Six Regional MSPs and an MP have joined forces to call on the Scottish Government for additional support for the delivery of mental health care in rural Highland communities.
The cross-party effort has come after Edward Mountain MSP and Rhoda Grant MSP led discussions with NHS Highland during the summer to identify which major obstacles stood in the way of an enhanced mental health care provision for the region.
Shortage of accommodation for new staff, concerns about the career paths for rural health practitioners and a lack of rural weighting in national pay scales were all raised as posing key challenges for recruiting new mental health staff to the region.
In a joint-letter to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, agreed with managers in NHS Highland, the cross-party group are calling on the Scottish Government to acknowledge these issues and provide additional support to help boost the recruitment of mental health practitioners to the region.
The signatories of the joint-letter include Edward Mountain MSP, Rhoda Grant MSP, Douglas Ross MSP, Donald Cameron MSP, Jamie Halcro Johnston MSP, Ariane Burgess MSP and Jamie Stone MP.
The letter stated:
“Following a meeting with representatives from NHS Highland, we understand that rural mental health services are coming under severe pressure due to higher demand and staffing pressures.
“The shortage of mental health practitioners available in the remote rural settings has meant that NHS Highland is struggling to respond promptly to patients experiencing the early stages of a crisis and, on top of this, some patients are expected to travel long-distances to centralised services in Inverness. This is neither ideal nor sustainable.
“It is clear that more localised services, which can treat people within their local community are required. We understand that NHS Highland are working hard to transition to this model of rural mental health provision, however they face a number of critical obstacles which are hampering their recruitment efforts.”
Edward Mountain MSP said:
“I’m very pleased that we have managed to get cross party agreement on this important issue but I am extremely disappointed that SNP MSPs and MPs, some of whom didn’t bother to respond to the request for support, have not joined our call.
“We need to move away from the model where mental health services are mostly centralised in Inverness and ensure that more mental health practitioners are working closer to remote rural communities.
“However, these positive changes are unlikely to arrive anytime soon unless the Scottish Government offer more support to NHS Highland when it comes housing, career development and pay scales for rural mental health practitioners.
“We can’t afford for the Scottish Government to overlook the unique challenges we face in the Highlands – what might work in the Central Belt, doesn’t always suit the needs of patients in our region.
“I have always believed that if our health services are local and closer to patients, then those services stand a better chance of helping people in crisis.”
Rhoda Grant MSP said:
“I welcome that this initiative has cross-party support and I look forward to us all working together on this vital issue. The Scottish Government are wedded in centralising services and this must change for the good of our remote and rural areas across the region.
“I took the opportunity today (Wednesday 8th September) at the Petitions Committee to support a petition expressing similar concerns in the NHS Borders Health Board region and I’m pleased that the petition called for an agency to oversee the development of rural and remote health services. I would like to see a similar approach nationally to examine the nature of remote practice including recognising, valuing and supporting the generalist skills for our rural partitioners.
“Local knowledge and resources need to be safeguarded from centralisation and that needs to become a national priority.”