MSPs back the call from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar for ageing CalMac ferries to be urgently replaced

Highlands and Islands Labour MSPs David Stewart and Rhoda Grant are backing the call from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar for ageing CalMac ferries to be urgently replaced and brought up to standard.

Western Isles Council members met with Government officials to discuss the findings of the Outer Hebrides Scottish Transport Appraisal Group (STAG) recently and aired their opinion on the condition of the aging fleet.  This comes hot on the heels of the call from former UK Government Minister, Brian Wilson, for an independent review into west coast ferry services.   Mr Wilson said there are “urgent” problems and a “general review of what has gone wrong” is needed.

David Stewart said “I have backed calls from Dunoon to Stornoway for improvement to our west coast ferries.  Islanders need robust services but day on day we are hearing of breakdowns and cancellations disrupting life for hundreds of frustrated travellers.  It is damaging to business and the local economy. 

Mr Stewart continued “Scottish Labour called for a two ferry option on the Ullapool-Stornoway route but we were ignored.  We now have the situation where the two new ferries presently being built are delayed indefinitely.  Businesses, individual travellers and tourists deserve better than this.  I am meeting the Chief Executive of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar next week and will be encouraging him to keep up the pressure on the Scottish Government to provide our island communities with the ferry services they need.”

Rhoda Grant said “I wholeheartedly support the calls being made by the Comhairle and Brian Wilson for urgent action to be taken to improve CalMac’s ferry fleet.  Scottish Labour has long since been raising this matter with the Scottish Government who have continued to ignore the problems which we have been highlighting for years.  Island communities need ferries they can rely on, for business needs, for social needs and to support much needed income from tourists.

Mrs Grant continued “It appears that the ‘Summer of discontent’ for west coast travellers rolls on.  It is not good enough, islanders need to have confidence that their lifeline ferry fleet is fit for purpose.  The Scottish Government needs to act, and act now.”


David Stewart’s fact finding visits on Shetland

Pictured with Hillswick GP Susan Bowie

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP and shadow health minister David Stewart was on Shetland this week visiting NHS Shetland and local GP Susan Bowie.

“I always enjoy finding out about the health issues in our remote and rural areas. I’ll be taking the points raised and following them up, especially as a member of the health and sport committee.

“The new GP Contract is a concern across the region and this will be raised when the committee considers primary care.”

Pictured below with NHS Shetland  depute chief executive Lorraine Hall

Visit to the Scottish SPCA’s Inverness Centre

David Stewart was delighted to see the vital work of the Scottish SPCA across the Highlands with a visit to its Inverness centre today. He thanked manager, Elaine Floyd, and Mike Flynn, chief superintendent for Scotland, for showing him around. In 2018 in the Highlands the charity attended 1,695 incidents, 493 animals were rehomed, 47 animals reunited with their owners and 10,710 children took part in its free education programme.
“All the dogs pictured need homes – including the English bull terrier – but there are queues of people ready to take the kittens,” he said.
“Volunteers are welcome and you can apply on the charity’s website.
“Good to see these champions looking after the welfare of animals.”

Patients can wait up to a year or more for knee replacements at NHS Highland


NHS Highland patients can wait for a year or more for a knee replacement, according to figures released to Labour MSP David Stewart under Freedom of Information.

Mr Stewart, who represents the Highlands and Islands and is Scottish Labour’s Shadow Health Minister, asked the health authority for the figures after two separate constituents complained that they were facing a wait of up to a year or more to get an operation.

In 2012, the SNP Government introduced the Treatment Time Guarantee, which gave patients a legal right to treatment within 12 weeks.

“In both cases I was told that the people were in pain and each said they couldn’t be prescribed stronger pain killers because the GP was concerned of creating an opiate addiction,” explained Mr Stewart.

“Patients with these problems are often debilitated, find it difficult to get around, unable to get on with day to day tasks and leading a restricted life.

“No-one should have to wait so long for such surgery and obviously the health authority is in no way meeting the waiting time guarantee.

“It is a sad reflection on the state of our health service today and our NHS staff are simply not getting the support and resources they need to give patients the care they deserve.”

Mr Stewart is now writing to Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, to ask what the Scottish Government is doing to cut waiting times for such operations.

NHS Highland revealed that there were 214 patients on the current waiting list as of 13 June this year.

The FOI also discovered that the longest waiting time for routine patients in 2018/2019 was 55 weeks, up from 40 weeks for both 2016/17 and 2017/18.

Also, a total of 90% of the people in 2018/19 were seen in 49 weeks or less.

The average waiting time for this current year was 31.5 weeks showing a steady increase from 18.5 weeks in 2016/17 and 21.4 weeks in 2017/18.

