Grant continues to push for sight-saving eye injection clinics to be delivered on Skye for people suffering Wet Macular Degeneration: The door isn’t closed. It just needs pushed a little bit harder”.

HIGHLANDS & ISLANDS MSP Rhoda Grant is “optimistic” she will win her campaign for eyesight treatment clinics to be delivered on Skye for people suffering Wet Macular Degeneration.

Mrs Grant has been urging government ministers and health chiefs to bring those services closer to avoid the need for poor-sighted elderly patients to take the 200-mile round-trip to Inverness every few weeks for the injections they need to prolong their sight.

Pointing to some success, the health board’s latest progress update for the MSP, says eyesight specialists had been recruited and some eyesight treatment services would be delivered for the first time on Skye within weeks.

Chief officer David Park said the service had filled long term vacant ophthalmology posts, including recruiting a Global Citizen post, a Glaucoma Clinical Fellow and a Macular Speciality doctor. The service, he said, was now in a position to “reinstate activity in peripheral sites that was withdrawn or reduced” and patients enduring lengthy waits for cataract operations would be “prioritised”.

However, he also said that “due to the equipment or ophthalmic trained skills that are required for safety reasons” the service was not yet in a position to deliver sight-saving eye injection clinics on Skye for patients with Wet Macular Degeneration.

But Mrs Grant said she optimistic of light coming down the tunnel.

“The door isn’t closed”, she said.

“It just needs pushed a little bit harder”.

She continued: “My letter from Mr Park says the injection clinics were “under review”.

“It says the ophthalmology service could potentially seek funding to support an additional Nurse Injector whose base would be Raigmore Hospital in Inverness but they would have peripheral activity factored into their rota which would enable a local injection service to be delivered. This would avoid the need for patients to travel all the way to Inverness for those injections.

“I have written back to Mr Park to say I would be very keen to help the service push for this funding. I hope his reply will set out how we can perhaps join forces to secure this service for Skye.”


Highlands and Islands MSPs back improved end-of-life and palliative care

Highlands and Islands Labour MSPs, David Stewart and Rhoda Grant, are backing calls for improved end-of-life and palliative care as new research shows that by 2040, 95% of people who die in Scotland may need additional support in their care.

Charity Marie Curie Scotland says another 60,000 people are projected to be dying with a terminal condition by 2040 – with an increase in people dying in the community rather than hospital – and has urged end of life care to be made a priority for the Scottish Government with a new national strategy.  This is being backed by Scottish Labour.

Mr Stewart and Mrs Grant have previously called for end of life care to be at the top of the political agenda as home care services for the dying in Scotland are patchy at best. Around 10,295 people die in the Highlands and Islands each year and of these 7,720 have palliative care need. Marie Curie, in an opinion poll of Scots, highlighted that 61% would prefer to die at home.

Mr Stewart, who is also Labour’s Shadow Public Health Minister, held his cross-party member’s debate on the ‘Right to Full Care to Die at Home’ in the Scottish Parliament last year.

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.

Mr Stewart stressed that parents currently have the right to have their child born at home and the national health service provides midwives, but we do not have the right to carers to enable us to die at home.

“A new national strategy is desperately needed,” said Mr Stewart.

“What we have learnt from the pandemic is that end-of-life care is extremely important to families and carers as they struggle with lockdown restrictions and limits to hospital and care home visiting.

“It would be a huge relief to many GPs across Scotland that when someone says they want to die at home they know for sure they can get the compassionate care to back up the palliative care that is provided.”

Mrs Grant added: “A national strategy will help ensure that those living with and dying from terminal illness will get the support they need to live as comfortably as they can with the time they have left.

“It is not so much about dying at home it is more about living at home. When days are few they are precious. There is a greater need to live them to the full, to savour and appreciate things around you. That is much better to do at home than in an institution.”

Dr Bowie said: “I am incredibly grateful to the Scottish Parliament for discussing this, and for the cross-party support. Indeed, when days are few they are precious.

“As a Highlands and Islands GP I want to be able to care for my patients at home in their last few days. But that doesn’t always happen as my patient may have wished, because we don’t have the necessary care at home, or nurses.

