It was very good to see our two new Independent Highland Councillors, Andrew Baxter and Thomas MacLennan, at yesterday evening's Community Council meeting, particularly useful as the main discussion was about our medical services, an area in which they are already deeply involved.
There's obviously a lot going on at the moment in the way of discussions between WACC - represented by Rosie, Jac and Davie - and both the Scottish Ambulance Service and NHS Highland.
Our representatives have recently met with Pauline Howie and Milne Weir of the SAS. Two more Emergency Responders have been appointed, one in Glenborrodale, which is to be welcomed as Jessie, Maggie and Sam have been under a lot of pressure recently. Training is going well, a further airwave radio will be provided, as well as a better-equipped ambulance once the present one has to be replaced. There have been 14 call-outs attended and, from all reports, the service has worked well, with good feedback from patients. There will be a regular review every six months. Perhaps the best indication of the present success of the operation is that other areas are asking for a similar set-up.
Talks with NHSH over the nurses are ongoing, and are at a senior level. NHSH seems, at last, to have accepted that the present setup is unsustainable - something we told them from the start. While nothing specific about the discussions was reported, our representatives appear to be making some progress.
The situation regarding our GPs seems to be going from bad to worse. No advertisement has been published for their replacements because an option that NHSH was actively exploring was to hand our practice over to the GPs in Mallaig. The idea of our 'local' doctors being based in Mallaig is almost too horrific to contemplate, particularly if The Pines is closed, the prospect being made even worse when we were told that Mallaig does not do any out-of-hours cover and is currently covering the Small Isles. The unacceptability of this option was put very forcibly by Andrew and Thomas when they had their first briefing from NHSH. To make matters worse, this transfer would have required no local consultation. Fortunately, it appears that our present doctors have refused to allow this, so the Health Board will now have to find locums to cover from 1st September until they can appoint permanent doctors - and local people will be represented when those appointments are made.
The point that has been hammered home to NHSH, again and again, is that the withdrawal of District Nurses from West Ardnamurchan seemed to precipitate the loss of our GPs - yet all the evidence is that NHSH have yet to sit down with Drs Colebrook and Topham to find the truth. WACC is therefore trying to set up a meeting with other local Community Councils, NHSH, and the two doctors, so that lessons can be learned from the present debacle.
Matters are complicated by a change in the local structure of NHSH caused by the Board taking over community care from Social Services, with a new manager, Joanna Hind, appointed to co-ordinate both the SS work and local practices.
There is a very long way to go before there is any hope of our medical services settling back to do the good job they used to do. A huge amount of damage has been done simply because officials did not sit down with local representatives and the existing local medical personnel and LISTEN to their concerns. We now have a promise of much better 'involvement and engagement with the community' - and we also have Nicola Sturgeon coming down to visit us in July.