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Health Inequalities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:00 pm on 4th March 2020.

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Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence) 6:00 pm, 4th March 2020

I really must praise the two excellent speeches by the hon. Members for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) and for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi). I rather fancy that those two Members will make their mark in this place in the years to come.

I want to tell the tale of Mr Billy Sutherland, who was a 63-year-old commercial traveller living in Wick. A good number of years ago, Billy set off from Wick on the A9, heading south. It was a winter’s day and the weather was not too bad when he left, but as he travelled further south towards the Ord of Caithness—the boundary between Caithness and Sutherland—it turned very nasty indeed. In the end, Billy drove into a snowdrift and could not get out of his car. The snow continued and eventually he was buried, in his car, 15 foot down. There was no trace of the car to be seen.

Billy was in that car for 80 hours. Eventually, the police found him by prodding the snow, and it clanged on the roof of the car. When they dug their way down to the car, they found that Billy was, astonishingly, alive and pretty well. He was not much the worse for his ordeal. Billy was a commercial traveller in ladies tights. As it got colder in his car over the 80 hours, he simply unwrapped more pairs of tights and put them on. It is an extraordinary tale. When he returned to Wick, he received a hero’s welcome.

I tell the tale because, until quite recently we enjoyed a consultant-led maternity service based at the Caithness General Hospital in Wick, but NHS Highland, in its infinite wisdom, decided to downgrade the service. As hon. Members know, because I have mentioned it before in this place, a great number of pregnant mothers now have to travel 104 miles from Wick to Inverness—a 208-mile return trip—to give birth to their babies. The vast majority of mothers have to do that.

What if it is winter? What if the ambulance gets stuck in a snowdrift? What if the mother’s contractions have started? What if the two emergency helicopters have been summoned to one road traffic accident in Lochaber and another in Morayshire? I have said it again and again: in my considered opinion, this is a tragedy waiting to happen. I make no apologies for raising it yet again in this place.

This debate is about equality of access to decent health services. I argue that my constituents in Caithness are losing out extremely badly indeed, and it annoys me intensely. In fairness, this is a matter that is devolved to the Scottish Government. I accept that and very much hope that the Scottish Government take the problem on board, because we cannot continue waiting for something dreadful to happen. When constituents come to me in Caithness, do I sit on my hands and say, “Well, it’s not a matter for Westminster,” or do I stand up and say something here? I make no apologies, because I think I owe it to the pregnant mothers.