“At the moment we can be born at home, even though we can’t decide that. Our parents can, and the midwives have to help, as it’s the law. You have a right to have a baby at home, no matter the risk, and the state must provide a midwife.

“But there are no such rights for death.

“There is much talk about people having the choice to die at home, in palliative care strategies, both national and local. However, when it comes to death 60% of folk in Scotland want to be able to die in their own beds, with their loved ones in attendance.

“If, however, home care or district nurses decide they don’t have the means to support it, it forces people ‘at the last’ to be taken off to care centres or hospitals against their wishes, if the relatives are unable to manage entirely on their own.

“Sometimes relatives caring for a dying person at home just need a few nights help to care, or even just a few hours, or just help with the dignity of personal care. Help to make their loved one comfortable. Homecare don’t have to provide that help. It’s up to the Integration Joint Boards, and whilst they don’t have to provide, then many won’t. It’s all wrong and the only way we can sort this is legislation, so that councils and Health Boards will make it happen.”

First Minister questioned on support for marine tourism businesses

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has appealed to the First Minister to put help in place for marine tourism businesses who have received no financial assistance to mitigate the effects of the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions.

During First Minister’s Questions yesterday, Mrs Grant said “The First Minister is aware that businesses have received lifeline assistance based on their rateable value.

“However there are maritime businesses that do not have rateable values, but do have berthing dues and rental payments, commitments on a similar scale to their land based equivalent.

“They have received no help. They may qualify for discretionary local authority funding but this is inadequate to meet the charges they face and tiny in comparison with land based businesses. 

“Will she look at this again and provide support that will keep them in business?

The First Minister responded to Mrs Grant that she would ask the Finance Minister, Kate Forbes, to look into it.

Commenting afterwards Rhoda Grant said “I have contacted the Finance Minister about this previously and I have put questions directly to the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism, Fergus Ewing, and to the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney.

“To date, it’s fallen on deaf ears and they don’t appear to have grasped the difficulty being experienced by marine tourism businesses. The marine based businesses who have contacted me do not have a rateable value as their businesses are based on boats rather than in bricks and mortar. Most of the funding on offer however, is based on the rateable value of the business and so excludes these businesses from applying.”

Mrs Grant concluded “These businesses are facing the same real financial difficulties as land based businesses and are crying out for help. I am however, on the back of the First Minister’s response to my question today, contacting the Finance Minister again, to urge her to put help in place for these businesses now.

“They have been left in the lurch for months and I hope the First Minister’s intervention will now mean that these business owners can receive the help they so desperately need to continue to operate.”

MSP gives views to Scottish Parliament committee on CHAT petition

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, asked a Scottish Parliament committee if it could examine whether obstetric and paediatric support could be put in place at Caithness General to stop most pregnant woman travelling to Raigmore hospital to give birth.

Mrs Grant’s statement was read out at the public petitions committee today which considered the petition to review maternity models in remote and rural areas.

The petition, lodged by Maria Aiken on behalf of Caithness Health Action Team, called on “the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to ask all relevant health boards to review their maternity model to ensure that it meets the needs of remote and rural communities”.

Mrs Grant said:

“A total of 90% of Caithness women currently give birth in Raigmore hospital, over 100 miles away in Inverness and really that needs to be addressed. There has never been a risk assessment on emergency transfers or indeed on the journeys south that pregnant women face, sometimes in appalling weather conditions.

“A focus group feedback on maternity services in November 2019 found the issue of road, and possible ambulance transfer, was a huge concern that “could not be overemphasised”.

“There was an overriding opinion that many women were requesting an induction or an elective section in order that they could plan their journey and not have the stress and anxiety of undertaking the journey in an unplanned way whilst in labour. Transferring women in labour by air to Raigmore and also transferring medical experts into Caithness by air also have their problems which seem insurmountable at the moment.

“The CHAT health campaigners in Caithness, after many years of raising the concerns of parents and their families, are now asking that Obstetrics support the Community Midwife Unit based at Caithness General to provide a 21st century experience for maternity services in the far north.  This would need to have the equivalent Paediatric support, something that appears never to have been considered.

