Happy New Year to all readers of the John O’Groat Journal and Caithness Courier.
It is likely that 2021, much like last year, will bring with it all sorts of challenges for which we may have little control over. However much our resolve is challenged we must keep faith that the vaccine is on its way and there is light at the end of the tunnel.
To go from the beginning of the lockdown in March 2020 to rolling out a vaccine in December 2020, and one which promises up to ninety per cent effectiveness, is a massive achievement of human ingenuity and medical science. While a new strain of the virus brings with it new restrictions, we are still turning the tide against this pandemic.
Mass vaccinations are now being rolled out to the most elderly and high-risk members of society, protecting them from the impact of this terrible virus and reducing the pressure on our National Health Service. Given the events of the last few weeks, it is now vital that we accelerate the rollout of the vaccine.
This is why I have called for the Scottish Government to also seek additional help outwith NHS Highland to deliver and coordinate vaccinations to remote rural areas. I do not believe our fight against Covid-19 will be helped if Highlanders are expected to travel long distances to centralised hubs for both jabs.
Equally important, is that we don’t rely on just one vaccine and that we encourage and promote the development of further vaccines. The quicker we can increase immunity to Covid-19, the more we can win the battle against Covid-19 and re-open society.
As we recover from the pandemic we also need to consider how we can build back better. In particular, we need to think about how we redesign NHS Highland to improve how we look after expectant mothers.
I am pleased to see that this conversation has already started and I welcome the petition which has been lodged at the Scottish Parliament which is calling on health boards to review their maternity models to ensure the needs of remote and rural communities are met.
In Caithness, we know all too well how the current maternity model is far from ideal. Pregnancy is already an anxious and a stressful time as it is, and I don’t believe sending expectant mothers on long-distance journeys to Raigmore Hospital safeguards their wellbeing. It is a safety risk and, while the pandemic is still here, it also risks transmission of the virus too.
We have now reached a situation where ninety per cent of expectant Caithness mothers are delivering at Raigmore Hospital. Afterwards, they face a 100-mile return trip home with their new-born baby.
I believe long journeys of over an hour for expectant mothers are unacceptable and we need to see real change.
I continue to be disappointed at the Scottish Government’s hypocrisy on this issue though. Richard Lochhead MSP, a Scottish Government Minister, supported the campaign led by Moray mums when they faced longer journeys after their maternity services were transferred to Aberdeen. It is staggering that Richard Lochhead and the Government he represents do not feel as strongly about the journey Caithness mums face.
Indeed, it is remarkable that Maree Todd, who is hoping to represent Caithness, Sutherland and Ross in the forthcoming election, has remained very quiet on this issue too.
As we head towards the 2021 Scottish Elections in May, I believe enhancing our local maternity services in the Highlands and Islands must be a top priority for all candidates. It is for me.
**originally published on Friday 8 January 2021