A week at Westminster with Gordon MP Malcolm Bruce

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Crucial Haddo decision

On December 4 NHS Grampian will take a decision which could prove crucial to the health service delivery for the people of the Tarves and Pitmedden areas.

Hundreds of people have turned out at the public meetings I attended in the two villages to protest - in the case of Tarves at the closure of the GPs’ surgery - and in Pitmedden at the threatened ending of dispensing services.

This has come about because of an application launched three years ago for a commercial pharmacy in Tarves. The community supported by the health board opposed the pharmacy not because they were against it, but because they received an excellent GP and dispensing service from their medical practice.

Nearly everybody including NHS Grampian recognised that the opening of a pharmacy could lead to the loss of GP dispensing and this would reduce the income to maintain three surgeries. (The third is at Methlick, where dispensing is retained).

This was all predictable and was why I and Alison McInnes backed the local community at the outset when the application for a pharmacy came forward three years ago.

Scottish Government ministers however were determined to press ahead with expanding community pharmacies regardless of the impact on scattered rural medical practices. This may be an improvement when a pharmacy adds to existing health facilities but in this case it has drastically reduced the service at extra cost as the community pharmacy attracts a subsidy.

So, in this case Tarves has a pharmacy and no surgery and Pitmedden faces the prospect of a GP surgery with no local dispensing.

NHS Grampian claimed that their legal advice required them to withdraw the dispensing licence not only from Tarves but from Pitmedden or they risked a costly legal challenge. This was strongly challenged by the local community.

The public meetings have not only demonstrated understandable anger but frustration that ministers have ignored their pleas and pressed ahead with health service reform regardless of the consequences.

It has also demonstrated that if the decision stands many people will face serious difficulties. At first people thought it may just be a few older people who could be accommodated by GP home visits. However, as people reflected on the current arrangements many realised it could require time off work or school to fit in a surgery visit that could previously be accomplished much more quickly.

NHS Grampian have agreed to review the decision as far as Pitmedden is concerned. If dispensing for Pitmedden is restored to the Haddo practice, the doctors have said they would re-open surgery facilities in Tarves, which is what everyone wants. I have of course written to the health board in support of the community. I hope common sense prevails.

Moving to the EU exit will hurt us dearly

Our relationship with the European Union is moving into stormy and unpredictable territory with potentially far-reaching consequences.

Of course, nobody is happy or comfortable with the dire economic situation. The euro was founded with inadequate attention to applying rigour to the criteria and conditions for the founder members.

Maybe it would not have mattered if we had not become embroiled in a debt crisis beyond our comprehension.

We may feel we were right to stay out of the euro but we still have the largest current deficit of any EU member – living way beyond our means and struggling to make an impact on our historic debt.

We still trade heavily with the EU and London’s financial market needs the EU and is a benefit to it.

Of course, we should boost our trade with the emerging economies of China, Brazil, India, Russia – but we delude ourselves if we believe we will ever have the same kind of influence on their trading arrangements as we do in the EU.

UKIP are loud mouthed populists who offer an illusion of some heavenly free trade nirvana waiting for us as soon as we leave – come to think of it, their rhetoric sounds very little different from those who see Scotland reaping untold riches as soon as we leave the UK.

A UK veto will move us closer to the exit, reduce our influence over reforms and development of the single market, and leave us fighting the same battle every year until 2020 where a deal may give us more control and a lower cost.

Mealy mouthed Labour must be challenged

The fight to secure progress on the go ahead of the Third Don Crossing continues to exercise me and many others. Ten years ago, when Liberal Democrats took over the leadership of Aberdeen City Council, the administration took on the task of making progress on a Third Crossing which we had championed since my first election thirty years ago – against the sustained opposition of Labour.

First we secured the support of the Conservatives and then the SNP. The Council had to go through a long process to amend the Structure and Transport Plans, secure planning permission and find the money.

By the time of the council elections earlier this year this process was essentially complete. This all changed when Labour took over the lead of the administration, pledging to scrap the project. Given the fact that Labour does not have a majority on the council this is an affront to democracy.

Now when the opposition call for a vote to secure progress Labour throw smoke screens all over the place. There are 43 councillors and 26 of them – ie all except Labour’s 17 - support the bridge.

On the one hand Labour say there is no need for a vote as the bridge is council policy but then at every opportunity they speak against it and seek to divert the budget elsewhere. Labour can’t be trusted and we must keep up pressure and stop them from holding not only the city back, but the whole region.