Home-testing kits no use for some remote, rural areas, Health Secretary admits


Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has discovered that in some remote areas of the region home-testing kits for Covid-19 are unviable due to the amount of time taken to get them to the laboratory.

Moreover, there is a question mark over what is happening to mobile testing units in Highland locations after the end of August.

Mrs Grant took up the case of a constituent concerned about an elderly neighbour who had taken a Covid 19 test and then been at a loss as to how to get it to a testing centre.

Despite contacting NHS Highland and a local testing centre as a matter of urgency, the test was not picked up until 72 hours after it had been completed – making it highly unlikely to provide an accurate result.

Mrs Grant dug further into the issue and has now had a worrying reply from Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman.

“I’ve been told that not only are home-testing kits useless in some areas of my patch but also that mobile testing units across the Highland mainland will be available to book online until the end of August,” said Mrs Grant.

“This begs the question as to what happens at the end of this month for those needing a test, especially as home-testing might be ruled out for many.

“The Health Secretary has made the UK Government and NHS Highland aware of the problem asking them to sort it out, but I’ve gone back to her asking if the Scottish Government has the cast iron assurance that everyone who is symptomatic can access tests quickly and without difficulty.

“It’s yet another example of our region being at a disadvantage and of the centralisation of so many services. We need more support for the Highlands and Islands and it should not be left to struggle to access testing facilities.”

Mrs Grant has also written again to Ms Freeman asking what happens to mobile testing units after the end of this month.

Ms Freeman said in her letter: “I am aware that in some remote areas, home testing kits are not available because of difficulties with the delivery of the kits in a timely manner. The key challenge for reaching certain areas is the high potential for sample degradation during longer courier timescales from Royal Mail pick-ups to arriving at the laboratory.

“The UK Government have a Regional Testing Centre in Inverness and Mobile Testing Units have also been deployed to increase access to testing and to support priority areas, in particular, in care homes and where the need is greatest. The current locations of the Mobile Testing Units are in Oban, Dornoch, Fort William, Ullapool, Kingussie, Thurso, Portree, Campbelltown and Lochgilphead. These are available on the online booking portal until the end of August.

“My officials have raised the matters contained in your letter directly with NHS Highland and the UK Government to make them aware of the issues encountered here, and to ask them to liaise at local level to put in hand the necessary improvements to their respective existing processes. I am very clear that we must ensure that all individuals in Highland who are symptomatic can access tests quickly and without difficulty.”

Mrs Grant first raised the issue at First Minister Questions on 17th June. Mrs Grant then stressed that it shouldn’t be a postcode lottery as to whether you get a successful Covid 19 test or not.

Arts must be key to recovery


The Highlands and Islands and Moray region could face a long-term arts and entertainment unemployment crisis if SNP ministers do not step up the fight for jobs, Scottish Labour MSP Rhoda Grant has said.


Mrs Grant spoke out as the Highlands and Islands and Moray, as well as Scotland as a whole, continue to be hit hard by the cancellation of festivals, concerts and other major cultural events. She warned that if the furlough scheme ends before a quality jobs guarantee scheme is in place, thousands of workers in creative industries could be laid off.


Scottish Labour has calculated that the arts and entertainment sector employs at least 121,000 people across Scotland, including 11,000 in the Highlands and Islands and Moray. There are many seasonal jobs in the sector additionally.


Mrs Grant, who represents the Highlands and Islands, said: “We’ve all mourned the loss of festivals such as Belladrum, as well as Heb Celt, Shetland Folk Festival, Tiree Music Festival and numerous concerts and gigs across the region. Up Helly Aa has even been cancelled for 2021.


“Many musicians based in our region will have lost contracts and gigs across the UK and the globe and find themselves in a precarious position with very little work if any coming in. I know some musicians have tried to take advantage of social media but there is a limit to how that works without a live audience which then has a spin-off for the local economy. It is a serious situation.”


Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said: “Many workers in the arts and entertainment sector have been furloughed, but if there are not government-supported jobs created in the sector when the furlough scheme ends, many could face the prospect of long-term unemployment.


