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Hopes have been expressed that the Scottish Government’s new Islands Bill will promote islanders’ voices when it comes to healthcare provision on Skye and Raasay.
Despite repeatedly lobbying NHS Highland for solutions for both areas, the Isle of Raasay remains without adequate overnight cover and the suspension of out-of-hours services at Portree Hospital is occurring more often.
Describing it as ‘the most important legislation introduced for island communities’, local MSP Kate Forbes believes the new laws could help reverse depopulation.
Ms Forbes – who also has the Small Isles in her constituency – said: ‘While visitors pass through these islands for a few weeks a year, its residents who are still there: living, working and raising families – often against the odds of the weather, or population density, or stretched services.
‘Our islands are not mini museums, or visitor centres or somebody’s play park. They are homes – homes to real people, with real hopes, real fears and real histories.
‘And it has never been so important to promote islanders’ voices, to harness islands’ resources and to enhance the wellbeing of island communities.
‘One size does not fit all – Highland Council does what it can in an area the size of Belgium and a coastline that, including islands, is over 20 per cent of Scotland’s total coastline.
‘But changes rubber stamped in Inverness, Edinburgh or London have got to recognise the geography of our island communities, where ferry timetables and stormy weather and long distances have got to be factored in.
‘This Bill is needed because decision-making is not sufficiently ‘island proofed’ currently. I note the committee’s recommendation that the National Islands Plan should set out a clear strategic direction and practical approaches to ‘island proofing’ priority areas – like access to health and social care.’
The MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch continued: ‘If we take healthcare for example, I have been fighting for overnight, out-of-hours cover on the island of Raasay for almost two years since I was elected.
‘We made, what I believed, was significant progress during several meetings but there is still no out-of-hours, overnight cover on an island whose link to the mainland ceases to exist at 6pm every night when the ferry stops running and doesn’t recommence until the next morning.
‘And then over the water to Skye, where island residents in the far north depend on out-of-hours, urgent care on Portree.
‘But despite the hard work and dedication of doctors and nurses there, the too frequent suspension of ‘out-of-hours’ cover in Portree is not acceptable. It is not sustainable.
‘In urban centres, there is always another hospital, or another option. On an island, there isn’t.
‘There isn’t a choice, and I for one find the frequent suspensions at Portree Hospital completely and utterly acceptable.
‘I have made that clear to NHS Highland and I’m doing so again right now.
‘These two examples demonstrate why it is vital that planned changes are first ‘island proofed’.