Patients having cancer treatment in Aberdeen and staying at the CLAN cancer support centre may have to leave the premises at weekends in future due to NHS cuts.
CLAN chief executive Debbie Thomson said the NHS, which until now has funded patients to stay at the centre during the whole of their treatment, had changed its agreement from 1st April. And this, she said, is “adding to their stress”.
Previously NHS Grampian had funded 14 rooms seven days a week, but now it is only willing to fund 12 rooms for five nights a week – Sunday night to Thursday night. Patients, who come from Shetland, Orkney, Moray and remote areas of Aberdeenshire, now have the option at weekends of paying for their room or going home.
Mrs Thomson said those with mainland addresses would be expected to travel home, and those too ill to travel may still be funded by the NHS, as there is a “bit of flexibility” in the system.
But other patients, the majority of whom would be having radiotherapy, would either have to travel home or pay £30 per night for their room. This is the figure which CLAN has “kept to a minimum”.
However Mrs Thomson assured patients that no-one would be forced to leave, and said: “We’re passionate about supporting the isles.” CLAN is well-used by Shetland patients, she added, and there could be around three or four Shetland residents at the centre at any one time.
Mrs Thomson said she was now “working with the NHS to overcome the difficulty of [isles patients] travelling back and forth”.
She said it was “not as easy as getting on a plane and going home”. There could be delays at check-in, at security and then the plane might even end up circling Sumburgh and being diverted somewhere else.
And all this would be at a time when people felt vulnerable – although patients generally feel fine at the beginning of treatment, they get progressively more tired as the weeks wear on. Patients can be away from home for up to seven weeks, she said.
CLAN provides a “home from home” for up to 14 patients during their time of treatment at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. It comprises CLAN House, a drop-in and information centre, and CLAN Haven, which offers B&B accommodation for patients, their family members, escorts and visitors. People who are not patients have to pay for stay at the Haven.
A statement from CLAN regarding the new charges read: “Budgetary constraints at NHS Grampian have led to a change in the agreement CLAN has with them to provide beds for those undergoing radiotherapy treatment at ARI.
“From the 1st April [NHS Grampian will fund] 12 rooms for five nights a week for a period of 50 weeks, excluding Christmas/New Year fortnight. NHS Grampian radiology department have agreed to cover the cost of up to three additional rooms at weekends and stated that there is not enough money for all island patients to stay every weekend of their treatment.
“As is well known CLAN Haven is an exceptional facility providing support and comfort for those who have to be away from home while undergoing their treatments, or for those accompanying or visiting loved ones in hospital.”
Patient Bobby Hunter stayed at CLAN Haven for eight weeks, and said: “It’s a superb service. But I know CLAN has difficulty getting economic rents from the health boards that use the facility. Instead of relying on charity it would be better if they [CLAN] got funding from the health boards that use them.”
Mrs Thomson said: “I do understand NHS Grampian’s financial constraints but from our experience staying with us in CLAN Haven over the weekend is not a ‘nice to have’ option for those who do elect to stay. Fitness to travel comes into it as does the length of time to get home and then back again. I have spoken to several guests over the past couple of weeks and it is causing confusion and a great deal of unnecessary stress.”
MSP Tavish Scott spoke of his disappointment over NHS Grampian’s decision which he said left CLAN “with no option” other than to charge patients.
“Many Shetland families and individuals use CLAN when ill,” he said. “It is a caring and supportive place. We need it. If it did not exist then the NHS would have to pick up the entire bill for helping people. This looks like a very short sighted decision by the NHS and I urge that to be reconsidered.”
CLAN have to keep track of all weekend stays separately so the Haven team staff have to check guests out on Friday morning and then immediately check them back in and repeat the process on Sunday.
The change should not affect islands guests as much as it has for those staying in CLAN Haven who live in Moray or rural Aberdeenshire. For those non-islands guests funding has not been secured for Friday and Saturday nights. Many do elect to stay and pay £30 per night, but for some this is causing hardship and adding to their stress.”
NHS Grampian have produced a leaflet which is being sent to all those booked into CLAN Haven and it outlines the changes they have introduced.
Mrs Thomson added: “We are of course still continuing to ensure our guests are fully supported when staying with us, and as well as monitoring this situation closely we are having regular meetings with NHS team members.”
Shetland patient Bob McGregor, who last year spent five weeks in CLAN Haven, said: “It’s a charity and £30 [£90 for a weekend] is cheaper than flying home. I wouldn’t have a problem with paying, it’s a fantastic place.”
And Lerwick resident Valerie Leask, who stayed in the Haven while escorting her husband Ian, said: “It’s still good value for money. It’s a really lovely place, done up to a high standard and as good as any hotel. We could cook our meals there and that’s a help. I dinna know what we’d do without it.”
NHS Grampian spokeswoman Emma Pettis said: “We have recently renegotiated our contract with CLAN. Patients from the Northern Isles will still be able to access paid-for accommodation at weekends or transport home as is appropriate.
“We recognise the importance of the service and support CLAN offers to both patients and their loved ones.
“They are an important partner agency and we are pleased to continue to work with them.”