Health Secretary Shona Robison has pledged to keep pressing for accommodation upgrades at Raigmore Hospital for the growing number of patients from Caithness.
She said the issue, which has been highlighted after a controversial policy change meant most expectant mothers from the far north are now sent to Inverness to give birth, had already been raised with NHS Highland “on a number of occasions”.
Ms Robison also revealed that a working group will meet for the first time this month to try to ensure that the newly-agreed Scottish GP contract will not trigger an exodus of family doctors from remote areas, as many have warned.
Caithness, Sutherland and Ross MSP Gail Ross raised the issue of travel costs for her constituents who have to visit Inverness for treatment, and the role video-conferencing could play in reducing the number of journeys.
Ms Robison, who responded that “uptake of the service continues to increase” in the Highlands, was also pressed on accommodation at Raigmore by north MSP Edward Mountain, who said it was “still below what has been agreed as being suitable”.
The health secretary said: “Making sure that accommodation at Raigmore is suitable is an issue that has been raised with NHS Highland on a number of occasions, and its importance has been impressed on the board.
“I understand that it has taken action to make improvements on the Raigmore site, and I will continue to press it on that.”
During health questions at Holyrood, Labour MSP Rhoda Grant asked about the new GP contract, which many Highlands and islands doctors have warned will unfairly disadvantage rural areas by basing funding on their number of appointments.
“The contract shows no recognition whatsoever of the difference in rural practice,” said Ms Grant.
Ms Robison said that a “rural short-life working group” will work with “rural stakeholders to assist in the implementation of the new GP contract”, and meet for the first time later this month.
After Orkney MSP Liam McArthur called for the group to include island representatives, the SNP minister said: “A lot of effort has been put into looking at the group’s membership and, as I understand it, there is island representation on it.”