MSP told that Transport Scotland is to commission a study.

A Highlands and Islands Labour MSP has been told that Transport Scotland is to commission a study on the safety and operation of A9 junctions on the stretch of road around Munlochy, including the junction where a teenager died last year.

Rhoda Grant wrote to Transport and Infrastructure Secretary, Michael Matheson, after a constituent contacted her, following the tragic accident on December 20, with suggestions of how the junction could be improved. Transport Scotland replied.

The constituent, who lives nearby, suggested the junction at the A9 with the B9161 had been an issue of local concern for some time, with drivers forced to cross the dual carriageway to exit and join.

Mrs Grant agreed that the increase in traffic in the Highlands, both from tourism and continued development, have placed increased pressure on roads and on those using this junction and the constituent suggested that the construction of an underpass, similar to that at the North Kessock junction would improve safety at the location and asked for Mrs Grant to push for this.

Mrs Grant asked Mr Matheson to look at remodelling the junction at the B9161 to Munlochy with immediate effect.

She is pleased that Transport Scotland is to take action.

“They say they recognise the concerns this tragedy has raised and will continue to review the safety of the location,” said Mrs Grant.

“I’m grateful that they have moved on this and they are to commission a study in the near future to consider junctions on this stretch of road.

“This will include consultation with Highland Council and other stakeholders to understand how development in the surrounding area and the impact of an increase in traffic may have on the junctions.

“While the study is welcome, any recommendations coming out of it will take time to implement and temporary safety improvement measures should be installed at the area in the meantime. I will press the Cabinet Secretary again to introduce temporary measures at the location as a matter of urgency to prevent any other family losing a loved one in this way.”

The transport agency said a review of the personal injury accident data, for the most recent annual periods for which data is currently available, has highlighted two accidents recorded in the vicinity of the Munlochy junction but it did not include the tragic accident of 20 December.

In her letter to the Cabinet Secretary, Mrs Grant highlighted a series of junctions on the A9 north of Inverness which she believed were inadequate and asked if a wider scoping exercise of all the junctions on the A9 north of Inverness could take place to identify where safety measures may be implemented.

She was already in touch with Transport Scotland about improvements to the Tain Asda and Lidl junctions, but she also asked about the junctions at Evanton, Alness Point and Invergordon.

Mrs Grant was told that Evanton, Alness Point and Invergordon had not been identified for further investigation but the agency would continue to monitor the locations.
Transport Scotland has advised the MSP that they assess the safety performance of the trunk road network on an annual basis by screening all locations where three or more personal injury accidents have occurred in a three year period.

Alongside accident clusters they advise, they also look at accident patterns and rates in the form of Route Accident Reduction Plans.

Mrs Grant concluded “I have also been pressing for safety measures to be implemented at the Tain junctions at Aldi and Lidl for some time and I’ve been told that the design work necessary to progress a speed limit reduction scheme at these junctions has now commenced and the installation of the necessary signage will be programmed. Consultants are being appointed to carry out an assessment of longer-term options for these junctions and communities will be engaged in the study in due course.

“We need to see the same thing happen at Munlochy until a longer-term option is found and I will press the Government again to make this happen.”

NHS Shetland admits additional resources would allow “more comprehensive” out of hours service

NHS Shetland has admitted, through a Freedom of Information request, that it could provide a better out of hours care service if it was given more money.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, sent FOIs to all health authorities in Scotland on the issue of care to allow people to die at home.
As part of the request, she asked what changes the boards would like to see brought in to allow more people to fulfil their wish to die at home.

The reply from Shetland was: “Additional financial resource would support the development of a more comprehensive out of hours service which could include an overnight support service for patients and their carers earlier than just in the immediate end of life phase”.

NHS Shetland highlighted that there were no nursing home or hospice facilities on Shetland and therefore care at those facilities was not an option.
Also, that it was in the process of planning a move to an awake, shift-based district nursing service which will enable regular scheduled visits to be provided for patients at end of life across the 24-hour period.

Mrs Grant last month supported her Labour MSP colleague, David Stewart, who initiated a cross-party member’s debate on the ‘Right to Full Care to Die at Home’.

