MSP pushing for more Government support for chronic pain patients

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, continues to push for improved waiting times at NHS Highland’s chronic pain clinic after a reply from Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman.

The MSP, who is also Labour’s Shadow Health Minister, was told recently that there were very long waiting times for first appointments in the Highlands and that in some cases there can be more than a year’s wait for follow up appointments.

After the issue was raised by constituents, he contacted NHS Highland, who acknowledged the shortage of consultants nationally, the increased demand for the service and the lengthy waiting times patients have to wait to be seen.  The Chief Executive of NHS Highland also added that they are undertaking a strategic review of the service.

However, when Mr Stewart then contacted Jeane Freeman, the Scottish Government failed to answer how it was going to address the shortage of consultants, which would help reduce waiting times, while highlighting figures which the MSP believes ‘fudges’ the issue.

“Chronic pain affects every aspect of a patient’s life and often results in them being unable to work until they receive treatment,” said Mr Stewart.

“It’s therefore vital that local clinics can cope with demand within an acceptable time frame and waiting for more than a year is a terrible stress on patients and on their loved ones and families.”

He said the reply he received from the Health Secretary left him with more questions than answers.

“It says nothing about how they are going to address the shortage of consultants,” said Mr Stewart.

“Of the £850m the Government announced over a year ago for waiting times only £102m has been released for 2019/20 and only £7m of this amount is coming to NHS Highland to support all services, not just chronic pain.

Mr Stewart wants to know when the rest of the money will be released to health boards.

“£7m is a drop in the ocean compared to the £15.6m bill NHS Highland faced last year for private locum staff.

“NHS Highland advise there is an increase in demand for chronic pain services. The Scottish Government urgently needs to properly fund health boards so we get sustainable solutions that reduce waiting times for these services.” he added.

Mr Stewart raised the matter again with the Chief Executive of NHS Highland when he met him last week (Friday 8 November) and the Chief Executive confirmed that NHS Highland is looking at reconfiguration of the service in a bid to help bring down waiting times.

David Stewart said “A constituent, who has MS, has told me that she has been continually pushing the issue of chronic pain for approximately 10 years and access to the chronic pain service has never met the needs of the patients however she says that once you are seen, the service is excellent.

The constituent said “All I can say is that the current situation regarding access to the service is completely unacceptable.  The idea of a year in severe pain is horrific.  MS doesn’t go away, it is life long, and for many patients it causes horrendous pain. I am also a carer for my 2 disabled daughters and chronic pain does nothing to help stress levels!  We need access to the service now, not in a year!”

Mr Stewart has also tabled a number of Parliamentary Questions to ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to help lower waiting times for NHS Highland’s chronic pain clinic.

Questions raised with Health Secretary over process for bullying and harassment cases

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP David Stewart questioned Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, today about the process for NHS Highland to deal with bullying and harassment cases raised as a result of the Sturrock review.

Mr Stewart has been pressing the health authority to ensure there is one point of contact for those constituents who have written to him with complaints of how they were previously treated at their work.

At General Questions he welcomed the Scottish Government’s new, separate and independent review into alleged bullying and harassment in the NHS in Argyll and Bute. He had previous raised this issue in Holyrood.

But he also added that it was “crucial” that there was one point of contact for those who have come forward as a result of Sturrock claiming they have been bullied or harassed at NHS Highland.

“The health authority told me this week that the process for looking at cases should be approved at its November board meeting and that should be fully publicised for people to get in touch through the correct channel,” said Mr Stewart after raising his question in Holyrood.

“I should hear from the Chief Executive at the end of November or early December what that process is, so I can share it with constituents.

“It is very important that there is independent scrutiny of the scheme to ensure fairness to those who are already traumatised by what they experienced.

“Many people feel their voices are still not being heard after such a long time and I totally understand people’s frustration and anxiety over this.”

Ms Freeman said that she had met with NHS Highland on Monday and was told that it will be conducting an independent 12-week review into Argyll and Bute in January.

She also agreed with Mr Stewart about having the one point of contact for those coming forward as a result of Sturrock and added that there would be two points of contact, taking into account Argyll and Bute, although she added it was in many ways different from the cases already under review at NHS Highland.

Ms Freeman said it was important that all staff knew who the single point of contact was and said that shortly there would be non-executive whistle blowing champions on health boards appointed by her who would also be directly accountable to her.

MSP welcomes road safety monitoring at Telford Street roundabout

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, is pleased to have been informed that BEAR Scotland is monitoring road safety at the pedestrian crossing close to the Aldi store at the Telford Street roundabout in Inverness.