NHS Highland says steps are being taken to address the long waiting times.

Probe into concerns ScotRail’s ticket machines conceal cheaper fares

In the fray: The ticket machine at Nairn Train Station.

MSP David Stewart is demanding answers from ScotRail amid concerns some train passengers could be getting ripped-off by ticket machines.

Concerns have been raised some customers could be paying over the odds for some journeys because the ticket machines, in some instances, do not display the lowest fare on their main display screen.

It has been brought to Mr Stewart’s attention that off-peak passengers travelling on the 09.17 service from Nairn-Inverness are being prompted by the machine to pay the higher peak-time travel fare of £9.

Mr Stewart is concerned many people do not know that in order to get the cheaper valid off-peak fare they must do their own manual search on the machine for their destination.

He has been made aware that it is only after 09.15 – just two minutes before the 09.17 arrives on the platform – that the machine re-calibrates to display on its main display screen the cheaper £6.50 off-peak return ticket fare.

Mr Stewart said: “This would appear to be a glitch and it must be catching people out, particularly those who are not used to using computerised touch-screens. They may not know the ticket price showing on the machine’s main display screen is not in fact the cheapest ticket available to them.

“The bottom line is passengers should not have to go digging around the ticket machine to get the cheapest fare. It should be staring them in the face. That’s like a corner shop selling cheaper Mars Bars at the back of the store. I’m calling for answers from ScotRail and Transport Scotland because this situation flagged up to me in Nairn could be happening across Scotland. Passengers are using the ticket machines to save time, but as this situation in Nairn would appear to show, the surest way to save money is to walk into the ticket office and buy your ticket in person.”


Operations cancelled due to lack of capacity

I have had sight of figures which show that operations had to be cancelled across NHS Highland because hospitals simply could not cope.
Data published by ISD Scotland shows that 45 operations were cancelled in May 2019 due to non-clinical reasons such as not having enough staff or unclean equipment.
Across Scotland, 500 planned operations were cancelled in May 2019 because hospitals could not cope.
Scottish Labour has pointed out that the figures show our NHS is simply not getting enough resources from the SNP government.
We have to remember that behind each of these figures is a patient waiting in pain for treatment that hospitals have not been able to give.
We have seen a staffing crisis develop in our health service, with huge unfilled gaps for consultants, nurses and midwives.
Patients across NHS Highland are being let down by the SNP government and are not getting the care they deserve.
It is time to use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to properly fund our NHS.

HIV data incident NHS Highland

Scottish Labour’s Shadow Health Minister, MSP David Stewart, asked Nicola Sturgeon about the incident where the email addresses of almost 40 people living with HIV were accidentally made public by NHS Highland.

Mr Stewart, who represents the Highlands and Islands, raised the issue at First Minister’s Questions today.

He said: “The First Minister will be well aware of an alleged data breach by NHS Highland which exposed confidential names and email addresses of 37 people living with HIV.

“Whilst I welcome the apology by the board, does the First Minister share my view that confidentiality is a core principle of the NHS and the decision to disclose HIV status is a matter for individuals themselves and theirs alone.”

Nicola Sturgeon agreed very strongly saying that the safety of patient data was of “the utmost importance”.

She added that the breach was reported to Information Commissioner within 24 hours. NHS Highland had taken steps to apologise to patients, respond directly to any concerns and a formal internal review was being carried out. The First Minister admitted that “clearly there have been failings”.

Afterwards Mr Stewart added that he had written to NHS Highland’s Chief Executive, Iain Stewart, to ask that he be kept informed of the outcome of the internal review and the findings of the Information Commissioner.

“Keeping patients’ data confidential is essential for everyone and I hope lessons can be learned as a result of this breach,” said the MSP.
“HIV is a very sensitive subject for those with the virus and I am told this breach has caused some distress.”

FMQ’s – 16.05.19

Today at FMQ’s, I highlighted the mental health care needs of those with diabetes during mental health awareness week.
You can see my question and the First Minister’s response.

Elgin doctors explain concerns over new GP Contract

MSPs need to get out and about to understand the problems of the health service and yesterday David Stewart was invited to Elgin Health Centre to talk about the effect of the new GP Contract on rural practices.
“Thanks to doctors Robert Lockhart and Charlie Hornsby for the briefing,” said Mr Stewart.
“You may remember the practice was featured in the BBC2 series The Family Doctors. It’s one of the busiest practices in Scotland.
“As a member of the Health and Sport Committee, I will be investigating Primary Care and the valid concerns of GPs throughout the remote and rural Highlands and Islands.”