“I ask that the committee examine whether Obstetric and Paediatric support could be put in place at Caithness General and, at the very least, that a risk assessment of emergency transfers takes place.”

The committee, at a previous sitting, had unanimously agreed to get back to the Scottish Government to ask what progress had been made on several initiatives which were looking at solutions for rural areas.

However, today the committee’s MSPs thanked campaigners for bringing the petition forward, but decided to close the petition, saying that the Scottish Government had moved to identify a number work streams to tackle the issues raised.

Although, it was also agreed that the issues were not going to go away and would continue to be highlighted and discussed in the future.

More information on the petition:

Essential Tremor patients in Scotland missing out on access to life-changing treatment

Media release issued today by Tremor Society:

The Scottish Parliament cannot address a petition urging for the use of a new, life-changing treatment, transcranial Magnetic Resonance Guided Focused Ultrasound – more commonly referred to as MRgFUS – for the treatment of medication refractory Essential Tremor within NHS Scotland.

The Public Petitions Committee has been considering the petition, which was first tabled in July 2019 and during multiple meetings since. The most recent of these meetings in December heard evidence from a renowned Professor Neurosurgeon from Imperial College London, and the committee were impressed by the benefits of the therapy. As a result, the Committee requested written evidence from the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, Jeane Freeman OBE MSP, on whether the treatment can be cleared for use in Scotland.

The Committee was due to discuss this again on the 10th of February but the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport failed to respond in time, resulting in the issue being dropped from the meeting agenda.

Mary Ramsay, chair of the Scottish Tremor Society said, “I have spent 21 years raising awareness of the impact of Essential Tremor and a lifetime living with the condition myself. I learned six years ago about MRgFUS as an effective treatment for this condition from the National Tremor Foundation in England. Since that moment, I have tirelessly petitioned the Scottish Government to make this treatment available to Scottish patients. I am deeply frustrated that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport has failed to respond to our parliamentary petition. One hour of her attention could mean a lifetime of change for many thousands of Scottish people living with a condition that could be treated more effectively, safely and cheaply.”

She continued, “The COVID-19 response must be taking up most of the Cabinet Secretary’s attention right now and we all want to see Scotland recover from COVID-19 and build NHS Scotland back better. Surely MRgFUS could build an opportunity for recovery for Scottish Essential Tremor patients alongside these plans. If the Cabinet Secretary does not respond to the Scottish Parliamentary Petitions Committee before the election, we will have to start the process all over again. I just wish the Cabinet Secretary, or the First Minster would talk to me about my experiences throughout 64 years of living with the condition, I know in my heart it can be better treated.”

More than 4,000 people in Scotland live with Essential Tremor, and it is estimated to be up to ten times more common than Parkinson’s Disease[1]. A progressive and often debilitating disease that is relatively unknown, Essential Tremor frequently leaves patients isolated, embarrassed, and often frustrated at the lack of awareness and understanding of the disease.

Highland and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, who supports Mary Ramsay’s campaign,  said, “To hear that we are further delayed in our efforts to offer potentially life-changing treatment is incredibly disappointing. Many Essential Tremor patients in Scotland will be extremely disheartened by this news, particularly when this treatment is already being offered in England. While I understand the challenges that NHS Scotland faces in the midst of this global pandemic, I urge the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport to deliberate this matter and support those suffering from Essential Tremor in Scotland.”

About Essential Tremor

Essential Tremor is a neurological disorder which affects an estimated one million people in the UK,[2] and can affect any age group, with a prevalence of around 5% of patients being children.[3] It is characterised by an uncontrollable shake or tremble in parts of the body (arms, head, eyelids, lips and other muscles), and is a progressive disease that has hereditary links. Generally, tremor is caused by a problem in the deep parts of the brain that control movements. Everyday tasks such as personal care, writing, using technology, eating, or simply getting dressed etc., can be impossible for people with severe Essential Tremor.

