Orkney MSP Liam McArthur has written to the Chairman of NHS Orkney, Ian Kinniburgh, urging him to provide formal assurances that Orkney patients traveling south for treatment will not be forced to travel by ferry.
The calls follow a decision last week by NHS Shetland to change the existing travel policy for residents who require treatment or appointments in Aberdeen. As a result of this decision, patients in Shetland who were previously given the option of choosing their mode of travel will now be expected to take the ferry unless they meet certain criteria.
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott, who raised concerns directly with the First Minister, has claimed “the policy has not been assessed or thought through.”
Writing to Mr Kinniburgh, Mr McArthur said there was “concern here in Orkney that NHS Orkney may be persuaded to follow suit”.
He added: “I would certainly not support such a move, not least given the effect on particularly vulnerable and elderly Orkney patients and the fact that Orkney is made up of a good deal more small isles, which already add to the complexity of getting to and from hospital appointments in Aberdeen.”
In recent discussions with NHS Orkney’s Chief Executive, Cathie Cowan, Mr McArthur had been given assurances that the policy route taken by NHS Shetland would not be replicated by NHS Orkney. However, he said that in light of “ongoing public anxiety in Orkney” he felt it was important for NHS Orkney to put on record that there is no plans to follow suit.
Commenting, Mr McArthur said: “I certainly welcome the informal assurances provided to me by NHS Orkney’s Chief Executive. However, reports of what is apparently being planned for Shetland patients have given rise to understandable anxiety here in Orkney.
“It is entirely reasonable therefore to seek categorical assurances that similar plans are not being considered in an Orkney context. Like most people in Orkney, I would be entirely opposed to any change in NHS Orkney’s travel policy that resulted in patients being forced to take long and potentially arduous ferry journeys to Aberdeen. I look forward to receiving urgent clarification from NHS Orkney’s Chairman that this will not happen.”