Mr Stewart, who is a veteran road safety campaigner, raised the matter with Transport Scotland last year after constituents contacted him about their fears for pedestrian safety at the crossing.  The nearby residents were concerned that the traffic lights are sited so close to the exit of the roundabout that drivers are often so focussed on clearing the roundabout that they inadvertently go through the lights when they are on red.

Transport Scotland consulted on their Longman Road to Tomnahurich Swing Bridge Road Safety Scheme last year and Mr Stewart has been advised that the proposals for the Longman Road section, which includes the pedestrian crossing at Aldi, attracted a wider range of comments and they have asked their Operating Company, BEAR Scotland, to review these further.

David Stewart said “Nearby residents have very real concerns that someone is going to be hurt at this crossing and advised me of a number of near misses over the years.

“I asked Transport Scotland if they would consider moving the lights a bit further along the bridge to ensure pedestrians and cyclists could cross safely.

Mr Stewart continued “In recent days I have been advised by Transport Scotland that they have asked BEAR Scotland to review this further in light of the feedback that was received for this section of the route.

“They advised that BEAR Scotland is undertaking a detailed assessment of pedestrian and cyclist provision along this part of the A82 to determine the best option for the route and junctions, including the Telford Street roundabout, and that this will influence any decision whether to relocate the crossing or incorporate a new feature into any potential junction enhancement.

David Stewart concluded “I am pleased that this assessment is being undertaken at the roundabout and I will be keeping a close eye to see what the recommendations for this area are.”

Eilean Dorcha Festival Generates £2 Million for Island Economy

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP David Stewart has welcomed the impacts brought to the Western Isles by the Eilean Dorcha festival which celebrated its fourth year this year. 

Mr Stewart submitted a motion to Parliament asking it to congratulate and recognise the Eilean Dorcha festival for the extent of its cultural, economical and social impacts on the Isle of Benbecula. 

Mr Stewart said: “Eilean Dorcha Festival is a fantastic example of a community led initiative and what it has achieved in only four years is phenomenal. The dedication and hard work of the organisers and community in building this festival and establishing it as one of the must go to Scottish summer festivals in only four years is an incredible achievement.” 

Mr Stewart’s motion asked the parliament to congratulate the festival on supporting 12 tourism related jobs and providing a £2 million financial boost to the local economy and looked forward to its fifth year, next July. 

“At a time when Government cuts and austerity are placing a stranglehold on our most vulnerable communities, the people of Benbecula have shown a resilience and a determination to thrive and promote their culture on a national scale. I can’t wait to see the festival go from strength to strength.” 


The text of David Stewart’s motion is below.

Motion Number: S5M-19698
Lodged By: David Stewart
Date Lodged: 01/11/2019

Title: Eilean Dorcha Festival Generates £2 Million for Island Economy

Motion Text: That the Parliament congratulates the Eilean Dorcha Festival on the Isle of Benbecula on its ongoing success; notes that the festival takes place in July and has been running for four years; understands that the festival has safeguarded 12 tourism-related jobs in a rural and peripheral area; commends the organisers for helping to create a £2 million economical boost to the Isle of Benbecula since the festival’s establishment in 2016; acknowledges the cultural, economic and social impact that the festival has had on the local community, and wishes the festival well for its fifth event in 2020 and beyond.

Stewart challenges Health Secretary to agree the Highlands & Islands is the most suitable location for proposed new medical school

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP David Stewart has questioned Jeane Freeman, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, about the SNP’s plans for a new medical school as laid down in its Programme for Government.

Mr Stewart, at Portfolio Questions in Holyrood this week, questioned the Cabinet Secretary on whether she would agree the Highlands & Islands was the most suitable location.

Speaking in chamber, Mr Stewart, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Public Health, said: “One key aspect of NHS Workforce Planning, post-Brexit, is the creation of a new medical school, as promised by the Programme for Government.

“Does the Cabinet Secretary share my view that there is a strong case to be made for the new school to be located within Highlands & Islands as part of the UHI network. Does she agree that this would make sense in workforce planning terms for the doctors of the future and would also send a clear message that Highlands & Islands is a vibrant and dynamic area to live and work in?

Congratulating him for being the first MSP to battle for the new building, Mrs Freeman said: “Every credit to Mr Stewart for being the first to take the opportunity in the chamber to argue for his area. Many have come forward and made cases about what we might do in terms of that government commitment to a new medical school, which I think is needed in any case. We need to increase the numbers of our young people that we are offering that opportunity to. As I’ve said to him and to others, I am waiting to see what offers and options come forward including from our existing medical schools who have also stepped forward in terms of telling us what it is possible for them to do. We will carefully consider all of those propositions but what we will aim to do is ensure equity of access and maximum opportunity for our young people and others in Scotland to train to be a doctor and then to be employed in our health service in Scotland.”