 About Magnetic Resonance-guided Focused Ultrasound (MRgFUS)

Magnetic resonance-guided focused ultrasound (MRgFUS) technology uses MRI imaging to guide high powered, focused ultrasound to a very small point. At that point, molecules are vibrated extremely quickly, which creates intense local heat. That heat can destroy tissue. MRgFUS allows clinicians to target a very specific focal point – with very little heating produced in front of and behind that point, so only the targeted tissue is affected.

About the Scottish Tremor Society

The Scottish Tremor Society is an affiliate of the UK wide National Tremor Foundation and is dedicated to helping people in Scotland with Tremors.

We hope to provide a supportive and caring environment and aim to help everyone no matter how young or old with a Tremor.

[1] National Tremor Foundation. About Tremor. Available at: Last accessed: February 2021.

[2] Imperial NHS. 2016. Available at: Last accessed: February 2021.

[3] National Tremor Foundation. Essential Tremor in Children. Available at: Last accessed: February 2021.

Boundary Commission proposals flawed for remote and rural areas

The Scottish Government’s Communities and Local Government Secretary has been urged to investigate ‘flawed’ Boundary Commission proposals for the Highlands.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, put Aileen Campbell on the spot today asking if she had discussed with Highland Council proposals to cut councillor representation in some of the local authority’s most remote and rural locations.

At the Scottish Parliament’s Portfolio Questions, Mrs Grant said: “Parity in island council areas has been set at 1 councillor for every 800 people. Yet in Highland the parity level has been set at 1 to 2,800.

“This will result in fewer councillors, covering huge geographical areas and islands, creating a substantial democratic deficit.

“Can I ask what the Cabinet Secretary is going to do and should do to ensure that people in these remote rural communities are properly represented?”

Ms Campbell said that her colleague, MSP Graeme Dey, had written to the council and was engaging with the council on the issue and councils were being encouraged to engage with the Commission and articulate any concerns. However, she added that if Mrs Grant wanted to alert the Scottish Government to certain issues, or if things could be done differently, then Mrs Grant was to let them know.

After the session, Mrs Grant explained that she had already written to Local Government Minister Kevin Stewart outlining the local authority’s arguments.

Highland Council had rejected the Local Government Boundary Commission’s proposals outright with the local authority saying it was “deeply unhappy”.

“There are contradictions in the plan. For instance, Skye would see a reduction from four councillors to three and this does not make sense when compared to the proposals for island wards elsewhere in Scotland,” she added.

“On the other hand, in Fort William and Ardnamurchan, the proposals are rightly to retain four councillors because roads infrastructure and travel distances require more councillors. Yet in Sutherland and Wester Ross and in Caithness, the plans are to reduce the number of councillors.

“That makes no sense to me, as I can testify that the roads and the travelling time are no different for those areas and they should be assessed in the same way as Fort William and Ardnamurchan.”

Highland Council wants an early meeting with Mr Stewart to put its case.

  • The council feels the changes proposed by the Boundary Commission fail to recognise the specific Highland context, particularly in relation to parity, sparsity, rurality and deprivation and, if implemented, would result in a significant democratic deficit and in a way that is at odds with the purpose of the boundary review which was meant to be specifically focused on reflecting the requirements of the Islands (Scotland) Act. Parity on the islands has been set at 1 councillor for every 800 electors and so these councils will get additional councillors and enhanced democratic representation. In Highland the parity level has been set at 1 to 2,800 electors across the entire area, whether island, rural or urban. This will result in fewer Councillors, creating a substantial democratic deficit in Highland. It is clear that these proposals take little account of remote and rural areas. It says the Commission’s proposals are “fundamentally flawed”

MSP Rhoda Grant calls for clarity over the schedule of coronavirus vaccinations on Mull

CLARITY is being sought over the schedule of coronavirus vaccinations on Mull.

MSP Rhoda Grant said patients in their 80s remain anxious for information on when they will be called.

Several contacted the MSP last month saying fears of a slow vaccine roll out was causing alarm across the island.

They said they had been told the vaccine would not arrive on the island until the beginning of February, by which time, over-80s elsewhere should have had their jabs in line with the Scottish Government’s February 5 target.

Mrs Grant said: “I raised their concerns in Parliament with the First Minister a fortnight ago and she said she was going to look into it but she hasn’t yet given me a reply.

