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Caithness News Bulletins January 2004

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Scottish Socialists Call For Councillors To Resign From Health Posts 12 January 04
The Scottish Socialist Party is calling on Highland councillors to follow the example of council Convenor Alison Magee and resign their consultative positions on the Health Trusts Quangos, and begin the process to democratise the new unitary authority.  These include David Alston (Black Isle North) and Garry Coutts (Beauly & Strathglass)

There is a crisis in health care in the Highlands with threats to consultant-led services in Lochaber and Caithness.  The Socialists say that councillors should not now give democratic cover to what increasingly looks like a sham consultation and called on all Highland councillors to be unequivocal in their defence of existing levels of maternity and health care.

SSP Caithness & Sutherland Branch secretary Frank Ward said:  "The SSP has from the very start questioned the purpose and impartiality of the Calder committee assessing Wick's maternity services.  Profesor Calder played a prominent role in drafting the original national EGAMS report - commissioned by
the Labour/LibDem Scottish Executive with, importantly, a strict remit to  contain its conclusions within existing resources.

"He is hardly likely to contradict his own master work, and the Trust Board will not reject downgrading without substantial pressure"   "We welcome the 'outing' of Mr Carey as the 90,000pa official telling Jamie Stone that he's wasting his time. That such a senior official should pre-empt the review is a disgrace and merits, at the very least, disciplinary action. The fact that he faces no such action is indicative of the mind-set of the Health Trust quangos and the impotence of the few councillors appointed to them.

"The Scottish Socialist Party is calling on Highland councillors to follow the example of convenor Alison Magee and resign their consultative positions on the Health Trusts Quangos, and begin the process to democratise the new unitary authority.

"The Boards should be suspended forthwith and democratic elections called so that the people of the Highlands & Islands and particularly Caithness can choose who will represent their real needs and views on healthcare.  This farce-cum-tragedy has exposed the democratic deficit in this issue"

The SSP also put pressure on local MSP Jamie Stone to distance himself from his own party's support for the maternity services review. 

SSP Highlands & Islands Regional Organiser Steve Arnott said: "The SSP has consistently supported the community's efforts to defend Wick Maternity unit, with leaflets and campaign streetstalls to raise money in Wick and Thurso for a fighting fund.  But that should not mean uncritical support for Jamie Stone. Labour and Liberal Democrat Executive has failed miserably, over many years, to make proper plans."  Jamie has consistently supported the government's overall shambolic performance.   To date he has reacted as you would expect to the local situation, but it is his own party that is co-author of the present predicament."

"The ruling coalition still has the power to save rural health services - why is it so determined to se them run down?"

Garry Coutts councillor for Beauly & Strathglass pointed out that both he and Councillor David Alston (Beauly & Strathglass) were in different positions from the convenor Alison Magee.    The convenor had been a member of the board as a private individual and as convenor of the council might not want to be debarred from commenting on current health issues under the new Code of Conduct that applies to councillors on outside bodies.   Councillors Coutts was selected by councillors to represent them on the health board and trust.   For himself councillor Coutts said that as he was selected by the council he would have no hesitation in resigning the position if that was the will of the council.  However the reason councillors were selected to be on both the Health Board and trusts was in order to improve communications and community planning.

David Alston added on 14 January 04
The democratically elected Scottish Parliament has determined that health services will be run by appointed boards. I applied to serve on the Board of NHS Highland because - as someone born, educated and living in the Highlands - I want to do what I can to ensure that we have the best services possible. I have the same reasons for standing for election as a councillor. I am not nominated to the NHS Board by the Council and do not represent a Council view on the Board. I was appointed, like other non-executive members of the board (except Garry Coutts, who is a Council nominee) through the public appointments
procedure - advertisement, applications, interview by a panel (including an independent advisor), recommendation to the Minister and appointment. The SSP are entitled to campaign for a different way of running the NHS but they are wrong to suggest that those of us committed to the Highlands - and to health services in the Highlands - should stand aside and leave it to others.