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Minister praises UHI for innovative contributions to rural healthcare

Jamie Hepburn MSP visited UHI
Jamie Hepburn MSP, centre, and UHI principal and vice-chancellor Professor Todd Walker hear about the ways UHI is advancing rural medicine.

Scotland’s higher education minister has praised the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) for its work in transforming rural healthcare during a visit north.

Jamie Hepburn MSP, minister for higher education, further education, youth employment and training, met with senior staff and researchers for a tour of UHI’s Health Sciences Centre in Inverness today (Wednesday).

Mr Hepburn spoke highly of UHI’s partnerships with the NHS and other universities, which are working to provide more doctors for Scotland’s rural and remote areas.

He also said that UHI has an important part to play in changing young people’s attitudes towards their futures. He also praised the university for providing opportunities to students from all educational backgrounds.

Growing and changing needs of rural communities

UHI principal and vice-chancellor Todd Walker said Mr Hepburn’s visit gave the university a chance to showcase how it’s helping rural communities across the region.

But rural communities everywhere have different needs and UHI’s reach is much bigger than the area around Inverness, he said.

“There are many challenges in delivering affordable and effective healthcare in rural settings and we work closely with the NHS and industry colleagues to help address these through training and research.

“We are proud that our expertise is making a difference to local communities and is also helping to inform services in other rural areas across the globe.”

During Mr Hepburn’s whistle-stop tour, staff showcased UHI’s nursing, midwifery, dentistry and optometry courses.

One of the tour stops illustrated the geographical spread of UHI-trained midwives, who have provided care from Dumfries and Galloway to the Western Isles and beyond.

A map illustrates the vast reach of UHI's midwifery programme, part of Jamie Hepburn's UHI tour
A map illustrates the vast reach of UHI’s midwifery programme. Garrett Stell

Expanding service through partnerships

But the chief example of rural service was the Scottish Graduate Entry Medicine (ScotGEM) programme.

The course is a partnership between UHI, the NHS, the University of St Andrews and the University of Dundee. It focuses on training new doctors for rural and remote areas.

This year, the first class of 44 students graduated from the programme.

Mr Hepburn said that ScotGEM is one of the many important ways that higher education can meet the changing needs of rural communities, particularly when it comes to vital public health services.

The first class of ScotGEM graduates left with their degrees this summer. Supplied by University of St Andrews

“I was really impressed with all of the various UHI programmes that I heard about. But the ScotGEM programme, having the partnership with the NHS, and working with other academic institutions, is a really positive one.

“It is different to deliver services in a rural community in comparison to a large urban community. Having a particular focus on getting people geared up towards that is really important.”

Inverness the next Edinburgh

Mr Hepburn also said that strengthening rural communities is about more than providing resources to people living there. It also means creating ways of attracting outsiders to live and work there.

Alison MacPherson, UHI Head of Optometry and Jamie Hepburn MSP during Mr Hepburn’s site visit to UHI’s Health Sciences Centre. Supplied by UHI

He said that he wouldn’t be surprised to see Inverness near the top of the list for students who are considering further education.

“People wouldn’t think anything of someone moving to Glasgow or Edinburgh or Dundee for university.

“If we get to the stage where people don’t think anything of moving to Inverness, Fort William, Thurso to study then that would be a very good thing, too.”

Mr Hepburn is continuing his campus tour by visiting two more UHI campuses in Portree and Sleat tomorrow (Thursday).

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