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.

Anger at Crofting Bill being shelved

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has said it is ‘shocking’ that, despite several assurances to the contrary, the Scottish Government has abandoned plans for crofting reform to be introduced in this session of the Parliament.

Rhoda Grant said “The Cabinet Secretary, Fergus Ewing, gave a statement to Parliament last month (10 September) advising that “Members could be assured that his officials continue to work on reform of crofting legislation” and now, just a few weeks later, he advises that work on the Crofting Bill will be suspended ‘for the foreseeable future’.”

The Cabinet Secretary was challenged last month by Labour’s Rural Economy spokesperson, Colin Smyth, who stated that

“Two years ago, the programme for Government stated: “We will … consult on and develop proposals to reform crofting law”.

“A year ago, the programme for Government stated: “We will take forward work on a Crofting Bill and publish a national development plan for crofting”.

“Just six months ago, at the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, the Cabinet Secretary said: “I committed to seeking to introduce a crofting bill in sufficient time for it to be passed before the end of the session. That commitment remains.”— [Official Report, Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, 24 April 2019; c 7.]

Mrs Grant said, “So many times we have heard Fergus Ewing extol the worth of crofting in the cultural heritage of Scotland.  He’s also stated that crofting continues to contribute to the sustainability of remote and rural communities and that that is partly as a result of the support and attention that the Scottish Government and its predecessors have provided in the past and are providing now.”

“Even his own SNP colleague, Alasdair Allan, said last month that he was disappointed to hear about the timetabling problems relating to a crofting bill.

“Fergus Ewing was happy to take the praise for the value that crofting contributes to the sustainability of remote and rural areas yet just weeks later, his officials get pulled away to deal with Brexit, leaving these vulnerable communities high and dry, ignoring the needs of crofters.

Mrs Grant concluded “The SNP used their last majority to force through damaging legislation and now won’t take the time needed to sort it.  I would think crofters the length and breadth of the Highlands and Islands will be feeling very let down by Mr Ewing and and his SNP colleagues as they turn their backs on the needs of this industry.”

MSP outraged at Uist dental revamp

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has today said she is outraged to hear that new plans for an upgraded dental suite at Uist and Barra hospital have been unveiled despite the fierce prolonged opposition locally.  After almost three years of objection to the proposal, NHS Western Isles and the Comhairle announced last month, that they intend to press ahead with closing the dental practices at Lochmaddy and Liniclate (with Lochboisdale having already been closed) and centralise dental services in Benbecula.

Mrs Grant’s plea for a meeting with the former Cabinet Secretary for Health, Shona Robison, was ignored and last month she contacted the new Cabinet Secretary, Jeane Freeman, asking her to launch an enquiry into this decision as a matter of urgency.

Rhoda Grant said “The level of opposition to this plan has been staggering from the start yet NHS Western Isles and the Comhairle are battling on with their plans to centralise dentistry services in Benbecula, leaving some patients facing a 60 mile round trip to access an NHS dentist.

“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.  Concerns from dental professionals have also been raised, and it would appear, ignored.

Mrs Grant concluded “Tooth infection can have untold effects on many other parts of the body if infection is not detected early enough.  We need to encourage people to go for regular check-ups, not take dental services out of their communities which leaves access to dentists very hard for people who may have mobility issues, or do not own a car to travel these distances.

“I am contacting the Cabinet Secretary again to ask that these plans be stopped until the Scottish Government carries out a full enquiry into this appalling decision.”

MSP supports community in call to have 40mph limit at Sconser ferry terminal

Transport Scotland is being asked to impose a 40mph speed limit on the trunk road outside the Sconser ferry terminal.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has written to the agency’s chief executive, Roy Brannen, supporting Raasay Community Council’s plea to cut the limit to make the road safer.

“Whilst it is good that Transport Scotland is going ahead with other measures at this location, I’ve been told there are frequent near misses there and a reduced limit would help,” said Mrs Grant.

“The ferry terminal is very busy, with a constant flow of traffic going past, even in the winter months, and I believe local people who say it is incredibly dangerous.

“I would hate for a serious accident to happen there.”

Raasay Community Council’s chair, Anne Gillies, added: “Those of us from Raasay who regularly turn right towards Portree from the terminal are fully aware just how nerve wracking the experience can be. The combination of hill-start and not being able to see while traffic is moving so fast is just not safe.”

Mrs Grant has been made aware of accidents on the stretch last week (ending September 20).

One appeared to involve three vehicles travelling toward Portree, which was attended by local police. A second accident is thought not to have involved police and insurance details may have been exchanged.

BEAR Scotland has written to Mrs Grant saying that improvement work has started on the A87 around the ferry terminal.

Work includes road signs and footway improvements, replacement bus shelter and pedestrian activated warning sign system.

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 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.”


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.