The debate was prompted by a plea from Shetland GP Susan Bowie that there should be an automatic right for people to have full care at home day or night for their last few days of life, so that then can have their wish fulfilled by being able to die at home with suitable palliative care.

However, after the debate, Dr Bowie, has told Mrs Grant and Mr Stewart that she has yet to see any change, despite the announcement from the health authority, and is continuing to organise a ‘hospice at home’ for her patients and is recruiting volunteers to help.

Mrs Grant said: “Despite reassurances by NHS Shetland and Public Health Minister, Joe Fitzpatrick, that the situation is going to be better for these patients on Shetland, it is telling that the doctor who first raised this is not convinced there is any improvement on the ground.

“While a sticking plaster may be applied in the near future – and I await confirmation of an improvement – this type of care service needs a major operation, not only across Shetland but across Scotland and I won’t be letting this issue go.”

Both MSPs are currently considering what steps can be taken to push to issue forward with Mr Stewart saying that a right to die at home could be a legacy policy that parliamentarians and constituents of the future could look back on with pride.

Mr Stewart has highlighted that when it comes to statistics of those who die in a community setting, this is not necessary ‘at home’ as in the person’s own home it could be in a care home or in a hospice, so although the percentages look good they are not broken down and do not reflect the total number of people who die in their own home.

Figures from ISD Scotland (Information Services Division) show that in 2018/19 Shetland had a percentage of 94% of time in the last 6 months of life spent at home or in a community setting – the highest percentage of anywhere in Scotland, and consistently the highest percentage in Scotland since 2013/14.

There is no national and systematic data recorded on a person’s preferred place of care at the end of life and the measure is: “Percentage of last six months of life spent at home or in a community setting”.

MSP determined to help in the fight to save Highlands and Islands charity

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has tabled a motion for debate in the Scottish Parliament in a bid to save a local charity, Sight Action, as NHS Highland make funding cuts and re-design services for the blind and visually impaired.

It was indicated to Mrs Grant at the end of last year that Sight Action’s valuable services to almost 3,000 blind or visually impaired adults and children will no longer continue past the 31st March 2020 as NHS Highland are unable to uplift funding – even though Sight Action have had no uplift in funding for the past twelve years compounded, she believes, by a 10% cut in funding in 2010-11.

This will also have a knock-on effect to service users on the Western Isles as Western Isles Council also have an agreement with Sight Action to provide specialist services.

Mrs Grant has contacted NHS Highland asking if they have done an Islands Impact Assessment in Skye where some of the service users live. She has also asked what services will be available post 31st March and has contacted Highland Council as the statutory duty to provide these services lies with them. Mrs Grant has now also submitted a motion for debate in the Scottish Parliament.

Rhoda Grant said: “Firstly, my primary concern is with these 3,000 people who will be affected by this. Sight Action offers an invaluable service to these people as they provide not only physical and practical help but also emotional support.”

Some service users have taken part in a survey conducted by Sight Action where they were asked what the impact would be if these services were removed. One said they would be devastated if they had nobody local that they knew. Another said removing the support would be so detrimental and they would be lost without such a committed and local service. Another anonymously said they would feel totally isolated as they know of no other organisation in the Highlands that offers practical support on how to live life without sight.

Mrs Grant continued: “The service users and I want this charity to be saved. I am concerned about what level of service will be available after 31st March and we need to ensure service users receive the same amount of care and support and that the health board and local authority don’t cut this to the bare bones of a service.”

Lack of winter gritting an accident waiting to happen: MSP

An MSP says she is “seriously worried” about winter road gritting in the region after asking about an incident where school children were stuck on a school bus due to icy conditions.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, wrote in November last year to Highland Council after hearing about the Lochcarron/Kishorn high school bus.

She received a reply from the local authority last week. (Feb 5)

At the time, according to the Kishorn Community Facebook Page, the children were all safe on board the bus after it was stuck, but they awaited a gritter to help out.

However, by 5pm the gritter had also gone off the road and children were said to be walking under escort by the bus driver to Achmore to get a Skyeways bus. Everyone was safe.

“I know the area extremely well, having gone to school there, and was very worried that this could happen again,” said Mrs Grant.