“The UK and Scottish Governments have announced a significant package of support for the arts, including specific funds for grassroots music venues, museums and galleries, theatres, and live events. These have all been offered much-needed support. But we need a clear strategy to create jobs in this sector – not a piecemeal approach which pits different parts of the sector against each other.


“This is about more than funding the sector to get through a crisis. Our creative industries can help us reboot society and build a better Highland region after the pandemic. With so many workers employed in the sector, The Highlands and Islands and Moray economy depends on arts and entertainment jobs, and the arts and entertainment sector needs jobs for good.”


Constituents contact MSP Rhoda Grant about tourist problems

Constituents have contacted Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, about the influx of campervans and wild/dirty camping in the region.
Together with her Highlands and Islands MSP colleague David Stewart, she has received concern about the distress caused in some communities regarding litter and other waste being discarded at pinch points along Highlands and Islands routes, such as the NC500 and on the Western Isles.
“While there are benefits to the marketing of routes such as the NC500 and other beautiful parts of our region, the effect of Covid-19 has highlighted the definite lack of Scottish Government infrastructure to support an influx of tourists especially in peak season,” said Mrs Grant.
“I predict that next year many people will be taking staycations instead of going abroad and so it is vital that the Scottish Government looks at this as a priority.
“It is distressing to see our beautiful countryside spoiled by a minority, so more effort must go into supporting and expanding infrastructure which it is hoped will take the pressure off small, vulnerable communities.
“We should welcome visitors to boost our tourism economy every year, but we have to balance that with the right of communities to let their voices be heard when there are local problems.
“David has raised this issue in Parliament, and I have now written to Rural Economy and Tourism Secretary, Fergus Ewing, highlighting constituents’ complaints and asking what action the Scottish Government is going to take to tackle the problem.

MSP Rhoda Grant supports the transfer of Covid-hit Skye care home to NHS Highland

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant is supporting the transfer of Home Farm Care Home to NHS Highland.

However, she has criticised NHS Highland and the Care Inspectorate for not making that information public following the news that the Care Inspectorate has dropped their court case against the owners of a care home where 10 residents died in a Covid-19 outbreak.

“I have advised by HC-one that they have reached a preliminary agreement with NHS Highland to transfer ownership. They obviously need to consult staff and arrange their transfer to the health board,” she said.

“They have also confirmed that residents can be secure in the knowledge that they will remain at the home going forward.

“This has been a very difficult time for residents and staff and hopefully this news brings a degree of stability for them.

“It is clear that both residents and staff in care homes in Scotland were badly let down throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and we must ensure they are better protected going forward.

“I am pleased that HC-one have acknowledged difficulties they faced providing the required standard of care in Skye and have agreed to transfer the home’s ownership in the interests of their staff and residents.

“I am however disappointed that this information was not forthcoming from NHS Highland or the Care Inspectorate and regret the lack of transparency on this matter.”


Transport Scotland has confirmed to Rhoda Grant MSP that the speed limit is being lowered to 50mph on a road labelled one of the most dangerous in the north

Following safety concerns, Transport Scotland has confirmed to Rhoda Grant MSP that the speed limit is being lowered to 50mph on a road labelled one of the most dangerous in the north.

The MSP has been battling for traffic calming measures on the A9 route between the Asda and Lidl junction next to Tain in her alliance with community campaigners.

And now Scotland’s transport agency has written to her confirming 50mph road signs are going up next week. (Monday August 10).

Mrs Grant said: “Anything that helps to reduce or eliminate accidents and injuries in this area has to be supported. Well done to campaigners who have highlighted safety and the need for change but our campaign doesn’t stop here. More needs to be done to make this road safer and I will continue to press Transport Scotland to bring forward plans.”
The MSP was told last October that a range of improvements, including roundabouts, were going to be considered.

Mrs Grant added: I hope planning for these longer-term improvements will not take long and that the Scottish Government sees this as a funding priority given the number of accidents and near misses on this road.”

The MSP also welcomes the progress being made to enhance safety at the notorious Munlochy junction.

Transport Scotland hired consultancy firm WSP to consider options to improve the layout of the A9 Inverness-Thurso road between North Kessock and Tore, including the junction, which has been the scene of numerous accidents over the years.