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Readers’ letters: The importance of rural hospitals, A9 crashes and the government suing over PPE

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Sir, – We are responding to Eleanor Bradford’s column (Press and Journal, December 19) titled: “I’m happy to pay extra tax for the NHS…”

We strongly disagree with her statement “there are too many small general hospitals which are expensive and produce poorer outcomes”. This is an off-the-cuff, derogatory comment often made by those with little experience of small-hospital healthcare and we wonder what her evidence is for this.

We are a group of surgeons who have been working for up to 30 years in rural general hospitals, of which there are six in the Highlands and islands. These hospitals provide the essential emergency service to patients who are two hours or more from the city centre hospitals.

Routine elective surgical and medical procedures are performed in the rural hospitals to save patients having to travel long distances to city-centre hospitals where they would unnecessarily fill up the clinics, operating lists and wards where patients need super-specialist care.

Would anyone be happy to send a relative on a three to four-hour ambulance journey from Mallaig to Glasgow or Inverness to have their appendix removed or their obstructed hernia repaired, rather than a one to two-hour journey to Fort William where they would receive the same treatment? Or a helicopter flight from the Shetlands to Aberdeen?

Such ideology impacts negatively on rural populations and flies in the face of the Scottish Government’s policy of providing healthcare as locally as possible.

There is no evidence in the surgical literature to support the transfer of patients for routine general surgery but only for the specialist major liver, pancreatic, oesophageal and cardiothoracic surgery. The consultants in the smaller general hospitals collaborate in a network with the super-specialists in the city-centre hospitals and they are well experienced in deciding on the small percentage of patients who may require transfer.

Ms Bradford’s suggestions require more in-depth analysis before drawing the conclusion that there is no place in the NHS for the smaller hospitals. The extra 1p tax increase could easily be swallowed up in the cost of unnecessary transfers of patients from the Highlands and islands.

There would be days off work for patients and relatives caused by the greater distances, local ambulances sent on lengthy journeys, helicopter transfers, and loss of local A&E services without experienced medical staff.

We would be happy to provide a more detailed response in due course.

David Sedgwick FRCS Ed. Paul Fisher FRCS. Gordon McFarlane FRCS Ed. Stuart Fergusson FRCS Glas.

Patients forced to travel 100 miles

Sir, – So Eleanor Bradford thinks the NHS should not be letting rural areas keep their maternity units.

Get yourself up to Caithness next time it snows, Ms Bradford, see for yourself the journey our locals have to make whatever the weather and whatever the road conditions.

These patients – whether they are having babies, having surgery, emergency ambulance cases, routine five-minute appointments – have over 100 miles to travel in any weather but neither government seem to want to sort it.

Moray gets promises but I fear they are heading to the same fate. But they at least have a choice to go to Aberdeen or Inverness and can opt for the best direction on the day – there is no choice for us even when the road is blocked.

This is what we pay our taxes for but we are being shortchanged – no money for hospitals, for roads, for schools. The country seems to stop at Inverness, unless you want to build a wind farm and then suddenly we are very popular.

Sandra Campbell, Millbank Road, Thurso.

Swinney spins income tax facts

Sir, – John Swinney in his budget statement said “the majority of people in Scotland still (pay) less in taxation than if they lived in the rest of the United Kingdom”.

While technically true, this claim warrants careful examination.

In 2017, then finance secretary Derek Mackay introduced the 19% starter rate and the 21% intermediate rate around the basic tax rate of 20%. These remain in place.

The 19% starter rate applies to a very narrow income band and the resultant reduction in tax revenue is more than offset by the 21% intermediate rate. Thus, these changes were made at no cost to the Exchequer.

For 2023-24, the effect of these tax rates will be that people living in Scotland and earning up to £27,800 per annum will, in a year, pay up to £22 less in income tax compared to the 20% basic rate that applies elsewhere in the UK. Above £27,800, people in Scotland pay more income tax.

For someone on an annual salary of £20,000 (roughly equivalent to full-time employment on the minimum wage), weekly take-home pay (after deductions for income tax and national insurance) will be £310.30 in Scotland compared to £309.88 in the rest of the UK, a benefit of 42p which equates to 0.1% of net pay.

It is clear this minor tweak to the basic tax rate delivers no meaningful benefit and does nothing to address poverty. Rather it is designed to facilitate spin, such as Mr Swinney’s statement, and to distract from the SNP administration’s failure to develop and implement a coherent economic plan.

George Rennie, Holm, Inverness.

Bad driving and roads cause deaths

Traffic in heavy snow on the A9. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

Sir, – I refer to your article concerning the accidents on the A9 over the summer (December 17).

Had the Scottish Government honoured the promises they made years ago to dual both the A9 and A96 perhaps some of these fatal accidents could have been avoided.

It is typical of them to point the finger of blame elsewhere rather than face up to their responsibilities, but for Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth to apportion much of the blame to foreigners for these tragic accidents is inaccurate and borders on racism.

