LAST WEEK I met with the chief executive of NHS Forth Valley to discuss a number of issues including concerns about the provision of local out of hours services.

I understand that pressure on the system, including UK wide recruitment issues, has meant that services have had to be consolidated in fewer locations for clinical or staffing reasons and this has meant that there have been times when people have had to travel out-with Clackmannanshire to access services.

I expressed the view that our communities now more than ever, need to be in a position to access health support in their local areas and that any closure of the out of hours service from the community healthcare centre would be a diminution of service provision to the people of Clackmannanshire, which I opposed in the strongest terms.

I was therefore pleased to receive a firm commitment that the health board remains committed to providing services in Clackmannanshire which I am sure will be welcomed locally.

Looking at the graph of positive cases makes rather depressing reading right now. The numbers were heading in the right direction and there was a real sense that things were going well.

Then Omicron hit. This new variant is significantly more transmissible.

In just one day, ScotRail had to cancel 60 train services due to staff shortages as a result of Covid, whilst so many staff at one accident and emergency unit had to isolate after attending a social event and becoming infected that the whole unit was in jeopardy.

But we are not powerless in the face of all of this. We need to continue to carefully follow all the guidance on distancing, mask wearing, ventilation and so on, we need to be testing ourselves before we go into any situation where we are mixing with other people.

These measures will help us to protect ourselves and protect other people.

By far the most important thing we can all do for one another, however, is to ensure that we are fully vaccinated.

All the evidence points to vaccination giving continued protection from infection and also that if you do catch Covid after being vaccinated, the impact of the virus will be significantly less. We also now know that the booster dose is extremely important.

Already more than 50 per cent of over 18s in Scotland have received their booster jag. That is fantastic. We are now, by some way, the most vaccinated part of the UK.

And the first minister has set an ambitious target that we will reach 80 per cent by Hogmanay. We can do that, but we need people to keep coming forward with their sleeves rolled up. The online portal is now open for everyone over 18 to arrange their appointment.

Clearly this festive period will not be as relaxed as we had hoped, but it will not be as tightly controlled as last year either. Taking care and using common sense are, I think, the watchwords.

However you choose to celebrate, I certainly wish the readers of the Alloa Advertiser and all of my constituents a Happy Christmas and all the very best for the new year.