NHS Shetland has given assurances that the CAT scanner bought with £1 million raised by the Shetland public is properly staffed and available for emergencies. It has also rejected claims that specialist staff members had been brought in from the mainland on occasion to operate the machine.
Concerns were raised by Dunrossness Community Council after several of its members reported incidences from recent months where they believed the scanner at the Gilbert Bain Hospital was unavailable when required.
It was alleged that in one case a patient had to travel to the mainland for tests that could have been done in Lerwick and in another a woman had to wait two weeks for a scan after suffering an apparent slight stroke. In one of several other cases it was alleged that an emergency kidney scan could not be done on the day required.
The concerns have been under discussion by the community council since November and letters were exchanged with NHS Shetland clinical services director Simon Bokor-Ingram. He replied that there were three permanent members of staff who are radiographers qualified in CT scanning who operate the machine both during the day and out-of-hours.
The matter was also taken up by local SIC councillor Allison Duncan, leading to NHS Shetland’s medical director Dr Jim Unsworth agreeing to investigate one of the cases.
A meeting was also arranged with NHS Shetland managers. Mr Duncan took fellow councillor Rick Nickerson with him to see Mr Bokor-Ingram and medical imaging manager Ann Smith. The councillors were told no radiographers had been brought in from the mainland and no Shetland patients had been sent to Aberdeen or other mainland hospitals for scans due to staffing problems in Lerwick.
According to the councillors at Monday’s meeting of the community council, Mr Bokor-Ingram told them there was no waiting time for emergency scans, provided a radiologist was on duty in Aberdeen to read the scans transmitted from Shetland.
He admitted there was sometimes a small waiting list of about two weeks for routine scans. Delays could also occur if the machine was being serviced. During 2009/10 750 scans were performed and the projected total for 2010/11 is 800.
Mr Duncan said NHS Shetland had not had complaints about the scanner from anybody in any other medical practice in the islands other than the Levenwick one, which covers the South Mainland.
Both councillors said they felt re-assured that the scanner service was operating as it should. Mr Nickerson said if anyone did have further concerns they should raise them in confidence with Mr Bokor-Ingram.
Community councillor Raymond Mainland said a lot of people did have a perception that the scanner was not always available due to staffing problems. However, if the reality was different then it was good for people to be told.
Community council chairman Donald Robertson thanked the two SIC men for pursuing the complaint. Vice-chairman Iain Garrick said it did no harm for NHS Shetland to know that the public was keeping an eye on it.
Today Mr Bokor-Ingram told The Shetland Times no official complaint had been made to NHS Shetland relating to the woman who had the long wait for her scan.
The CAT scanner was the result of a massive fund-raising effort in Shetland and it began operating in November 2007, ending the need for many patients to travel to Aberdeen. It is used to diagnose serious conditions such as strokes, but has many other uses including in monitoring cancer tumours and analysing bone, joint and muscle conditions.
Last year the CATS fund-raising committee handed over another £229,000 which it had left over. It was to pay for the running of the scanner for another two years.