Letters to the editor

Letters to the editor
Letters to the editor

Stornoway Gazette letters to the editor for edition October 1, 2015

We attended the third public meeting to consider the implications of the ‘Out of Hours Service’ in North Harris.

We both spoke at the meeting and feel our viewpoint and fears have not been taken on board. We are gravely concerned that our view and that of the vast majority of those who attended had their concerns nullified.

It is interesting to note that Dr Vijay Sonthallia, who was one of the architects of NHS 24 is himself, casting serious doubts on the system.

Targets are not being met, staff shortages are causing delays. It is our contention that the NHS 24 model has more credibility in an urban setting, where even now, attendance targets are not being met.

The remote rural situation presents a catalogue of restraints in terms of locality, weather and time and it is understandable that residents of Harris are not reassured by the description of a “safe and reliable” service.

There have been a number of comments in the Gazette on the matter which included a fairly expansive report from Dr Angus Mackellar (Director of NHS Western Isles) painting a very rosy picture insisting that the current system is safe and reliable.

This is in stark contrast to the comments in the Gazette ( 17/09 ) by Agnes Munro – recently retired as A & E Manager after 15 years in the post with 40 years’ experience in Nursing - who not only described this picture as inaccurate but also mentioned that on a weekend period in the summer the nearest doctor offering out-of-hours service in Lewis and Harris was located in Barra, which seems to have been accepted by the Medical Director as an “acceptable contingency plan” - there was no mention of such an acceptable contingency plan at any of the three public meetings and the Harris community must wonder if this is the tip of the iceberg and how many other such incidents there have been.

It is important to stress that, by and large, there is the utmost trust and respect between the medical practitioners (be it GPs, nurses, carers , paramedics etc ).

The new North Harris Heath hub is welcomed and is a wonderful facility.

The issue is focuses on the out-of-hours system proposed and is not directly related to the personnel.

One of the main concerns which seemed to come from the floor was the response times in attending calls when all the support Staff are based over the Clisham in Stornoway.

Given this concern it is all-the-more surprising that, despite the fact that Dr McKellar stated in the article that “we evaluated, re-evaluated and we extended the feedback”, Dr Burns said that they “did not have the time” to properly record the response times during the pilot period.

Bearing in mind that this is the third in a series of public meetings, it is a tad surprising that such a simple recording task has never been effected despite the fact that this may have gone some way to re-assure – or otherwise – the people of Harris.

Another area which we feel requires clarity is the fact that Dr McKellar reported in the article that “the clinician would be seeing a maximum of two cases per week”.

This raises two points of concern - firstly if we are only talking about two cases per week out-of-hours, is that work load beyond the capability of the present GP work force in North Harris, or secondly if we were to attract medical personnel based in Harris then surely their workload would include requests from Lewis in the same way as Lewis-based personnel would be required to cover Harris, so there seems to be an economy of the truth here to suggest that the workload of a Harris-based medical practitioner would only be two cases per week.

There was constant reference in the article - quite rightly - for the need for on-going engagement with the Local Community and the suggested vehicle for this engagement was the Harris Locality Planning Group. After listening to the concerns of the Harris people over three public meetings.

It would seem reasonable that the first task of this Group should be to ascertain the response times since the inception of this new pilot scheme which has opted to base all out-of-hours personnel in Lewis.

The problem is multi-layered. There is the response time. There is the critical assessment of the problem when NHS 24 are contacted.

Inadequate communication may mean that the elderly individual living alone, in a very remote location, without transport and reporting an upset stomach, may be suffering from a much more serious condition.

Without a visit from a health professional, a life threatening problem may be missed. Doctors can and do opt out of out of hours provision, but a highly trained nursing specialist would be capable of making the crucial assessment of whether intervention was necessary.

There is one ambulance in Harris. When the ambulance is called to South Harris, there could be a potential three or four hour wait for its return to any further incident.

The Harris population is unknown in the tourist season, but will be significantly higher than the normal assessed need, creating potential for a disastrous scenario.

The Community councils and the Local Planning group are working hard on solutions to this critical problem.

The vast majority of Harris residents are uneasy and distressed about provision. The public meeting votes have indicated this. We are not reassured by the assurances that all is well and do not want to be in the position of saying “we told you so,” when that unforeseen calamity takes place.

John G Mitchell, Ceol Na Mara Direcleit,

Isle of Harris


Willie Fulton,


Isle of Harris

Health provision

It is with great interest that I watch the current debate on the NHS Western Isles unfold over the past few weeks, in the Stornoway Gazette.

I am keen to share my observations and experiences of the NHS WI provision, as a recently widowed, prolific user of the NHS for the past decade.