Many accidents occur due to the aggressive and intolerant behaviour of drivers, many of whom are UK-born and bred. Until and unless this behaviour is addressed, no amount of money thrown at road improvements in a blatant move to grab headlines and win votes will make driving in Scotland safe.

The situation on the A9 and the A96 is now dire. The volume of traffic has increased tremendously over the past 14 years, the inadequate road markings and signs require urgent attention. An intelligent plan which includes safe access to and from local minor roads should be incorporated into the plans and the appropriate legal power given to Police Scotland to prosecute dangerous drivers.

D H Jones, Black Isle.

Facts and fiction of independence

Sir, – On defence, poor old Hamish McBain (Letters, December 19) once again is getting fact and fiction mixed up. But who can blame him for putting up a good front?

Someone has to fight the SNP cause and he does that very well.

Of course, throughout history there is a long line of propagandists that like to be up there leading the charge. Psychologists have postulated that in their fervour they actually believe their outpouring are actual facts.

But, Hamish, we know the truth. By your own party’s admission, a Scottish defence force – I think the proposed name was the Border Protection Unit – will be small and in keeping to what we can afford and would only occupy a base in the Central Belt.

All the present bases will be closed before or on separation with the loss of all the revenue they bring. But that’s OK, who would want to invade poor little old Scotland?

The point was made about distilleries in Moray and the rest of Scotland. Most are foreign-owned, employ very few and the profits don’t stay in Scotland. Yes, they pay taxes here but if Scotland gains independence the amount they pay will drastically reduce.

If you’re not sure how that works, look at other major companies that have no allegiance to where they produce the goods but only to corporate headquarters.

The majority in Scotland don’t want separation; they look at the state of the devolved organisations, hospitals, police, railways and ferries.

Do I need to elaborate?

No, at times we are not best served by Westminster, but the same can be said about the current Scottish administration.

The SNP bleat on about how Westminster treats Scotland.

But they should look at the situation in northern England in comparison – because of the Barnett Formula we are better off.

Finally, pensions/benefits. I am not looking forward to the day when Scotland has sufficiently trained civil servants to take over paying the pension/benefits. Oh, the money will be there because at present it comes from the UK, but look at how long it took them to sort out the farm supplement payments. But where is the pension/benefit money to come from on separation?

Energy was in the mix as well. Wind, yes wind, Hamish – where does the power come from when the wind doesn’t co-operate?

Finlay G Mackintosh, Loch View, Forres.

Parties must seek unity in recession

Sir, – Looking back at what has happened to the world in the past two years, what with a global pandemic that rapidly spread from perhaps China and the invasion of the Ukraine that started by the Russian dictator Putin, his oligarchs and others.

We here in the UK are now paying a high price for both of the aforementioned tragedies.

We are now in fact haemorrhaging loads of cash in order to assist the Ukrainians as well as asylum seekers from all over the world that want to be residents of the UK and be part of the best island country in the world.

With so many people wanting higher wages due to the pandemic and Russia, the UK needs to find the cash from existing coffers and that will mean many redundancies.

Going into 2023, all the UK political parties must stop ripping each other up and start to work together rather than ranting on about referendums, lack of cash and so on.

Times have now changed and we are all in a recession which is not going away very soon.

Making changes of how governments spend taxpayers’ cash must be audited at once as in the UK everything seems to be free.

Gavin Elder, Prunier Drive, Peterhead.

Unionists should clamour for vote

Sir, – If I were a unionist and believed the majority of Scottish people are not in favour of independence, then I would be clamouring for the UK Government to allow a referendum to take place in order to shut us nationalists up.

Does the fact unionists are not clamouring perhaps indicate they are not as convinced as to the outcome as they would like us to believe?

W A Ross, Broomhill Avenue, Aberdeen.

Electorate will prevail

Sir, – Herbert Petrie (Evening Express, December 16) urges that a pinch of salt should be taken with any letter published without an author’s name being printed.

Can I urge those who read the regular letters from Mr Petrie to also take a large pinch of salt to avoid being taken in by his constant distortion of facts in respect of independence.

The current inhabitants of Westminister may be a sad lot but no worse than their counterparts in Holyrood.

Three hundred years of union has not been bad for Scotland, and someday soon the failings of the Scottish Government, rather than the perceived failings of Westminster, will become clear and the electorate will prevail.

Walter Service, Fairview Manor, Danestone.

I cannot credit PPE debacle

Image: Shutterstock

Sir, – I am incredulous that the government is trying to sue a PPE supplier on the basis that millions of pounds of goods did not comply with the specification in the order.

It is basic procurement practice that when goods are received, especially with a huge sum of money involved, to inspect the goods at the point of delivery, and, if non-compliant, to reject the goods and return to the supplier. Any invoice would not be paid.

The government should not be in this situation.

This sounds like gross incompetence. It’s our money they’re wasting.

And to add insult to injury, they now propose to spend more of our money on a court case!

In industry, someone would be fired over this fiasco.

Ian Black, Polmuir Road, Aberdeen.