Northern Isles’ Residents Must Not Be Discriminated Against For Health Needs

Local MSPs Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur today warned that health boards in Orkney and Shetland must get the support they need from government following reports that travel subsidies for patients could be axed under savings plans. 

The Times newspaper reported today that island health boards are set to slash travel budgets as part as cost-cutting measures, with ticket subsidies and the use of staff escorts in line for review. Patients could also be forced to use ferries to travel to the mainland for treatment instead of air travel.

Commenting on the plans, a doctor from Jura said that cuts to patient transport would hit the poor and elderly in Scotland islands hardest.

Commenting on these reports, Liam McArthur, Orkney MSP said:
“If more use can be made of video conferencing to allow Orkney patients to get the treatment they need without having to travel to Aberdeen for appointments, that is to be welcomed. Travel can be exhausting, particularly for those who are not feeling well. Reducing unnecessary trips would therefore help improve patient care and save money.

“However, any suggestion at all that patients might be pressed into taking a ferry rather than a flight to Aberdeen in order to save money is simply not ok. Likewise, where those making such journeys feel they need an escort, this should continue to be supported.

“For years, NHS Orkney has been underfunded by the Scottish Government. We are now seeing the consequences of this. Ministers must now ensure the local health board has the resources it needs to provide the support that isles patients need.”

Tavish Scott, Shetland MSP noted:
“Flying to Aberdeen for patients who need at most an hour with a consultant is very demanding on many Shetlanders. I have raised with NHS Shetland the need to ensure that consultations take place by phone, on Skype, or video conference where at all possible. That would be the sensible way to move forward and I believe that NHS Shetland want to do this but they need the co-operation of the senior medical staff in Aberdeen.

“Where islanders do need to travel then a 45 minute flight is preferable to overnight on the boat. The Northern isles cannot be discriminated against on the basis that we are unlucky enough to have 200 miles of sea between Lerwick and Aberdeen. Patient travel policy must be based on the principle of the most efficient and safest way to move a patient that reduces the travel time, the stress and the discomfort. If that means that a flight is more appropriate, and in most cases it will be, then that is what should happen. The Scottish Government should adequately fund NHS Shetland to deliver such an approach.

“I am meeting NHS Shetland in the next few weeks and will be pressing for such an approach. I will also work with them if they need help to make the case for adequate funding from the Scottish Government.”


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