14 December 2017
To ask the First Minister what contingencies the Scottish Government has put in place to deal with the effects of extreme winter weather on rural and remote areas.
The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon):
We recognise the serious impact that extreme winter weather can have on rural and remote communities. Our dedicated resilience operation actively monitors all weather and flood alerts and can be activated at any time, on any day of the year. Indeed, last week, during storm Caroline, the Deputy First Minister convened the resilience committee to ensure that all appropriate support was in place.
We also work closely with the emergency services, local authorities, health boards, power companies and others to ensure that we understand any challenges that are happening on the ground across Scotland, and to ensure that they can respond and co-ordinate appropriately at local level when any kind of emergency occurs.
Rhoda Grant: Already this winter, constituents have contacted me with concerns about how the weather is impacting on health services.
One gentleman reached Inverness and was waiting for his appointment at Raigmore hospital when he was contacted by Stagecoach to say that his bus home had been cancelled due to bad weather.
It cost him £200 to get home by taxi that night.
Constituents in Caithness are all very concerned because recent service changes are forcing more of them to go to Inverness to access health services.
Already this winter, the county has been cut off because of landslides on the rail line and road closures due to accidents.
Sadly, that is a common occurrence.
What is the First Minister doing to make sure that my constituents do not face further trauma while accessing services this winter?
The First Minister: If Rhoda Grant wants to provide us with the details of the specific constituency case that she outlined, we would be happy to look into that.
We cannot take away altogether the impacts of bad weather during the winter—I think that everybody understands that—but we do have to work to make sure that everybody is pulling together to mitigate the impacts as much as possible. That is what we are doing—that is what is done at local level through resilience partnerships, which fully involve national health service colleagues, and it is what we co-ordinate at national level through our resilience committee.
On the wider issues around health in the Highlands, I understand the concerns that have been raised, particularly in relation to the number of outpatient visits that involve people having to travel to Raigmore hospital in Inverness, some of whom live 100 miles away. That is why NHS Highland has been working to develop long-term sustainable services across Caithness, and why it is reviewing the wider provision of hospital and adult community services. Those are important issues, which we will continue to work on with others.
However, as I said at the outset, if there are particular constituency cases that Rhoda Grant wishes the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport or other relevant ministers to look into, I ask her to pass us the details of them, please.