Committee agrees to keep healthcare petition open

Catriona MacDonald (left) and Mhairi MacDonald (second from the left) have both been at the forefront of the SOS-NHS Skye campaign.

By Adam Gordon

MSPs today agreed to keep open SOS-NHS Skye’s petition calling for the reversal of the major services changes to healthcare in Skye, Lochalsh and South West Ross (SLSWR) until the current review of out-of-hours care in the area has been completed.

Members of the committee reached a consensus at this morning’s meeting that a further hearing on the proposed changes to healthcare in SLSWR would take place following the outcome of the independent external review of Out-of-Hours Urgent Care and Minor Injury clinical services which is being carried out by Sir Lewis Ritchie.

Addressing the committee, convener Johan Lamont MSP outlined the petitioners’ concerns saying that they believed the board of NHS Highland had “not acknowledged the deeply held view within the local community that the redesign was fundamentally flawed.” She added: “the petitioners do not have confidence in NHS Highland’s ability or willingness to redesign health services that have served their community for decades in a safe and person-centred manner, and reiterate their request for an independent scrutiny panel to be set up.”

Fellow committee member, Brian Whittle MSP said he was “uncomfortable with the way in which NHS Highland and also the cabinet secretary have conducted themselves” and said he felt that they had tried to hold the committee and petitioners “at arm’s length”.

The committee’s deputy convener, Angus MacDonald MSP said: “There may be some merit in waiting for the outcome of the external review. It might be good to get back to that before we proceed anything further.

Michelle Ballantyne MSP, who also serves on the committee added: “I am concerned that it has been a bit obstructive perhaps on both sides. There has been an enormous difference of opinion here and there is now an independent review to look at it.”

Kate Forbes MSP (in red) stands with members of SOS-NHS Skye prior to a meeting in September.

Kate Forbes MSP – who was in attendance for the meeting and has been heavily involved in the process – said she was pleased with the outcome of the meeting and also praised healthcare staff on Skye for their contributions:  “I am pleased that the committee agreed to the cross-party suggestion to keep the petition open until the review is complete. Since the petition was first launched, out-of-hours provision has become more of a concern due to occasional suspensions. That is why the review being conducted by Professor Sir Lewis Ritchie is so critical.

“The healthcare professionals, nurses and doctors in Portree and Broadford are doing a tremendous job and deserve our thanks and gratitude.”

Appearing today for the second consecutive time at the committee over the petition, Edward Mountain MSP felt there was merit in keeping the petition open until the external review had been concluded: “I am very pleased for the people of Skye that the Petitions Committee will continue to consider the issue of health provision on Skye.

Edward Mountain MSP listens to members of the community during a recent healthcare meeting in Portree.

“I am also delighted that each member of the committee believes there is merit in keeping the petition open until Sir Lewis Ritchie publishes his report.’

Dave Stewart MSP endorsed the comments of both Kate Forbes and Edward Mountain, stating: “My request is simply – keep the petition open until the review is completed.”

In her most recent submission to the committee on 10th January, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, Shona Robison wrote: “NHS Highland are commissioning an independent, external view to provide assurance that the arrangements for North Skye in terms of unscheduled and out-of-hours care are robust, safe and sustainable. It is my understanding that this review will begin in early 2018. I hope my reply is helpful in bringing your considerations to a conclusion.”

A spokesperson for NHS Highland said: “We share a common goal of looking to the provide safe and reliable health care for communities of Skye, Lochalsh and South West Ross. But is has to be sustainable and that is our number one challenge. This is why we need to redesign services across Highland including on Skye.

“Earlier in the month we had a helpful meeting with representatives of North Skye and are establishing a North Skye Working Group.  Sir Lewis Ritchie is still undertaking his work and we look forward to considering his recommendations.”

Within the course of the external review so far, Sir Lewis Ritchie has met with a wide range of stakeholders including frontline emergency service staff, elected members and local organisations. He is expected to produce an initial report of his findings next month following a review and scrutiny of all the submissions, data and evidence.