Call for enquiry into Uist dental decision

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has today backed a call for the Cabinet Secretary for Health to launch an enquiry into the decision to centralise dental services in Uist.

This comes after Andrew Walker of the Uist Locality Planning Group (LPG) wrote to Alasdair Allan asking that he contacts the Secretary, Jeane Freeman, following the decision taken by NHS Western Isles and the Comhairle to close dental practices at Lochmaddy and Liniclate (with Lochboisdale having already been closed) and centralise dental services in Benbecula.

Rhoda Grant said “To issue this decision after almost three years of intense local objection flies in the face of local democracy.

“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.  The IJB at that stage pursued their own “preferred model” to centralise the services in Benbecula meaning that some people would have a 60 mile round trip to see a dentist.”

Mrs Grant sought a meeting with the then Health Secretary, Shona Robison, and backed the calls from the Editor of Am Paipear for a moratorium to be imposed on the IJB proposal to centralise the services in Benbecula.

Mrs Grant continued “Good oral health is paramount to good general health and taking these dental services out of communities should be avoided at all costs.

“There is, quite rightly, outrage within the communities in Uist who stands to lose their local dentists.  We need to decentralise services, not centralise them.

Mrs Grant concluded “This decision is a shocking example of community opinion being totally ignored and I too will be writing to the Cabinet Secretary to ask her to launch an enquiry into this decision as a matter of urgency.”

MSP raises question of criminals targeting business due to bank cuts and closures  

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has questioned Kate Forbes, the Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy, about reports that criminals are targeting rural businesses due to the lack of facilities to bank cash.

Mrs Grant, at General Questions in Holyrood today, asked what the Scottish Government was doing to support Highlands and Islands businesses experiencing losses due to cuts in rural banking services.

Her question follows reports in the media that a Highland village was being targeted by thieves knowing that scores of bank branches have been closed and services cut across the region.

The MSP said: “Businesses that deal in cash are especially vulnerable because there appears to be increase in break-ins surrounding those types of businesses. That is costing them financially but also impacting on business confidence. I wonder what the Scottish Government is doing to protect and support these businesses that are vulnerable to break-ins?”

Ms Forbes said that Mrs Grant raised a very good point. She said that practical advice on how to develop business crime reduction and prevention strategies was carried out by the Scottish Business Resilience Centre which received grant funding from the Scottish Government but also work was on-going with the banks themselves in the Banking and Economy Sub-Group of The Financial Services Advisory Board (FiSAB) to ensure that between Government and banks businesses have the security they need when it comes to dealing with cash.

Afterwards Mrs Grant said: “This is a very serious subject for small businesses who sometimes face very long journeys to get to a bank to deposit money or pick up a float and I think the Scottish Government should be doing more to delve into this.

“It’s easy to forget that cash is still of great importance to local economies, especially important for local independent shops and community-based tourism including B&Bs, small hotels, campsites, cafés and bars.

“An HIE survey last year found that the vast majority of businesses (87.2%) were still taking a significant proportion of their turnover in cash and that having a fully functioning banking service is critical to remote and rural communities.

“Although banks make much of internet banking, the connectivity is not yet up to scratch in many areas and cannot be relied on.”

Mrs Grant is contacting Police Scotland to find out what they are doing to help businesses in crime prevention and to find out the extent of the problem in the region.

If you’re a woman in labour and in trouble don’t count on emergency air transport: MSP

MSP Rhoda Grant is calling on the Health Secretary to launch an urgent review into the availability and suitability of emergency air transport for pregnant women across the whole of the Highlands and Islands.

Her plea comes after her further investigation into the case of a Caithness mother who went into labour at 30 weeks with twins. The babies were born 50 miles apart in a dash by a road ambulance to Raigmore Hospital.

Mrs Grant asked NHS Highland, the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) and Health Secretary, Jean Freeman, further questions after receiving an edited version of a Significant Adverse Event Review into the incident. She previously asked First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to investigate.

