Health campaigners in the far north are unhappy at progress in reducing the number of schoolchildren from their area having to make regular trips to Inverness to have their dental braces adjusted and refitted.
NHS Highland bosses are being urged to do more to bolster the service in Caithness to lessen the time the youngsters are having to take off school.
Several thousand made the 200-plus mile journey to the city between 2017 and 2018, often for just 10 minute appointments at Raigmore Hopital or with a private orthodontist.
The issue came to the surface last October when former Thurso High pupil Georgia Smith blamed the time she was out of school to make the trips down and up the A9 as part of the reason that she failed exams she needed to get into college.
Georgia, then 20, said: “Health inequalities that are preventable by reasonable means are unfair.
“Putting them right is a matter of social justice. It is too late for me, but hope in highlighting this, it may help other young people in the same position as I was.”
Caithness Health Action Team (Chat) then revealed Caithness outpatients had 1117 orthodontic appointments at Raigmore.
A further 141 were referred to private specialists with whom they had at least one appointment per month.
While pointing to consultant shortages, the health authority had then pledged to look into ways to cut the number of journeys which were having to be made.
Secretary Maria Aitken said: “We have been approached by parents who are still very upset and are looking for an update on progress towards having orthodontic appointments back in Caithness.
“One child has now missed three days of schooling within a month to get braces tightened.
“This really is unacceptable when we are trying so hard to raise the attainment in our schools in Caithness.”
“We have now been waiting too long for a solution to this and our children’s education and attainment are in the meantime suffering.”
Far north mother Bronagh Braidwood recently travelled to Inverness with two of her children to have their dental braces refitted.
The five-minute appointments with an orthodontist involved a full day off school for them and off work for her.
She said: “We got no help towards expenses and we have to go back in six weeks.”
Chat has relayed its concern to NHS Highland chief executive Iain Stewart and north area manager Michelle Johnston.
A NHS Highland spokesman said: “NHS Highland is currently looking to facilitate a sustainable solution for an improved level of access to secondary care orthodontic services in Caithness, specifically with the aim to help reduce the number of times that patients have to travel to Inverness for multiple short review appointments.”