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Coronavirus Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:51 pm on 23rd March 2020.

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Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford SNP Westminster Leader 5:51 pm, 23rd March 2020

Give me some time and I will. The part of the world I live in, the highlands, needs the powers in this Bill if we are to protect our population, and I know that the same goes for the constituencies of many other right hon. and hon. Members, not least Steve Double, whom I know has been outspoken on this in the past few days.

Let me put on the record the challenge we are facing. The Highland Council landmass is 25,656 sq km, and of course that area does not include Argyll, the Northern Isles or the Western Isles. That Highland Council area makes up 32% of the landmass of Scotland and 10.5% of the UK landmass, yet we have one acute hospital, in Inverness. For many, that hospital will be more than three hours’ drive from home. Just think about that. If a hospital in an urban area has an issue with capacity, people can often be transferred to another hospital, but we do not have that opportunity in the highlands, as we have that one hospital. I am asking everyone who is thinking about coming to the highlands to think about that threat to our NHS.

I have been working with the NHS and talking to the police, and on the back of what we have been witnessed over the weekend I would like, with the forbearance of the House, to read out a press release from the chief executive of NHS Highland yesterday. It stated:

“As a community we in the Highlands, Argyll and Bute are friendly, welcoming and hospitable to the thousands of visitors we get all year every year. However, we are currently in a situation that has never been experienced before and for the first time we are making a plea for you to stay away.

We have heard that there are many people using campervans/motorhomes to make their way to the Highlands and Argyll and Bute as a way to self-isolate during this period. Please don’t.

National advice is quite clear that we, as a nation, need to stay at home, self-isolate and stop all non-essential travel. This includes using our area as a safe haven.

We have asked our communities in NHS Highland to do everything they can to stay safe. This includes self-isolating, working from home (where possible), and limiting their contact with the outside world.”

That is a very clear and a very stark message.