Letters to the editor

Letters to the editor.
Letters to the editor.

Letters to the editor for The Stornoway Gazette, edition October 8.

Boundary Commission

It appears that the Boundary Commission wants to reduce the quota of ‘southern isles’ councillors from four to three. This will further dilute democracy in Barra and Vatersay. No doubt the reasoning of this august body, composed as it is of the great and the good, is based on looking at a map.

Are these the same people who decided that it would be good to go from Castlebay to Mallaig, because on the map it looks more appealing? We know here that councillors based elsewhere do not necessarily have Barra’s interests at heart. I give you one example: Barra/Benbecula plane service.

The Comhairle is there for the people; it has no right to shorten the quota of councillors. The people are sovereign here, not the government.

As Brecht said in 1953: After the uprising of the 17th of June the Secretary of the Writers’ Union had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee stating that the people had forfeited the confidence of the government and could win it back only by redoubled efforts.

Would it not be easier in that case for the government to dissolve the people and elect another?

Barra’s administration has always been universal. There are no Comhairle departments here, only a general office. We at least need a councillor here, dedicated to our interests. Reducing the number of councillors from four to three hardly helps.

Peter Colledge,

Hillside Cottage,


Isle of Barra

Air travel

I cannot be alone in my deep concerns regarding the air service provision for the islands. The unreliability of the service, not to mention the exorbitant costs, render the current service as simply not fit for purpose.

The very term ‘lifeline’ should underline the importance of regular and reliable air travel to us all. We all rely on these services, for work, social and medical needs. As someone who regularly travels in relation to my work, I am constantly uneasy about whether I will make the journey, which is so vital.

Often onward travel plans are made with trepidation as delays and cancellations are becoming such a feature of the flight schedule across the Western Isles.

We already have a diminished service for our islands which is impacting on our economy. We must demand that a viable alternative to the current sub-standard service is provided.

Peter Urpeth

6a New Street

Back, Isle of Lewis

Out of Hours service

There is rather a lot of heat in the current exchanges about the new out of hours arrangements and as someone closely involved, I would like to make a few statements that may help.

I have been a GP in Harris for 20 years and have really enjoyed covering out of hours work during that time until retirement in December 2014. For the past 8 years or so Dr Angus McKellar, our Medical Director, shared an almost 1 in 2 on-call rota with me to deal with out of hours calls in North Harris. He is therefore in a very good position to know how the system works, having been on the coal face for many years. By the way, he has no idea that I am writing this letter.

A correction needs to be made from what has been written in the Gazette more than once: the North Harris practice, like the vast majority of practices, did opt out from doing out of hours cover in 2004.

The fact that two of the practice GPs continued to provide the cover was simply the fact that the health board enlisted us quite separately from the practice to be the doctors who would agree to provide that cover. Neither of us were obliged to provide that cover but we chose to be employed to do so.

When Dr Mckellar left North Harris Medical Practice to be Medical Director last year and when I then retired, there was a real problem in how to provide the necessary cover. GPs who are willing to do the amount of out of hours cover that we did are very rare indeed. The plain fact is that there was no GP in Harris who could cover North Harris out of hours after December 2014. A new solution had to be found.

One may complain about the solution which has been provided but it should also be recognised that parts of Lewis are just as far from Stornoway as Harris is, and a similar system has been running in Lewis for many years.

In fact the new system for Lewis and Harris is more robust than it was recently for Lewis because of the use now of very well trained unscheduled care nurses for home visits when appropriate, backed up by the GP based in the A&E, plus the second on-call GP and the ambulance service. Since retirement from the practice I have myself been on duty both as the first and second on call GP and I know the system well.

Of course this is not like seeing your own GP in out of hours. Who would not prefer that? But we simply have to work with what is possible and make it as safe as can be.

The current system is definitely safer than when I began working here 20 years ago (despite what John Sinclair says in his letter). 20 years ago I could be taking the boat to Scalpay, or on a call over in Hushinish and there would be no other cover available should I be called to a patient on the other side of Harris.

