News - Naidheachdan

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan and Western Isles patient groups have welcomed the news that a working group will be convened to review NHS Western Isles’ system for approving funding for patient escorts.

Patients travelling off-island for treatment to mainland hospitals will, in many cases, require an escort to accompany them. Last year, NHS Western Isles announced a new system for approving requests for NHS-funded escorts, with the Health Board making the decision where this had previously been the responsibility of the patient’s GP.

While there were no changes made to the criteria for approving escorts or to the Patient Travel Policy, it appeared to patient groups that the criteria were being much more strictly enforced, leading to increasing numbers of people having their applications for a patient escort refused. Patient advocacy groups, led by the Western Isles Cancer Care Initiative (WICCI), have been pushing for a more patient-centred form of approval for patient escorts.

Following a petition launched by WICCI that gained over 1,500 signatures, and lobbying of the Scottish Government by Isles MSP Alasdair Allan, the Cabinet Secretary for Health Jeane Freeman has ordered NHS Western Isles to convene a working group as a matter of priority to review the process for patient escorts and take steps where required to ensure it is patient-centred and operates in such a way that best supports patients in making applications.

Alasdair Allan MSP commented:

“This is a really important step forward and I am grateful for the Cabinet Secretary’s intervention.

“Far too many islanders have been travelling to the mainland to receive a diagnosis for cancer, or another condition with life changing implications, with no emotional support from a friend of loved one. There has been a lack of dialogue with patient advocacy groups.

“I look forward to seeing what comes out of the working group and I hope we will see a more patient-centred policy going forward.”

Helen Sandison from the Western Isles Cancer Care Initiative commented:

“WICCI very much welcome the intervention by Ms Freeman on the issue of Patient Escort Travel.

“For many months now we have heard first hand of several patients struggling to either obtain escort permission and have to cope financially when a request is refused, or to appeal a decision at a time when they could well do without the stress and upset.

“We are delighted that Ms Freeman has directly requested a focus group be established and a response to be brought back to her by mid-July. We will happily contribute to that group. We already have nominees from the Men’s Cancer Group, Neuro Hebrides and the WI Carers, Users & Supporters Network to take part in discussion too.

“As mentioned in her letter to WIHB, it is essential that the process for funding escorts is patient centred, and we aim to work constructively with the WIHB to make it so. Thank you to the thousands of Western Isles residents who signed our petition and who have contributed to our survey, also to our MSP Dr Alasdair Allan and his staff and MSP Rhoda Grant for raising this issue with the Cabinet Secretary.”

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan has welcomed latest round of Croft House Grant Scheme awards announced by the Scottish Government

Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy Fergus Ewing MSP announced today that an additional £350,000 will support 10 crofting families in building or upgrading their croft houses.

Since 2007, more than £19 million of Croft House Grant has been awarded to over 950 crofters to upgrade housing or build new homes. Crofters in the Western Isles are eligible for the upper grant of £38,000.

Alasdair Allan MSP commented:

“The Croft House Grant Scheme is an efficient and valuable way of building homes in rural areas. I am often lobbying the Scottish Government on this subject on behalf of constituents and it’s welcome to see more money going towards this purpose.

“The Scheme plays a vital role in retaining families in the in islands – as shown by the fact the majority of successful awards in this announcement were from the Western Isles.”

Voters in the Western Isles should use the upcoming European election to send a message to Theresa May that “Scotland has had enough of being ignored”, says MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar Alasdair Allan.

The SNP launched their European campaign today [Thursday] as postal ballots arrived with 750,000 voters across Scotland.

Alasdair Allan MSP said:

“The Western Isles voted to Remain in the EU – just like every part of Scotland. But we face the prospect of a shambolic Tory Brexit that threatens to have a devastating impact on on living standards, our public services, and the economy.

“Since the referendum, I’ve spoken with people who voted to leave and I can understand – though obviously not agree with –their reasons for doing so. However, the promises which were made simply do not match the chaotic reality unfolding before everyone’s eyes. That is why more and more people are calling for Brexit to be stopped.

“On May the 23rd by voting SNP, people can send a clear and unequivocal message to Theresa May: Scotland’s future lies in Europe and Scotland has had enough of being ignored.

“Since Winnie Ewing was elected to the European Parliament for the Highlands and Islands forty years ago, the islands have had strong SNP advocates in Brussels. I want to take this opportunity in particular to recognise the work done for the islands’ fishing and crofting interests by Ian Hudghton MEP, who is standing down at this election.”

