Highjacking Health Care Concerns for Political Gain

By Fiona Grahame

Fiona GrahameIt always concerns me when a single issue is seized upon by political parties (of whatever hue) to push their own agenda. Jumping on something that may be of vital importance to a local community to make political short term gains and where the issue itself becomes lost in a fog of attacks on politicians, workers and individuals.

An example of this is happening across the water from me in Caithness where maternity services are struggling. A report “The Safe Provision of Maternal & Neonatal Services at Caithness General Hospital” was published in 2016 into the maternity services provided  as a result of a potentially avoidable death of a newborn baby in Caithness General Hospital (CGH) in September 2015.

Professor Hugo van Woerden, Director of Public Health and Policy, NHS Highland made 2 recommendations which were endorsed by NHS Highland Health Board.


1. Caithness maternity unit should become a midwife-led CMU in line with the model of maternal and neonatal care in other parts of NHS Highland. This change is designed to improve the safety of both neonatal and intrapartum care for the population of Caithness and Sutherland.

2. Strengthen the hub and spoke model of maternal and neonatal care across the North Highland Health and Social Care Partnership (HHSCP). This approach would strengthen Raigmore as a hub, providing 24 hour per day obstetric, midwifery and neonatal support to all the CMUs and community midwifery teams across the HHSCP. Obstetric, midwifery and neonatal staff based at Raigmore Hospital would support all the spokes in the model, including Caithness and Sutherland. This model will require additional leadership by clinical and managerial staff, greater use of communication technology, ready access to homely accommodation for mothers and families who may have to stay near Raigmore hospital, and closer liaison with ambulance services and neonatal retrieval services to ensure a seamless pathway of care.

NHS_Scotland.svgThe Health Service in Scotland is devolved and the ultimate responsibility of it lies with the Scottish Government and the Health Minister Shona Robison. Health services however, are managed and delivered locally and in this case NHS Highland.

Despite the fact that the NHS in Scotland is devolved the provision of maternity care in Caithness became an issue during the General Election of 2017. It saw the incumbent Dr Paul Monaghan, SNP, defeated by Jamie Stone of the Liberal Democrats.

During the election Jamie Stone said:

“During the time I’ve spent going door-to-door and chatting to the people of Caithness, it has become clear to me that health services in the North is the biggest concern.”

“If I have the privilege of being elected as MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, I can promise that I will fight for you tooth and nail on this issue.

“I pledge to work proactively alongside local pressure groups like CHAT.

” If you choose me on the 8th June, that is exactly what I promise I shall be.”

And the people did choose Jamie Stone to be their MP. Was it due to this issue? who knows but as health is devolved it was totally out of his competence to be able to promise to do anything about it.

What is CHAT?

CHAT stands for  Caithness Health Action Team and is a campaign group “dedicated to driving improvements in local healthcare services across Caithness.”

I think it is excellent that there is an activist group which is seeking to improve healthcare services in their community. It is, therefore, extremely unfortunate that their social media presence has been blighted by those in their community wishing to make political gain out of issues particularly around the provision of maternity services.

“Statement: CHAT remains dedicated to our campaign to protect local services, but in light of recent feedback that we are encouraging a ‘toxic’ atmosphere we have decided to take a more strategic approach to our campaign.

“For the time being, we will not publicise or comment on individual patient stories, and we will develop a social media policy. There are many positive elements to our work and we are progressing numerous exciting ideas to help support our community. Thanks go, as always, to the people who support us, and who recognise that we are a small group of volunteers who are trying to make a positive difference. We will keep learning. We will keep going.”

It was indeed misjudged to appear to agree with a comment that pregnant women making that long road journey to Inverness should film their experience with staff. How to demoralise those working hard to deliver the best care they can. CHAT then had to issue a statement on this episode.

”  In no way would we condone or encourage filming NHS staff or buildings, putting hard-working staff under more scrutiny and pressure than they already are.”

Staff are being demoralised throughout the NHS by constant attacks on the service and none more so than in Caithness.

At a meeting on the 6th February 2018 of the Caithness maternity and gynaecology group it was noted that due to the large number of Freedom of Information Requests being made:

“that frontline staff, as confirmed by midwifery staff present, are having to spend time searching for information rather than spending time on patient care. It was pointed out this is having a negative effect on staff morale as staff feel there is constant scrutiny over clinical outcomes and concern that data will be misinterpreted.”

There are some positives ahead. The Scottish Government has announced funding for 20 places to fast track nurses wishing to study midwifery. In a collaboration between NHS Highland, NHS  Western Isles and the University of the Highlands and Islands if successfull this will make a significant difference to the provision of services throughout the Highlands and Islands. Fast Track Midwifery Courses for the Highlands and Islands

Meanwhile it is Members of the Scottish Parliament who can politically influence the provision of health services in Caithness and the way forward with that is to engage with them in a supportive and positive way.

The Scottish Parliament has a combination of constituency and list MSPs so people in Caithness and CHAT have several to work with.

MSPs with responsibility for Caithness

Gail Ross SNP

Maree Todd SNP

Donald Cameron Conservative

Jamie Halcro Johnston Conservative

Edward Mountain Conservative

Rhoda Grant Labour

David Stewart Labour

John Finnie Scottish Greens

We are one Scotland and the provision of services throughout the nation should be of concern to all of us no matter where we live. Working with the MSPs who represent the area, the Scottish Health Minister, the local health board, the action groups, those who provide the service and those who receive the service, is the way forward.

For any one to try and make political gain out of issues of concern is detrimental to the success of campaigns. It alienates those who it should strive to include. When media colludes in the attacks on individuals and workers it does a great disservice to its readership. We in Orkney know only too well the problems around travel when requiring medical treatment which cannot be provided locally. Let’s hope there is a positive resolution to the provision of maternity services in Caithness which is safe for mother and baby.





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