The ambulance service then was also far less useful; now we have highly trained paramedics to deal with virtually any emergency before a patient sees a doctor.

Another correction relating to the question of issuing death certificates: this is not needed immediately and is often done the next morning by a GP. In the meantime, notifying the undertaker and the laying out of the deceased can proceed before a certificate is given.

The Health Board do not get everything right! But in this case I know they are trying very hard to provide the best possible solution. It is therefore unhelpful to call the statements from the board “obfuscations and spin”.

The last thing our patients need is to fear and panic that the new arrangements are hopeless. It is my opinion that they are a lot safer than they have been in the recent past. As regards the unfortunate patient from Stockinish, mentioned by John Sinclair; if you look carefully at this case you realise very quickly that the issue of delays had nothing to do with the new arrangements. It was due to issues with the NHS24 advice given. An enquiry of course is being done about this.

There were one or two acknowledged occasions in the past when the board could not get enough staff to fill the out of hours rota. The contingency plans put in place did however provide GP advice with cover from the nurses and ambulance service plus doctors at the hospital. Immense efforts have been put in to fill the GP rota and the next 4 months have already been filled. This should provide reassurance.

Delays will happen at times, nothing is perfect and it would be lovely to have a permanent presence of a GP or nurse all the time on call in Harris. This is being properly looked into by the Locality Planning Committee, but the reasons given so far by the board for why this is unworkable are very strong indeed and space does not allow further discussion about this here. Remember that in a life threatening emergency phoning 999 is always advisable.

Dr Antony Latham

White House, Leac a Li,

Isle of Harris.

Our views alter and change

Rev. Iain D. wrote recently in glowing terms of the evangelist John Wesley, which I’m sure would have pleased many readers, and now his take on water baptism seems more relaxed also. (Gazette 17.9.15).

I think our views change as we get older, altering in the light of life’s experiences and our walk with Jesus. Beliefs and practices which in past time may have occupied us greatly, and which perhaps we stoutly defended, can appear of so little consequence further down the road.

And so the practice of water baptism, however it may be viewed or administered, might well come into that category. Interestingly both the Society of Friends (Quakers), and the Salvation Army dispense with the practice entirely, the Army promoting spiritual re-birth instead, and which baptism into Christ Rev. Iain acknowledges in his closing paragraph.

So our views alter and change, sometimes sensibly as per Rev. Iain’s present piece, though sometimes most unwisely.

Who for instance would have thought a day would dawn when the movement General Booth founded would come to see no value in street evangelism, yet that’s how it now is in Inverness. I pray God it’s not that way in Stornoway.

Keith Fernie

8 Drakies Avenue,



On a recent visit to Stornoway it was disheartening for me to see the once busy harbour so quiet and the fishing fleet reduced to a few old boats.

However, I saw two French trawlers awaiting crew changes; the foreigners have been gifted our fish courtesy of Westminster and the E.U. I could not help but reflect on the death of Stornoway as a major fishing port.

Who today can believe that even at the height of WW1, in June, 1916, in one week, 24,000 barrels of cured herring left Stornoway for the Russian port of Archangel – the Herkalee with 13,000 barrels and the Maude Larsen with 11,000 barrels.

The Watchful also left with a cargo of ungutted herring for Great Yarmouth. This was at a time when most of the local fishermen were serving in the war and the fishing boats were manned mainly by old men. In 1948 there were over 900 fishing boats registered in the Western Isles.

The boats were skippered and to a large extent crewed by men who had served with the Royal Navy or Merchant Navy in the world wars. Deserted Stornoway Bay makes one wonder whose employment and way of life they were defending?

For their loyalty and service in the wars the Western islanders received no reward from the British government. For those who spout that the Union with England is good for Scotland my comment is that the Union has resulted in the virtual extinction of our fishing industry and many Scottish fishing communities.

Donald J. MacLeod

49 Woodcroft Avenue,

Bridge of Don