route.

  • For more information on the group please visit
  • .FoFNL 25 is available direct from the FoFNL website, price, £5

Motion Number: S5M-19935
Lodged By: Rhoda Grant
Date Lodged: 18/11/2019

Title: 25 Years of Friends of the Far North Line

Motion Text:

That the Parliament congratulates Friends of the Far North Line, which is celebrating 25 years of campaigning; acknowledges that it has worked tirelessly to protect, promote and deliver rail improvements to the Far North Line and the Caithness/Inverness rail service; notes that it has produced an informative anniversary booklet to celebrate its achievements, its members and its combined

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.