ISLANDS MSP SPEAKS IN PENSION CREDIT DEBATE

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan today called for the UK Government to abandon its planned cuts to Pension Credit during a Scottish Parliament debate on the subject.

Pension Credit is a benefit designed to help low-income pensioner households. From 15 May onwards, newly retired pensioners will be barred from claiming Pension Credit if they have a younger partner, and will instead be forced onto Universal Credit. There are estimates that the impact of these changes on the average claimant will be in the region of between £5,000 and £6,000 per year.

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament, Alasdair Allan MSP said:

“It is clear that changes to Pension Credit are going to have a significant impact on mixed-age pensioner households when they come into force next week. For the UK Government to penalise people simply for having a younger partner is completely unacceptable.

“This is a benefit designed for some of our poorest pensioners, and they should not be forced to pay the price for the Tories’ ideologically driven cuts to welfare.

“The Tories must urgently reverse this attack on low-income pensioners.”

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan earlier today questioned the Scottish Government on how proposals for a Deposit Return Scheme will apply to island communities like the Western Isles.
Deposit return schemes, in existence round the world as a way of reducing litter and increasing recycling, see consumers pay a small deposit that is fully refundable once the empty bottle is returned.

The islands MSP was questioning Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham MSP during a Ministerial statement in the Scottish Parliament outlining how Scotland’s new Deposit Return Scheme will work. It will include aluminium and steel cans as well as drinks containers made of glass and Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic with a 20p deposit as part of plans to combat climate change.

Commenting, Alasdair Allan MSP said:

“I very much welcome this progress. Deposit return schemes will have an important role to play in curbing litter and have proved to be effective in other European countries that have implemented them.

“It is important that the design of the system is flexible and takes into account people in island communities who may have to travel long distances to the nearest shop. It was therefore welcome to hear the Cabinet Secretary’s confirmation that there will be scope within the scheme for communal return points to be set up, at community centres or schools for example, to make it easier for people to return items.

“Keeping our local environment litter-free is especially important in the islands, given the natural beauty of our landscape.”

ISLANDS MSP CONDEMNS UK PENSION CHANGES

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan is calling on all pensioners living on a low income with a partner of working age to urgently check their eligibility for Pension Credit and Housing Benefit and put in a claim before the Government changes the rules on 15th May.

The UK Government’s change, sneaked out during the first ‘meaningful vote’ on Brexit in January, will see the right to claim Pension Credit and Housing Benefit – important tools in the fight against pensioner poverty – withdrawn from future claimants who happen to have a partner who hasn’t yet reached their own pensionable age.

This move will have severe financial consequences for all those affected. Age Scotland and Alasdair Allan MSP are warning that this could have a devastating impact on some of the Western Isles’ poorest older residents, and are urging anyone who may be entitled to claim benefits to call the Age Scotland helpline on 0800 12 44 222 for a free benefit and entitlements check before 15th May.

Alasdair Allan MSP and the Lewis & Harris branch of the SNP lodged a successful motion at the party’s annual conference on Saturday which saw SNP delegates slam the UK Government for introducing these changes and back calls for their reversal.

Commenting, Alasdair Allan MSP said:

“The Tory government should ashamed of themselves. These unnecessary changes will punish Scottish pensioners simply for having a working age partner.

“These changes were sneaked in through the back door as the UK government Ministers shamelessly tried to bury the announcement in the middle of their Brexit chaos. I was pleased to see SNP members sending a clear message to Westminster over the weekend that these changes must be reversed immediately.

“It is vitally important that pensioners who find themselves in this situation make use of Age Scotland’s free benefit and entitlements check before the changes take place on 15th May.” 

Age Scotland’s Chief Executive Brian Sloan said:

“These changes will have a devastating impact on the lives of some of the poorest pensioners in Scotland. Around one in six pensioners living in Scotland are in poverty and this retrograde move will do nothing to improve this.

“Beyond the Pension Credit support, these mixed age couples could also miss out on a range of ‘passported benefits’ such as housing benefit, council tax reduction, cold weather payments, support for dental and eyecare costs, perhaps even the warm home discount. All in, this could mean that the loss of financial support for those on the lowest income could be well over £7000 a year. That is wholly unacceptable and the UK Government must change course.

“It is vital that older people ensure that they claim everything they are entitled to. The Age Scotland Helpline offers free benefit and entitlement checks and can support older people with pension credit claims. Call 0800 12 44 222 before the 15th May for information and advice about these changes.”

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