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‘Independence’ for Caithness? Campaigners seek Holyrood support to leave Highland council and NHS

Ron Gunn from Caithness Health Action Team, pictured outside Dunbar Hospital in Thurso

A campaign for Caithness to break away from control by Highland council and the region’s health board has reached the Scottish Parliament.

The group behind proposals to restore local powers say services across the most northern part of the UK mainland have deteriorated over the past few years

They want to see the old Caithness County Council and an NHS Caithness officially created.

A petition was submitted to the Scottish Parliament to see if MSPs will consider such a move.

The campaigners say the only way to get things changed in Caithness is to leave and look after themselves.

Caithness region ‘unfairly treated’

The petition was drawn up by William Sinclair, 72, who lives in Thurso and says nothing has improved in Caithness since it was absorbed by the larger Highland Council in 1996.

He said: “I want to highlight the fact that we don’t think we are fairly treated up here.

“Highland Council is based in Inverness and looks after an area the size of Belgium.

“We know for a fact our roads are in an atrocious situation – they are the worst they have ever been and they are getting worse.”

William Sinclair

He added: “Ever since we became part of Highland Council we have seen services degraded.

“We are not getting a fair deal.”

He says young people leave Caithness when they become adults and no one comes to the area to start a business because there is not any “decent” infrastructure or council services.

Time to review Highland boundaries?

Highland councillors were due to discuss proposals on December 9 for a review of authority boundaries.

They say the “current arrangements for the Highlands is neither equitable nor sustainable”.

Meanwhile, Highlands and Islands MSP Emma Roddick called for Inverness to be separated from the rest of region’s council.

She says the city often misses out because of the perception it gets all the funding.

The only way we can see things changing is if we get away from Highland Council and look after ourselves.

– Campaigner William Sinclair

Should the motion be agreed, the council would write to the Scottish Government and minister for local government Ben Macpherson, asking them to review the areas of the Highlands with a view to returning to the older, more localised, format.

‘Extra strain and worry’ over healthcare

There is another issue: those signing the petition say they are fed up with having to travel over 100 miles to Inverness to attend hospital appointments at Raigmore.

Ron Gunn, chair of Caithness Health Action Team, said: “The bulk of the population here feel that both NHS Highland and Highland Council have forgotten about us.

Members of Caithness Health Action Team outside Holyrood

“We lost our maternity services so 90% go elsewhere to give birth.

“Hundreds of children who go to Inverness also face roads shutting in the winter.

“It is a two and a half hour long journey, which just adds extra strain and worry, especially at this time of year.

“We want to see the old Caithness health board back, because we have a good hospital with two operating theatres here were lots of stuff could be done locally.”

Mr Sinclair added: “You have to travel 115 miles to get to Inverness for most treatments, and that is an absolute disgrace.

“I had three children and all of them were born in Thurso, and three of my six grandchildren were born in Wick 21 miles away.

“But if I am lucky enough to have great-grandchildren, where will they be born? It will be Inverness.

“As far as we can see those running the health service just close down hospitals.”

‘Something has to change’

Members of the public can sign the petition until December 29, and then MSPs will look at the calls.

Mr Sinclair added: “Something has to change for things to improve.

“The only way we can see things changing is if we get away from Highland Council and look after ourselves.”

A spokeswoman for NHS Highland said: “NHS Highland provides statutory services in Highland and Argyll and Bute.

“Any change to the area covered would need to be agreed by the Scottish Parliament.

“We are investing in health and care services in Caithness, with the recent opening of an improved community midwifery unit and the development of proposals for two new community hubs and improvements to Caithness General Hospital.

“We are always keen to learn from people’s experience of our services and are currently engaging on our five-year strategy ‘Together We Care’, so we encourage anyone with an interest to take part in that and help to shape future services.”

Highland Council was approached for a comment.

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