“I further raised it at a meeting on Friday (29th Jan) with NHS Highland who said they are on it and will meet their timeframe to have all over 80’s vaccinated by the 5th (this Friday).

“But people living on Mull are feeling the roll out there is being handled in a very furtive manner when it should be fully transparent. They just want to know what is happening and where.”

Mrs Grant sent a follow-up email to NHS Highland’s chief executive Pam Dudek this morning (Monday 1st Feb) asking if she can provide those specifics.

Mrs Grant’s email said: “Constituents are getting in touch complaining the roll out on Mull is furtive when it should be transparent. They just want to know what is happening and when. They need some reassurance.

“I would therefore be grateful if you could confirm that vaccinating of the over 80s is underway in the Ross area and Iona, and that the over 80s in Tobermory and North Mull will be vaccinated next week, followed by Salen and Craignure. I would appreciate an early reply.”

MSP asks the Scottish Government to share its plans to cope with tourist influx

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant says communities will have to wait to see what concrete plans the Scottish Government has to tackle their concerns about a predicted second wave of tourists descending on the region this summer and autumn.

In a reply to a Parliamentary Question Mrs Grant lodged, Rural Economy and Tourism Secretary, Fergus Ewing, was keeping any proposals close to his chest, despite telling Mrs Grant “an announcement will be made ahead of the 2021 season outlining steps taken.”

“You would think these plans are state secrets!” commented Mrs Grant.

“I can see that many people and families will be looking at staying in the UK this year, much like last year, especially if everyone has managed to be vaccinated by July and August.

“It’s predicted that accommodation will be in short supply, especially in areas such as those around the NC500. What I would hate to see is dirty camping, litter left by the roadside and irresponsible parking and I am sure that Government ministers do not want that as much as anyone else.

“But what proposals are in the offing with Easter not far off and people looking hopefully to the summer? Whatever restrictions are in place by then, the country needs to be prepared and we can’t let it drift on as it did last year.

“However, Mr Ewing’s response that its Visitor Management Strategy ‘will not resolve all the issues’ has set alarm bells ringing that local communities, councils and parks authorities will have the burden of responsibility for enforcement after suffering the stresses, strains and funding gaps left by the pandemic.”

Mrs Grant stresses that she welcomes tourism because it represents up to 43% of employment in areas such as the Cairngorms National Park compared with 8% in Scotland overall. While tourism also boosts communities in remote, rural areas, expanding the economy and allowing smaller businesses to thrive.

However, the MSP would like to see what is in the Scottish Government’s plans to develop tourism infrastructure and to promote education to cope with problems on the ground.

Mrs Grant is concerned if campsites remain closed, and hopes campsite owners can be better advised on safety measures to keep customers safe while also keeping campervans and campers off unregulated sites and unacceptable camping spots.

She received an answer to a Parliamentary Question in October last year where Mr Ewing, said that a multi-agency group was due to meet in November to look at solutions and make recommendations to Ministers but then nothing more was heard.

Question S5W-34700: Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 21/01/2021

To ask the Scottish Government, further to the answer to question S5W-32106 by Fergus Ewing on 26 October 2020, whether the public agencies group reported back in November 2020 and, if so, what actions are being taken by the cabinet secretary regarding (a) camping, (b) pressure on rural communities and (c) the environment, particularly in the Highlands and Islands.

Answered by Fergus Ewing (29/01/2021):

The group has made positive progress. A Visitor Management Strategy for the 2021 season has been agreed and focuses on 3 areas: Education and Marketing, Investment and Infrastructure, and Prevention, Regulation & Reassurance.

An announcement will be made ahead of the 2021 season outlining steps taken.

It should be noted though that although some progress has been made by the Scottish Government and its partners, this will not resolve all the issues. This will require an ongoing partnership approach from relevant authorities and communities. Littering, roadside dumping and antisocial behaviour should continue to be tackled through enforcement. The ultimate responsibility for adequate service provision also remains the responsibility of local and national park authorities.

Current Status: Answered by Fergus Ewing on 29/01/2021