Colin Smyth MSP
Colin Smyth MSP

South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has given his support once again to a petition which calls on the Scottish Government to create an agency to ensure that health boards offer ‘fair’ and ‘reasonable’ management of rural and remote healthcare issues.

The petition was lodged with the Scottish Parliament by Dr Gordon Baird on behalf of the Galloway Community Hospital Action Group in 2020 and was looked at by the parliament’s Petitions Committee on Wednesday as part of a wider discussion on petitions concerned with the challenges of rural healthcare in Scotland.

Colin Smyth attended the session and spoke in support of Dr Baird’s petition.

Speaking in committee, the local MSP said: “Looking at the example of cancer care in Dumfries and Galloway, where our constituents in Stranraer have to travel to Edinburgh for treatment when there is a hospital in Glasgow that could provide it. Neither the health board nor the Scottish Government is tackling that problem.

“In our discussions, a number of ideas have been suggested for how we could do so—in particular, by Fergus Ewing, who said that we should have on health boards people with rural interests. I would hope that people who are appointed to a health board in an area such as Dumfries and Galloway would already have knowledge of rural healthcare. To reinforce that point would not do any harm.

“However, we are failing to recognise that we have a Scotland-wide problem in rural healthcare. There will be commonality between the challenges in Caithness and those in Dumfries and Galloway, so there should be Scotland-wide solutions. When it comes to finding such solutions the problem is often—but not exclusively—the health board.”

Colin Smyth continued: “It was also suggested that the proposed national centre for remote and rural health and social care could have an advocacy role.

“I understand that it will be primarily a delivery mechanism, although crucially it will be part of the NHS, so it will not be independent.

“It is interesting that, yesterday, the Scottish Government announced that it now supports the proposal for an independent food commission and has rejected the idea that Food Standards Scotland could take on that role—I presume that is because it is independent of the Government.

“It is key to our discussion that no independent national authority is advocating on healthcare on behalf of rural communities.

“There is a model for that in Australia, where there is the Office of the National Rural Health Commissioner. We should consider that model here in Scotland.

“I see no harm in carrying out a piece of work on how we could strengthen advocacy for rural healthcare in this country, whether it be through a commissioner or another model. It is absolutely clear that the current set-up is simply not working.”

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