“So, I was taken aback when I received the reply from Highland Council that it ‘unfortunately cannot guarantee that roads are clear of ice during the winter’ and that it ‘simply did not have the resources to grit roads more frequently’.

“I understand that councils need priorities but the fact that a school bus route is being omitted is just another sign that our local authorities are being starved of resources by the Scottish Government and are being faced with difficult decisions.

“We have been lucky so far this winter that it has been unseasonably mild. Let’s hope that this won’t happen again because children should not have to face a walk, in icy conditions, because the local authority hasn’t got enough money.”

Highland Council explained that the school bus was on a ‘secondary route’ and therefore it was not pre-treated during cold weather.

“It had been gritted the morning of the incident but had become icy again by the time the school bus used the road that afternoon,” said the council reply.

“Unfortunately, gritting vehicles are susceptible to icy roads too, and the gritter sent to the incident did also slip off the road and had to be recovered.

“Councillors and members of roads staff were kept regularly updated from the time the school bus became stuck until the road was clear again later that evening.

“The Highland Council covers a vast road network and unfortunately cannot guarantee that roads are clear of ice during the winter. Each road on the gritting routes is treated according to its priority, and we simply do not have the resources to grit roads more frequently. This was an unfortunate incident but is fairly uncommon and has not happened again this winter.”



Answers still needed on 0-3 year old childcare provision

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has received an assurance from Orkney Islands Council that nursery places for eligible 2-5 year olds will be found and that before and after school care will also be provided when the Peedie Breeks Nursery closes later this year. The MSP however, has not yet received confirmation on what will be available for 0-3 year olds who are presently catered for by Peedie Breeks.

Mrs Grant said “Some parents have contacted me to advise of the uncertainty and how this is leaving them worried about what future provision will be in place.

“Orkney Islands Council has told me that the council has a point of contact for all parents affected and they are gathering information about how parents use the existing service.

“They advise that as of August 2020, all of the largest nursery settings in Orkney, including two in Kirkwall, will run all year round and operate before and after school and that parents who formerly used Peedie Breeks for extended days will have alternative choices.

“The council has also committed to finding places for eligible 2-5 year olds who are presently catered for at Peedie Breeks.” she continued. “They brought the enrolment forward from March to January so that numbers could be gathered and contingencies put in place. Numbers for this age group, they say, should be known by the end of this week.

“What is still not clear however, is what provision will be available for the 0-3 year age group when Peedie Breeks closes. I have already written to the Scottish Government to ask what they will do to support parents with regard to 0-3 year old provision and I await their response.”

MSP disappointed that there is a delay to kidney dialysis service.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, is disappointed that there has been a delay to a kidney dialysis service being introduced to Skye, Lochalsh and Wester Ross due to recruitment issues.

NHS Highland has revealed that after advertising two nursing positions and one senior nursing position, they only have one person to interview today (23rd January 2020). They also revealed that because of this recruitment issue, there will be a delay to the introduction of a dialysis service in the current Broadford Hospital, which was set to begin in April 2020.

NHS Highland also stated that following the result of today’s interview that they are going to advertise the positions again immediately and that they are going to try to increase the reach of their adverts.

Currently there are five patients, all from the Lochalsh area, who have to travel to Raigmore Hospital three times a week to receive renal dialysis treatment.

Rhoda Grant said: “This is an obvious blow to my constituents in the Skye, Lochalsh and Wester Ross area who have to endure a 160 mile round trip, three times a week for treatment in Raigmore Hospital.”

Mrs Grant continued: “While this is disappointing, it is encouraging that NHS Highland is taking this issue seriously and are going to extend the reach of their advertising. I have passed this information to my constituents involved and I will keep pressure on NHS Highland to provide this service as quickly as possible.”

NHS Highland announced in November 2019 that the board had approved a new interim dialysis service for Skye, Lochalsh and Wester Ross in the current Broadford Hospital until the new Broadford Hospital opened where it will be transferred.

MSP seeks solution in impending childcare crisis

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, is writing to Orkney Islands Council asking it to intervene in the impending shortage of childcare facing parents in and around Kirkwall.

Concerned parents have been in touch with the MSP advising that the impending closure of the Peedie Breeks nursery could leave some of them unable to work as they will have no other childcare provision available to them.

