Appeal to health minister over concerns on North West care

SCOTTISH Health Minister Nicola Sturgeon is being drawn into the row over funding for respite care in North and North West Sutherland.

Managers of the North West Sutherland Care Alliance (NWSCA) have appealed directly to Ms Sturgeon as well as Highlands and Islands SNP MSP John Finnie.

The move follows the care group’s failure to reach an agreement over funding with Highland Council.

NWSCA co-ordinator Sylvia Mackay confirmed that an e-mail had been sent to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Well Being last week. She said an acknowledgement had been received and the group were now awaiting a fuller response.

The NWSCA has provided respite care in their area under contract to the council for the last 12 years but say they can no longer do so because the local authority is cutting their funding by 58 per cent.

NWSCA managers claim that this would mean a greatly diminished service which would not be financially viable.

Eight care workers have now been issued with redundancy notices and the organisation is due to fold at the start of the new financial year.

It was at first thought that Edinburgh based care provider Carr Gomm might take over the respite care contract but the local authority is now understood to be in talks with Crossroads.

Mrs Mackay said the email to Nicola Sturgeon was sent, not in the hope of saving the Care Alliance, but more out of concern that North and North West Sutherland was being disadvantaged.

She explained: “The Highland Council is allocating care funding on a per capita basis and we think that discriminates against remote and rural areas where the costs of providing care are much greater.”

She added: “If the health minister does intervene and the council was able to offer more money, then we would hope that they would come to us with a renewed offer.”

North, West and Central Sutherland councillor George Farlow has been supporting the NWSCA. He said: “It was decided to approach John Finnie because he is seeking social justice for remote and rural communities.

“I don’t think that delivering services to remote and rural areas like North and north West Sutherland on a per capita basis is right because it does not reflect the geographical difficulties of the area.

“If you were to fund the education service on that basis, then all the schools in the north west would be closed.

“It might be too late for the North West Sutherland Care Alliance but the appeal to Nicola Sturgeon is to throw a marker in a bid to ensure this does not happen again.

He added: “The council’s offer to NWSCA was unworkable and the danger now is that another care provider will accept an unworkable contract and people will suffer.”

A petition containing 700 signatures and calling for the local authority to fully fund the North West Sutherland Care Alliance was this week presented to Councillor Margaret Davidson, chair of the Housing and Social Work Committee.

The presentation was made by North, West and Central Sutherland councillor George Farlow at the start of a social work committee meeting in Inverness on Wednesday.

Councillor Farlow said he had originally intended to present the petition to Dr Michael Foxley, leader of the Highland Council’s administration. However Dr Foxley did not respond to an email request.

Councillor Farlow said: “I’m aggrieved but not surprised by this failure to engage with the communities in North and West Sutherland.”