My family and late husband in particular, has been dependant on the NHS since his diagnosis of early onset Parkinson’s Diseases over 16 years ago, in his late 40’s. His condition was further complicated by a number of issues arising following procedures he underwent in mainland hospitals.

Having spent months at a time in mainland hospitals with Charlie, I can’t explain the joy and relief we both felt, on all occasions, to be told he was going to be transferred back the Western Isles Hospital. Allowing us to be nearer family and friends and one step closer to him getting home to the croft!

I am in total agreement with Agnes Munro that the staff in the Western Isles Hospital are wonderful, highly professional and excellent to deal with. The cleanliness and food are also first class, by far the best out of all the hospitals we’ve spent time in over the years.

However I have experienced first-hand how the service and provision at the Western Isles Hospital is changing, and from a patient’s point of view, none of these changes have been for the better. It is a fantastic hospital and lifeline resource for our community but I am afraid we are slowly losing essential elements of healthcare provision.

I congratulate Agnes for speaking up as it allows us, the general public, to better understand the NHS provision and where it is failing. I am unable to comment on the politics at play in this debate but I would suggest that Agnes, with her vast experience, proven track record and straight talking would make a valuable addition to the NHS WI board.

Julia Macleod (Barley)


Isle of Lewis


Having travelled on the A9 recently, joining at Dalwhinnie, I have a few comments to make on the abysmal, long driving experience that was.

Who was the idiot who introduced a 50 mph limit for HGV’s,what you have now is a 10 to 15 miles of cars trailing behind lorries, because people are frightened to overtake because of the Revenue Earners/speed cameras?

Come a bit of dual carriageway, a few miles of cars manage to overtake , then back to crawling again, a long journey at 50 mph or probably less !!

That road is strangling commerce into and out of Scotland. No wonder Eddie Stobart ships his goods by train to upper Scotland.

It’s down to economics. He can ship stuff to Scotland at a third of the price. Small operators still have to run the gauntlet of that utter misery on the roads.

Roads are for driving, for trade, for commerce and simply getting from A to B. They are not supposed to be income generators, so get rid of the speed cameras, and open Scotland up for trade!

Don’t tell me “improvements are being made”, that should have been done 60 years ago, but the typical Scottish government were reluctant to spend the money.

They can spend millions on a useless referendum, but improve roads? Oh, no.

Vaughan Bellman


North Uist

Dental care

Rhoda Grant MSP’s claim (Stornoway Gazette, Sep 19) that “dental services in the Western Isles have been sub-standard for too long” is a dreadful slur on the professionalism of the people concerned.

If she ever requires their services, she’ll find they are highly skilled and working in state of the art facilities.

Maybe Mrs Grant remembers when Labour presided over a highly troubled NHS. There was no real dental services plan and we had an outdated facility in Bayhead - with a three year waiting list.

Since then, there has been a 36% rise in those registered with dentists. Children with tooth decay has declined 19%. The number of patients seen by dentists is up over 70%.

If Rhoda Grant and Labour were half as good as this dental team, her party would not be in the turmoil now haunting them.

Archie Harper


Isle of Lewis


Dear Mr Mackay,

As concerned local constituents, businessmen & women, politicians, and on behalf of tourists to our island communities we implore you to do more to ensure our transport network is a safer, more reliable and more fairly priced network than at present.

Our air travel prices have risen at an alarming rate for years and have now reached breaking point for many businesses and families. These remote businesses are suffering, the tourism industry in our islands is suffering and most concerning is the fact that our health boards are suffering.

A campaign of over fifteen thousand has called for a better system, MP’s have lobbied for change, MSP’s have met with you and have demonstrated the local impact.

Businesses in our islands are seeing a direct impact on their bottom line and now our health boards are speaking out about potentially removing the option of flying for some passengers for appointments.

The power to change much of the negative impact lies with you, not only in your capacity as Minister for Transport but also as Minister for the Islands. Many people have called for an increase in the ADS to 50% and the introduction of lower rate to enable our businesses to trade equitably with their mainland counterparts. An NHS patient passenger scheme is now clearly also needed, our local patients should not face inconsistent treatment nor should they endure illness simply because it is not cost effective to have regular visiting consultants or because they are forced to use ferries that cross some of the roughest seas in the United Kingdom.

Healthcare is a fundamental part of what makes Scotland and the United Kingdom the envy of the world, are we really living in a society where all patients are equal but some are more equal than others?

At present our communities are punished purely on the basis of our geography and that is fundamentally unfair in a Scotland that is supposed to be equal for everyone.

So far, all of these outspoken individuals and groups have been working separately, now they are coming together to call on you to rectify the injustice of this situation and to seek a more reliable, safe & fairly priced sustainable solution that works for all.