The MSP said “I understand Peedie Breeks is to close in the summer of 2020 due to the lease on the old Papdale Halls ending with no viable alternative being available. Orkney Islands Council have, I understand, indicated that 3-5 year olds would most likely be catered for in existing nurseries attached to schools due to the ‘1140 hours by 2020’ Scottish Government policy to extend free childcare hours. It is unclear however how the schools will be able to take on the number of children that Peedie Breeks currently cares for.

Mrs Grant said “Parents of children aged 0-3 however are unsure how they will be able to carry on working with no other childcare provision available to them and with after school care also being of concern to a number of the parents.

“I am writing to Orkney Islands Council to ask them to intervene in the immediate term and I will be writing to the Scottish Government to ask what it will do to support parents with regard to 0-3 year old provision and access to after school care.

“Parents work to provide a better life for their children, they must be supported in doing this so that they are not put in the position of having to consider if they can continue to work. That would be damaging for the parents, for the children involved and for the local economy.”

MSP welcomes intervention in Uist dentist centralisation

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, is welcoming the intervention of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Health Council in the Uist dentistry situation.

Mrs Grant has been supporting the communities in Uist who have been fighting the proposal to centralise dental services in Benbecula since the plan was first aired in 2016. The MSP asked the Scottish Government and the Scottish Health Council to call in the decision after it was finally made by the Chief Executives of NHS Western Isles and the Comhairle in September last year. She has been told that the Scottish Government is sending the CDO (Chief Dental Officer) to visit with the IJB to discuss the outreach element of the proposal and the Scottish Health Council is also seeking a meeting with the IJB to understand more about the status of the decision and planned next steps.

Mrs Grant said “The Minister for Public Health, Joe FitzPatrick, has made it clear to me that he believes the existing service provision is not sustainable. I know many service users in Uist disagree wholeheartedly with this stance. However what the Minister has said is that the effectiveness of the outreach element of the new proposals will be a key issue and that he feels the most appropriate intervention is to closely monitor the development of this element before any escalation is required. As such, he is sending the CDO to visit with the IJB and report back to him.

“The Scottish Health Council has advised me that they are not aware of this going through the NHS Board’s governance structure, that it has been progressed through the IJB’s governance structure, and as such they cannot consider calling the decision in. They advise however, that they are seeking a meeting with the IJB to understand more about the status of the decision and planned next steps.”

She concluded “I am pleased these meetings are to take place. The fears of the communities in Uist have been ignored for too long and it is right that this proposal is properly monitored at a higher level. I very much hope that the flaws with this proposal become evident and that the decision will then be escalated to Scottish Ministers.

“I will be keeping a very close eye on developments.”


MSP condemns ATC centralisation plans

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has condemned the announcement that plans to centralise air traffic control (ATC) in the Highlands and Islands will go ahead, despite fierce opposition from local communities, from the Prospect Union and from a cross section of MSPs.

Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) has announced that air traffic control for five Scottish regional airports will be undertaken centrally from Inverness. The airports involved are Sumburgh, Dundee, Inverness, Kirkwall and Stornoway.

HIAL said the change will modernise air traffic control but the Prospect Union say the plan puts 60 jobs at risk and described it as “poorly thought through”. It will rely on remote towers, which will not need to be staffed, feeding information to a new surveillance centre in Inverness.

Rhoda Grant said “From the day these proposals were first aired in 2017 I have received representation from local communities who are desperate to maintain the current system for safety reasons and to protect island jobs.

“I have been told that this project relies on superhigh bandwith to succeed. We all know that many of our remote and rural areas do not have this so how can HIAL press on regardless?

“The proposals to downgrade services at Wick and Benbecula are astounding given the localities have been earmarked as space ports. These decisions also fly in the face of the Scottish Government’s own recently published Islands Plan which seeks to protect and improve services and employment in island communities.

“HIAL appears to be intent on pushing this through despite its own consultants identifying the ‘remote tower’ model as the most costly and risky option.

“While this decision fits with the Scottish Government’s determination to centralise services out of local areas, it is an appalling decision and HIAL and the Scottish Government must stop these plans right now before remote air services are jeopardised and more local jobs are taken out of rural communities.”