She repeated her call for a full risk assessment to be carried out on such emergency transfers and that a suitable craft can be made available for airlifts.

“After receiving the responses, I would sum up the situation as this – for any woman in labour and needing emergency help going by road ambulance is really the only option and air transfer is almost a non-starter,” said Mrs Grant, who represents the Highlands and Islands.

“Whatever the officials and Government say, most people believe that an air ambulance is still an option when the truth is that it can hardly ever be used due to the constraints of the helicopter and the risks associated with giving birth in the air.

“I’m now calling on the health secretary to instigate a review, to ensure that any emergency aircrafts can be large enough to carry medical equipment and be able take at least one qualified medic on board, particularly to cater for women in labour.

“I realise that pregnancy and labour are risks but we really do need to ensure that everything that can be done is being done to cover eventualities.”

Mrs Grant discovered that the ScotSTAR service, run by SAS and used to fly in medical experts in emergencies to locations across Scotland, does not have obstetric/midwifery staff and she is now asking Ms Freeman if this gap can be filled.

She wrote to Brian Johnson, Chief Executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which runs search and rescue helicopters, to find out its policy on being called to pregnant women.

He said transfer requests in relation to pregnancy rested with the ambulance service but also said: “our crews and aircraft are prepared and equipped to respond to deal with maternity care and obstetric emergencies”.

Mrs Grant commented: “This appears to be at odds with what the health authority and ambulance service are telling me so I’ve written back to him for clarification.”

The MSP stressed front-line staff involved in the twins’ case were excellent and coped with a very difficult and serious situation, but she was worried about the implications for other pregnant women.

The mother of the twins, who wants to remain anonymous, is supporting Mrs Grant’s campaign for a review.

The mum believed the health service mentioned air transport as a back-up when the maternity service in Caithness was changed to a midwife-led unit and at-risk mothers were sent to Raigmore to give birth.

“Why if the NHS is saying that the helicopter is not suitable for premature labouring women did the team in my case spend two hours trying to get a helicopter when I had already had given birth to one twin?” said the mum.

“A helicopter was sent out but was unable to land. If it’s stated it’s not suitable then it should have never been sent or requested!

“I’ve supported Rhoda investigating this further because I don’t want any other mother going through what I went through, although the staff who helped me at the time were fantastic.”

Caithness health campaigners, CHAT, fully support Mrs Grant in calling for an urgent review into air transport for expectant mothers in the Highlands.

“Following Mrs Grant’s intervention, it is now apparent, that in an emergency situation, pregnant mothers cannot rely on air transportation or help from the ScotSTAR service,” said vice-chair, Ron Gunn.

“The only option left is a two-hour transfer by road ambulance. Living in Caithness we are all too familiar with the many problems associated with driving on the A9, especially as we come closer to winter. Caithness women need to know they can get help quickly and efficiently when they or their baby needs it.”

Mrs Grant’s questions also revealed that some SAS pilots were not trained in the use of night vision goggles which meant they could not fly at night – the ambulance service said the search and rescue helicopter could respond in these cases.

Mrs Grant has asked Ms Freeman to grant the ambulance service extra money to ensure air staff get the significant additional training for night work.

The MSP also asked about the plan for delivering babies in Caithness if transfer by road and air was impossible and was told that midwives and the emergency teams at Caithness General undertake regular training in the management of emergency obstetric cases and neonatal resuscitation. In addition, NHS Highland said there was support from consultants using VC from Raigmore Hospital.

“However, I do believe the expertise available in Caithness has to be investigated again,” said Mrs Grant.

“I believe there is still a lack of obstetric and neonatal expertise there adding to the limitations and deficiencies in the current system for transferring mothers and babies.”

Have your say on electricity prices

Highlands and Islands Labour MSPs, Rhoda Grant and David Stewart, are encouraging people in the region to respond to a UK government consultation into the electricity charges levied on customers in the North of Scotland.