Speaking afterwards, Mr Stewart said: “The government has a duty to the people of the Highlands & Islands to use every possible method to avert a medical staffing crisis that threatens patients and services. And given the difficulty of attracting GPs and doctors to the region, a medical school could act like a magnet for those much-needed workers. I will campaign with intensity for this new medical centre to be created and for it to be located in my home constituency where it is needed the most.

Scotland’s culture minister involved in talks with Labour MSP David Stewart as his campaign grows to find new home for The Ironworks live music venue in Inverness

David Stewart has been campaigning since the summertime to find a new home for The Ironworks live music venue in Inverness. There are plans, yet to be approved, to transform the Academy Street site into a hotel. So far, nearly 3000 people have supported Stewart’s online petition and his campaign has been backed by former Runrig frontman Donnie Munro.

Stewart’s working group of agencies will meet for the second time next week.  And now, in the latest in a long line of work on the issue, Stewart this week  met with Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop in Parliament to discuss the ongoing issue.

MSP David Stewart secured a meeting this week with Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop to draw on her support for his campaign to find a new home for The Ironworks.

Commenting after the meeting, Stewart said:

“I asked for a meeting with the Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop because The Ironworks desperately needs her government’s support to secure its future, and I was delighted to pick up from our meeting this week a very positive sense that she is doing everything she can to open doors to opportunities. She knows grass roots music venues are disappearing at an alarming rate and that the loss of The Ironworks would speak volumes about the SNPs success at making sure areas like Inverness and the wider Highlands & Islands retain their creativity and culture vibrancy and continue boosting their night-time economies.

“There are still some practical things that we still need to get in place to help The Ironworks secure a new home, but I’m delighted with the fantastic support from all the agencies and I’ll be drawing everyone together at the end of next week for our second round of formal discussions. We all have the same objective in mind.”

“The Ironworks is important because it is committed to championing the new, local talent that relies on its 1000-capacity performance space to hone their skills. And I’m told its demise could even affect the area’s booming summer festival circuit because it is The Ironworks that is anchoring bands all-year-round and keeping that valuable network strong and contacts flowing.”

“We all need to show our support to keep this vital venue going.

Please sign my petition at



More GPs support the right to have full care at home for patient’s last few days of life

More GPs from throughout Scotland have come forward to support the right to have full care at home for a patient’s last few days of life.

Shetland GP Susan Bowie raised her concerns about the gap in ‘hospital at home care’ for such patients with Highlands and Islands Labour MSP David Stewart and has now received reports from other concerned doctors from out with the area.

She has passed on the anonymised reports to Mr Stewart, also the Scottish Party’s Shadow Public Health Minister, whose Scottish Parliament motion for debate on the issue has now received cross-party support.

One GP explained: “What you are describing has been the status quo here for so long that people no longer expect to die at home and choose the community hospital because they are afraid of the lack of support at home. We do occasionally achieve a well-supported death at home, but usually because of extraordinary family commitment.”

Another wrote that home palliative care is practically impossible, and a lack of overnight care meant a patient was admitted to hospice. Although that care was good, it was not what the patient or the family had wanted.

  • Photo shows Dr Bowie with David Stewart

Mr Stewart said: “This affects many patients and families across the country and I am delighted that other MSPs have now supported the debate on this important subject.

“I know that constituents have been lobbying other Parties to add to the debate and it’s not too late for other MSPs to sign up.”

Shetland GP Susan Bowie has also received the support of Mr Stewart’s Highlands and Islands Labour MSP colleague, Rhoda Grant.

The GP and the MSPs say there should be an automatic right for people to have full care at home day or night for their last few days of life, so that then can have their wish fulfilled to die at home.

Dr Bowie is contesting information from NHS Shetland which states that there are currently carers and nurses available during the daytime, at weekends and evenings who do support people to die at home and nurses are also on call overnight.

The GP said: “Shetland patients dying at home don’t have access to overnight carers, and there is only one District Nurse for the whole of the mainland, and they can’t be there all night with a patient. There is also no cover at short notice at weekends.”

Simon Boker Ingram, NHS Shetland’s Interim Chief Executive, said that figures from ISD Scotland (Information Services Division) show that in 2018/19 Shetland had a percentage of 94% of time in the last six months of life spent at home or in a community setting – the highest percentage of anywhere in Scotland, and consistently the highest percentage in Scotland since 2013/14.

