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WATCH: Highland MSPs baffled by Yousaf's response to healthcare investment halt

By Scott Maclennan

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Mounting anger in the north over a Scottish Government decision to halt vital Highland healthcare projects erupted at First Minister’s Question with two north MSPs taking him to task.

This week it emerged that the order to halt all investment in NHS infrastructure projects including a badly needed new maternity wing at Raigmore and the overhaul of Caithness healthcare.

But the exchanges in Holyrood left the Conservative’s Edward Mountain and Labour’s Rhoda Grant baffled as Mr Yousaf stood accused of a “blame game” and “adding insult to injury.”

Mr Yousaf twice pointed the finger of blame at the UK government for financial problems facing NHS Highland despite the SNP being in sole charge of health in Scotland since 2007.

Far north SNP MSP Maree Todd faced calls to quit after she echoed the government line that it was all Westminster’s fault.

The First Minister admitted the upgrades are “much required and much needed” but then claimed the decision was down to a UK government which favours “tax cuts for the wealthy.”

Mr Mountain took umbrage with that of the decision that he says means vital projects like the Raigmore maternity upgrade and Caithness healthcare overhaul have been put on ice.

Mr Mountain said: “Patients and medical staff across the Highlands are fed up of the SNP blame games.

“After being in charge of the health brief for nearly 17 years, it’s astounding that the SNP government is seeking to pass the responsibility for this to anyone else.

“The First Minister admitted the improvements at Raigmore were ‘much required and much needed’. But instead of seeing this through, he’s brought them grinding to a halt and had the nerve to blame a different government for doing so.

“It’s time the Scottish Government took some responsibility and delivered a healthcare system for the Highlands which is, at the very least, on a par with other parts of Scotland.”

Labour MSP Rhoda Grant then accused the First Minister of “adding insult to injury” in his answer on Caithness Maternity and halt of the overhaul for Caithness by referring to consultant-led services in Moray.

Mrs Grant raised the issues caused by several A9 closures which effectively cut Caithness off from the rest of the mainland as well as the maternity services at Raigmore Hospital that expectant mothers from the far north are obliged to use.

She asked the First Minister to re-consider this decision so that “Caithness Mothers are never abandoned again” – Mr Yousaf said no final decisions had been taken and again blamed budget constraints.

Somewhat surprisingly, he then went on to state that the consultant-led services in Moray would not be impacted by this and that the Scottish Government remains fully committed to reinstating consultant-led services in Dr Gray’s Hospital by 2026.

Speaking after FMQ’s Mrs Grant said: “I welcome the continued commitment for maternity services in Moray, a commitment he could not renege on, but my question was in regards to the A9 north and Caithness. Moray is some miles away.

“This answer adds insult to injury for Caithness residents who have experienced weeks of disruption and anxiety because of centralised health services. Even though the First Minister himself knows the importance of these projects, it appears he will do nothing to stop this pause.

“As no final decisions have been made, I will be fighting for every capital project to be saved in the Highland and Islands as quite frankly, most of these projects should have been done years – if not decades - ago.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson explained earlier this week when the story first broke that: “As set out in our draft budget the capital funding position is extremely challenging.

“The UK Government did not inflation-proof its capital budget which has resulted in nearly a 10 per cent real-terms cut in the Scottish Government’s capital funding over the medium-term between 2023-24 and 2027-28.

“Our emphasis for the immediate future will be on addressing backlog maintenance and essential equipment replacement.

“Our Infrastructure Investment Plan (2021-22 to 2025-26) identified the priority health capital projects for funding within that period.

“As a result of the cut in our capital budget, a revised pipeline of infrastructure investment will be published in Spring 2024 and all due consideration will be given to what projects can be included within that revised Plan to ensure it is affordable and deliverable, while providing the best value for money.

“In the interim, boards have also been advised to pause any new capital projects.”

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