People in the Highlands and Islands have, for many years, been unfairly subjected to a 2p surcharge on electricity prices.

Mrs Grant and Mr Stewart have written to the government in Westminster on a number of occasions over the years and have asked them to look into national pricing for electricity network charges, to no avail.

The government must review the Hydro Benefit Replacement Scheme and the Common Tariff Obligation every 3 years and consult with customers and stakeholders. As such, The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is now consulting on this. One way to reduce the 2p surcharge would be to substantially increase the level of the Hydro Benefit Replacement Scheme.

Views are also invited on a proposed mechanism to deliver a revised funding arrangement for the Shetland cross-subsidy from April 2020 onwards, which, government advises will have the effect of reducing electricity distribution costs for all consumers in the North of Scotland.

These consultations form part of the review process, and the government is presently inviting views from any interested parties on whether the schemes meet their policy objectives and are operationally effective.

Rhoda Grant said “It is unfair that people in the North continue to be penalised in this way. It has gone on for too long and I would encourage as many people as possible to make their views known by responding to the consultation before the deadline of 6 September.”

David Stewart said “People in the Highlands and Islands already face some of the worst weather conditions, have poor insulation and high levels of fuel poverty. The best way to reduce fuel poverty in the region is to remove this 2p surcharge.”

The consultation closes on 6 September.

Details of the consultation can be found via the following link :-

MSP helps spread the word on defib

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament congratulating Masonic Properties Ltd on their Community Defibrillator Project.


The company, in collaboration with the British Heart Foundation, fundraised to buy an Automatic External Defibrillator for use by the community.  The defibrillator is displayed on the car park wall of the Masonic Club at 5 Gordon Terrace, Inverness.


As part of the agreement with the British Heart Foundation, the company has provided local residents and businesses with training on the necessity of quick application of the defibrillator and the administration of Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR).  Further training sessions are to be offered later in the year for anyone who couldn’t make it along this time.


Mrs Grant said “This is a great demonstration of community spirit and the company are to be thanked for initiating it.  I was eager to attend the training myself and keen to help with getting the word out to nearby householders and businesses.


Mrs Grant continued “I am now better able to help in an emergency situation and I would thank everyone who has taken up the training since the defibrillator has been installed at the Masonic Club car park.  This could save a life.”

MSPs back the call from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar for ageing CalMac ferries to be replaced urgently

Highlands and Islands Labour MSPs Rhoda Grant and David Stewart are backing the call from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar for ageing CalMac ferries to be urgently replaced and brought up to standard.

Western Isles Council members met with Government officials to discuss the findings of the Outer Hebrides Scottish Transport Appraisal Group (STAG) recently and aired their opinion on the condition of the ageing fleet.  This comes hot on the heels of the call from former UK Government Minister, Brian Wilson, for an independent review into west coast ferry services.   Mr Wilson said there are “urgent” problems and a “general review of what has gone wrong” is needed.

Rhoda Grant said “I wholeheartedly support the calls being made by the Comhairle and Brian Wilson for urgent action to be taken to improve CalMac’s ferry fleet.  Scottish Labour has long since been raising this matter with the Scottish Government who have continued to ignore the problems which we have been highlighting for years.  Island communities need ferries they can rely on, for business needs, for social needs and to support much needed income from tourists.

Mrs Grant continued “It appears that the ‘Summer of discontent’ for west coast travellers rolls on.  It is not good enough, islanders need to have confidence that their lifeline ferry fleet is fit for purpose.  The Scottish Government needs to act, and act now.”

David Stewart said “I have backed calls from Dunoon to Stornoway for improvement to our west coast ferries.  Islanders need robust services but day on day we are hearing of breakdowns and cancellations disrupting life for hundreds of frustrated travellers.  It is damaging to business and the local economy.