But Mrs Grant added: “Although the figures look good, you can’t get away from the fact that this isn’t reflected by the experience of GPs who are dealing with patients day-to-day. We need to ensure that this gap is filled, not only in Shetland but elsewhere.”

Mr Boker Ingram said that the health board and integration joint board recognise the desire for a more comprehensive offer of health and social care provision across the islands, providing more choice to people including end of life care and there was work underway to achieve this as part of the action plan.

Mr Stewart will be asking for a date for the debate to take place.

 Motion S5M-19252: David Stewart, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 03/10/2019

Right to Full Care to Die at Home

That the Parliament understands that 70% of the population in Scotland wish to die at home; notes that many Highlands and Islands-based GPs are trained in palliative care that can support those who wish to die at home; believes however that not all areas of the region have charities or carers who provide “hospital at home care”, especially overnight, and notes the calls for there to be an automatic right for people to have full care at home day or night for their last few days of life, so that then can have their wish fulfilled by being able to die at home with suitable palliative care.

Supported by: Patrick Harvie, Mark McDonald, Claudia Beamish, Neil Findlay, Rhoda Grant, Edward Mountain, Colin Smyth, Alasdair Allan

Current Status: Achieved Cross Party Support



Transport Scotland moves on improvements to Raigmore Interchange in Inverness

Scotland’s national transport agency is to make several improvements to Raigmore Interchange following safety concerns raised with MSP David Stewart.

Mr Stewart, who represents the Highlands and Islands, wrote to Transport Scotland’s Chief Executive Roy Brannen following contact from constituents still worried about the pedestrian crossing on the A9 slipway.

He asked for the agency to look again at its safety following an incident earlier this year when a pedestrian was involved in a serious accident with a car and later died in hospital.

Police Scotland has now told the MSP that the installation of two additional warning signs for the crossing is “an insufficient short-term solution” and “more permanent short-term engineering measures should be considered to minimise the potential for future collisions”.

Warning signs have already been installed on the A96 carriageway, following the tragic accident in February, but people have told Mr Stewart they believe these are ineffective and pedestrians are still at risk there.

Mr Stewart said: “I’m pleased that the agency has now moved to do more at this location as it is still of concern to people who use the crossing and those who drive past it every day.

“What I’m not pleased about is that, as yet, we have been given no date when the new Scottish Government funded scheme to improve the routes for pedestrians and cyclists will be in place. I’ve been told 2020 but fear that this may have slipped as no specific date is forthcoming.

“Of course, I’ll press Highland Council and Transport Scotland on this point and I do hope the autumn improvements will help.”

Transport Scotland has said that the extra signs will be placed on the approach to the crossing between the A96 exit and entry slip roads and should be installed this autumn.

One option is narrowing the crossing point from two lanes to one by altering road markings on the roundabout and BEAR is investigating this.

It will also look at clearing further ground around the crossing to make it easy for drivers and pedestrians to see each other, maximising sightlines at the critical south east corner. This work will be carried out in the autumn.

BEAR is also being instructed to review the existing speed limit at the interchange and on approach roads with a view to introducing a lower speed of at most 40mph. This will need consultation with Highland Council and community councils and no date can therefore be given for it being brought in.

Transport Scotland said temporary traffic lights on the south bound slipway, an improvement suggested by Mr Stewart, was not feasible as it would lead to stationary traffic on the carriageway and would like result in accidents on the roundabout.

Mr Stewart first called for a safety review of the southbound A9 slip road, which links to the A96, after the incident involving the Inverness grandmother.

There are no pedestrian crossing lights at the spot, but there are some on the other slip road which is only a few yards away.

Transport Scotland previously told Mr Stewart it was working with Highland Council and Sustrans on an active travel network project, which includes improved pedestrian and cycle routes through the interchange where the A9, A96 and Millburn Road meet.


Stewart’s Inverness Courier column, published October 11

I think there might have been a little misunderstanding around my campaign to save The Ironworks. It’s great to see that there are several petitions on the go – same goal, different strategies – but I would like to take this opportunity to explain the motivation for mine. There is real anger at the prospect of losing the Highland’s only purpose-built live music venue – which coincidentally has last weekend played host to more than 1600 people, with many bussed in from Wick and Aberdeen-shire, – to make way for a new hotel. This is being seen as a David v Goliath contest and people are being called on to side with the underdog and fight some immoral plan to cash in on the surge in demand for city centre property. I must admit when I first found out The Ironworks might have to shut down I got upset too. And that’s why I’ve decided to use those three initials after my name to try to save it.
As most people know, The Ironworks leases the building on Academy Street and I suspected the owner would have a hundred reasons to be upset by moves to sell it to a developer who plans to build a hotel. However, when I met up with the Ironworks’ venue director to discuss the problem her tone was not what I expected. “This building is bricks and mortar” she said. “The heart and soul of the Ironworks is transferrable – all we need is a new base.”