Mr Stewart continued “Scottish Labour called for a two ferry option on the Ullapool-Stornoway route but we were ignored.  We now have the situation where the two new ferries presently being built are delayed indefinitely.  Businesses, individual travellers and tourists deserve better than this.  I am meeting the Chief Executive of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar next week and will be encouraging him to keep up the pressure on the Scottish Government to provide our island communities with the ferry services they need.”


MSP delighted that Skye patients could receive an interim dialysis service in Broadford Hospital

Regional Labour MSP Rhoda Grant is delighted to see “light at the end of tunnel” for five kidney dialysis patients who are being forced to travel from Lochalsh to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness for treatment.
NHS Highland has said their preferred option is now to provide an interim dialysis service in the current Broadford Hospital.
It comes after Mrs Grant put pressure on the health service for this critical service to be brought to Skye after she learned in October last year that five patients are having to travel from Lochalsh to Inverness three times a week to undergo dialysis.
NHS Highland has now said a preferred option is to create an interim dialysis service in the day room of the current Broadford Hospital until the new Broadford Hospital is open to where it will be transferred.
Mrs Grant is going to contact the Chief Executive to ask when the service could start in the current Broadford Hospital.
She said: “This is fantastic news for the patients who have to endure a 160 mile return journey, three times a week for treatment in Raigmore Hospital. It will finally feel as if there is a light at the end of the tunnel as the journey must be long and exhausting. I am grateful to NHS Highland for looking into this and for moving forward on this issue.”
Mrs Grant continued: “I understand health professionals are looking into where current activities that are being run could be relocated to before they can provide a dialysis service but I will be asking NHS Highland to keep me updated on this.”
When a patient’s kidneys fail, dialysis treatment keeps the body in balance by removing waste, salt and extra water to prevent them from building up in the body.

Health Secretary raises Labour MSP’s concerns with NHS Highland and SAS

The Health Secretary has promised a “comprehensive response” to concerns raised by a Labour MSP into the methods of transferring pregnant women to hospital from Caithness to Inverness.

Rhoda Grant, who represents the Highlands and Islands, wrote to Jeane Freeman last month renewing her call for a full risk assessment on such transport after receiving an edited version of an investigation into the birth of twin babies, born 50 miles apart.

In February Mrs Grant asked the First Minister why the air ambulance was not initially called when the Caithness mother of the twins went into labour at 30 weeks.

In June, after the MSP received of ‘precis’ of a report into a Significant Adverse Event Review of the twins’ incident –  from the new NHS Highland Chief Executive, Iain Stewart – she wrote to Ms Freeman, the Scottish Ambulance Service and NHS Highland looking for answers to several questions raised by the case.

In Ms Freeman’s recent reply to Mrs Grant, the Health Secretary says: “Your letter raises a number of concerns, particularly around the emergency transfer of pregnant women in Caithness by SAS and training and equipment provision for obstetric emergencies in the area.

“As you will agree, patient safety is paramount, both for delivering mothers and their babies, which is why I am raising the concerns detailed in your letter directly with the health board and SAS to obtain assurance that service delivery is of the high quality expected by and for pregnant women in Scotland.

“I will write to you again following these discussions to provide a comprehensive response to the issues you raised.”

In the precis of the report NHS Highland said that the air ambulance helicopter was “a highly unsuitable environment for the delivery of a baby” and Mrs Grant wanted to know what aircraft can be used to airlifted pregnant women to hospital in an emergency.

“I also raised a number of other questions about equipping staff with specialised skills and training that would allow them to carry out checks normally carried out by an obstetrician and also about the prospect of another review, bringing in other Caithness cases,” said Mrs Grant.

“It is now good to know that the Health Secretary is to follow these up with the health authority and ambulance service which have yet to reply to my questions.

“There must be a full risk assessment carried out on what transport can be used and when and what craft is suitable for airlift in emergencies with pregnant women.

“If pregnant women at risk cannot be transferred by air or by road, perhaps due to weather conditions or the need for an urgent delivery, what is the plan for Caithness? What equipment and expert advice is available for the midwives and other health professionals?

“It is vital that the people of Caithness get some answers to questions that have been asked over many, many months without suitable answers.

“I’m anxious that no pregnant women will have to go through such a risky transfer to hospital as that suffered by the twins’ mother.”

  • Previously, at First Minister’s Questions, Mrs Grant told Nicola Sturgeon the woman had bravely shared her experience of giving birth under the current maternity provisions in Caithness.  After going to Caithness General Hospital, the mother was informed that she would have to go to Inverness by road ambulance, over a 100 miles away and two- and half-hour drive.
  • Mrs Grant told the First Minister: “Half way into that journey they had to stop at a community hospital at Golspie when the first twin was born breech.
  • “The air ambulance was then tasked but because it would take two hours to arrive the first twin would be sent by road to Inverness.
  • “The helicopter could not land, another air ambulance was tasked but this would take too long therefore a second ambulance resumed the journey to Inverness where the second twin was born.. Thankfully after prolonged stay in hospital all are now doing well.
  • “However, it begs the question why was the air ambulance or emergency retrieval team not tasked initially airlifting the mum from Caithness.
  • “Will the First Minister investigate this, and will she make sure that the air ambulance treats situations like this as a priority?”
  • Nicola Sturgeon promised to investigate and conveyed her good wishes to the family. She said she could not answer immediately as to why the air ambulance was not initially tasked, and did not have information in the chamber, and but she asked the Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, to investigate this.

SNP Hammers Highlands and Islands Councils with cuts

The SNP Government has hammered Highlands and Islands councils with cuts to their budgets, putting lifeline services at risk.

New figures from the independent Scottish Parliament Information Centre (Spice) show that between 2013-14 and 2018-19, local authorities’ budgets were cut per person in real terms.

For the Western Isles Council it was £572 per person; Highland came in at £176; Moray £93; Orkney £90; Shetland £414 and Argyll and Bute £299.

Across Scotland, council budgets were slashed by £810million in real terms during the period.

Scottish Labour says the cuts have put lifeline services at risk and show the SNP has not only failed to stand up to Tory austerity, it has turbo-charged it on councils

Highland and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said:

“The SNP has hammered Highland Council with year after year of cuts. These cuts have put lifeline services like schools and social care at risk.

“More than £800million has been stripped from councils in real terms in recent years.

“Instead of using Scotland’s powers to stand up to the Tories, the SNP government has used Holyrood as a conveyer belt for cuts.

“And we know these cuts have been made amid the government sitting on almost half a billion pounds of unspent cash.

“It’s time for Finance Secretary Derek Mackay to listen to Scottish Labour and use this money to properly fund local services.–facts-and-figures-2013-14-to-2019-20



Highlands MSP asks Scottish Government to support vulnerable ferry passengers.

Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant has asked the Scottish Government to provide support for people with health concerns or mobility issues by allowing them to bring escorts on ferry trips free of charge.

Currently EU regulations stipulate that escorts can be carried free of charge if the ferry provider has requested that they are present, but Ms Grant wants the support to be offered for vulnerable passengers as standard.

Ms Grant said: “I have a number of constituents, particularly those in the islands, who are required to travel to the mainland for medical treatment which is not provided in their home area. As well as having to cope with side-effects from treatments, such as chemotherapy and operations, many of these constituents may require support for anxiety, depression or to face possible diagnoses while visiting mainland clinics.

“In addition there are a number of constituents with mobility issues, permanent and temporary, who would feel great relief at being able to travel with an escort that they trust, without having to bear the extra financial burden.

“With many NHS boards now refusing or unable to financially support escort travel I feel strongly that it would provide an invaluable service to vulnerable passengers if they were able to bring escorts with them at a reduced cost.

“I hope that the Scottish Government realise that such a move could provide significant support for some of the most vulnerable in our society at a marginal cost to them.”