She said she was touched by all those caring people who had signed a petition calling for The Ironworks to remain in its current building. However, we agreed the business had to be prepared for the worst-case scenario and the wording was approved for another petition that I offered to publish entitled: Help Find A New Venue for The Ironworks.

A day after the press reported on my scour for names for my petition a constituent rang me up bristling at its title – Find a New Venue for The Ironworks.  “Was this fancy hotel build a done deal?”, she asked me. And, more importantly, why on earth was I not standing behind the other petition which vowed to fight against the demolition of the building that is home to The Ironworks? I explained my stance and she went away contented (and has in fact been back in touch with more support so thanks for that.) She understood. But I am worried that there are other supporters of The Ironworks who are not completely in the picture. And I fear this might hold them back from signing my petition which would be a disaster because it needs all the support it can get to show the Scottish Government and other stakeholders how precious The Ironworks is to the people up her in The Highlands.

I’ve had some success so far in terms of raising this vital issue in Holyrood at a debate and I have held talks with Highland Council and Highlands & Islands Enterprise and others. I have secured a meeting with the Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop later this month – and the owner fo The Ironworks is also invited to attend – and I’ve managed to get key players together at The Ironworks in Inverness today for a roundtable meeting. This is being followed up on November 8.

I call on everyone who has not already done so to please sign the petition at



Live music venue in the Highlands & Islands has moved a step closer to moving into new premises after crunch talks with key players

THE LEADING live music venue in the Highlands & Islands has moved a step closer to moving into new premises after crunch talks with key players.

The Ironwork’s director Caroline Campbell said the mood music that came out of the meeting led by the region’s Labour MSP David Stewart was “fantastically positive”.

Proposals for a hotel to be built on the site could leave The Ironworks with little time to relocate.

However, Caroline Campbell said the commitment shown to support the music business has spurred her on to investigate a potential venue for a move she believes could be seamless for her network of musicians and bookings, and her 62 staff.

She said: “David Stewart MSP and senior members of HIE, High Life Highland, Highland Council and Creative Scotland, discussed finding a new home for our key live music business that plays a vital role in the cultural life of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and I felt it was a fantastically positive meeting. David Stewart’s online petition was also discussed, and everyone took on board how important the venue is to the people of Inverness and to music-lovers across the wider Highlands and Islands and beyond.”

She added: “I can’t stress this enough when I say this building we are in right now is just a shell. Everything in it we own and is transferrable. I invested heavily in new equipment and that was done deliberately so it could be moveable. It’s business as usual for The Ironworks and details will be released as soon as we know where our new space will be.”

The meeting was arranged by the Labour MSP David Stewart on the back of his campaign to find a new home for the venue.

Highland Council’s executive chief officer Stuart Black told the meeting the local authority was “very keen to see The Ironworks remain in the city centre”.

James Martin, head of development at High Life Highland, agreed to supply Mrs Campbell with costs and crowd-capacity figures for his charity’s network of buildings. Two senior officials from Highlands and Islands Enterprise – Iain Hamilton and Stephanie Andrew – also gave a commitment to investigate the kinds of support the organisation could give to the venue.

Creative Scotland, the public body that distributes funding from the Scottish Government and the UK National Lottery to supports the arts, screen and creative industries, is also engaged in the relocation effort.

MSP David Stewart, who has secured a meeting with Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop on October 29, said he was “convinced there will be a permanent alternative home for The Ironworks”.
He said: “This venue is vital to the region’s music scene and to its cultural values not to mention the boost it brings to the city’s night-time economy and in turn to Scotland’s culture secretary Fiona Hyslop’s commitment to increase music tourism.

“People who come from as far as Dundee to see bands play at The Ironworks have signed my online petition. It’s been an institution in Inverness for more than a decade, contributing in so many ways without the backing of any regular public funding and I think it is time the Scottish Government started to recognise the good work it is doing. But for me, one of the most positive things that came out of the meeting, is we know there are levers we might be able to pull on to secure it a new home.”

A follow-up meeting has been scheduled for Friday, November 8.